it's not us, it's them


technology has always played a part in the development of the bicycle, though, like everyday life, its rate of improvement has been somewhat exponential over the past couple of decades. and irrespective of my professed luddite tendencies, i'm still quite happy to hang onto indexed gearing achieved by pressing small levers on the brake levers, while the advent of compact chainsets arrived just in time to salve the pride of an ageing road cyclist. to have moved on from lugged steel frames, to tig welded steel frames, made relatively little difference for the end user, but more so for the framebuilders themselves. however, the ending of the cold war likely made the biggest noticeable difference for all.

suddenly, many aerospace fabricators found themselves all dressed up with nowhere to go. the millions of pounds and dollars invested in research and development had left them with materials and techniques no longer required by the military, so in an attempt to remain buoyant, the search was on for alternative markets. that's predominantly why we originally found ourselves with access to scandium alloy, titanium, beryllium (for cycle shows at least) and ultimately, carbon fibre. how much you bought into any of the latter depended greatly on disposable income and fascination with being an early adopter.

shattered carbon seatposts and a few other initial hiccups with molding carbon fibre into the shape of a bicycle and its components, scarcely encouraged confidence, but nowadays, i doubt there are any prospective bicycle customers who would have any doubts in handing over their hard-earned for a carbon road bike.

but as the progress and development outlined above has continued apace, the humble derailleur still plies its trade at the back of each bicycle; road, cyclocross, gravel, time-trial, and mountain bikes all owe their continued existence to a component that was originally invented in 1895 by jean loubeyre, and first allowed in the tour de france in 1937. granted, today's rear mechs differ greatly in appearance and actuation from those in the early 20th century, but the principle remains identical. shimano, campagnolo and sram may have electrified every last movement, but the parallelogram body and two jockey wheels still push and pull the chain up and down a series of sprockets, currently maximised at thirteen, courtesy of vicenza's ekar groupset.

you would imagine that, after more than one hundred years, the derailleur would have been consigned to the great cycle cupboard in the sky, yet jonas vingegaard's victory in last week's criterium du dauphiné was achieved with a sram wireless rear derailleur. the more things change, the more they stay the same. except, in the world of e-mtbs, maybe they don't.

edinburgh-based intradrive first showed an integrated motor and eight-speed gearbox at several of last year's cycle shows in a drive to raise funds for a scottish production facility at its headquarters. that has now come to pass, and orange bikes have already shown a pre-production model at last month's scottish tweedlove festival, sporting a gates belt drive. the rise and rise of the electric bicycle has obviously changed the gearing landscape for better or worse, depending on your point of view.

almost all current e-bikes feature at least a nine-speed rear derailleur, effectively driven by a pedal-activated electric motor sited in either the rear wheel or the bottom bracket region of the frame. in my experience, many owners of such bicycles tend to select the largest gear on the bike, leave it there, and control everything else via not always judicious choice of motor support from a handlebar-mounted selector. according to many associated companies, the manner in which the power is conveyed through the transmission reputedly places greater strain on the process than does pedalling on an acoustic bicycle, surely suggesting that there is at least modest room for improvement?

intradrive, along with others, may well be at the forefront of satisfying this need. the gearbox, which offers a reputed 470% range, consists of a sealed system, closely integrated with the motor in a single unit. according to intradrive their transmission system promises reliable gearshifts in 'harsh conditions', while reducing the requirement for frequent servicing. that latter point, possibly in a nutshell, is what separates the simplistic derailleur from sophisticated internal gear systems. if i have a problem with the record derailleur on my ritchey, not only is it relatively simple to diagnose, but almost as simple to replace, if such is found to be necessary. internal gearing almost always demands being handed over to professionals for regular servicing or repair.

however, though the e-mtb market is undoubtedly a tad unique, it's likely that intradrive have their long-term sights set further afield. and when the e-bike is continually positioned as a potential substitute for car use, and the e-cargo bike continues to make inroads into the last mile market, purchasers of either are likely to be more acquainted with the practice of having to make use of bona-fide service agents. intradrive is also keen to underline its environmental credentials, introducing circular design into the process in order to minimise waste and utilising renewable electricity in the manufacturing process.

though it may be an aspect with which some still take issue (not just yours truly), intradrive contend that 'the future is electric', a contention that may well prove to be correct. and if it does, there's a not totally unfounded possibility that the derailleur may find itself confined to the increasingly niche world of road and cyclocross racing, along with those of us who like to think we inhabit the same roadspace as the professionals. closely integrating an electric motor with an arguably more pragmatic gearing system will, quite likely, offer a more productive path for e-bike developent. it should also bring succour to the gates carbon belt drive, a transmission device that is completely unsuited to any derailleur-based system. but if the stresses and strains exerted by an e-bike motor (more so if the s-pedelec gains greater traction) particularly disfavour the old-fashioned bicycle chain, a belt-drive makes perfect sense.

by its very definition, a gearbox is shielded from the elements, which, in the case of the intradrive, occupies a sealed, lubricated chamber. cleverly and strategically, the company has adopted the same mounting points as does shimano's battery, making it particularly easy for existing bicycle manufacturers to adopt the entire intradrive package.

of course, the fabrication plant has yet to be constructed, and the intradrive has yet to meet its mass-market. many an apparently good idea has suffered at the hands of commerce, particularly if the big boys decide to exert their commercial might in order to retain the market share they currently regard as theirs and theirs alone. nonetheless, if electricity and the faith placed in it as the future of at least some forms of cycling proves correct, it would be a sorry state of affairs if someone didn't take matters into their own prophetic hands. and at the moment, who'd bet against scotland taking the lead?


monday 12 june 2023

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the small stuff

cable end

we have discussed, on previous occasions at length, the art of procrastination, a dreadful habit that seems solely designed to prevent getting things done in a timeous manner. it's a state of affairs that ranges from the the irritatingly delayed, to the really large projects that really ought to have been considered or completed in far less time than is the case.

take, for instance, the length of time it has taken to find a potential solution to the rest and be thankful. otherwise known as the a83, this particular road forms an arterial route to and from argyll, but has long been blighted for years by landslides in poor weather. in a classic case of irony, recent closures have meant sending traffic along the single track old military road that runs through the valley of glen croe, a road that was built in the mid 18th century.

the situation with this route had become so difficult, that the scottish government announced eleven options projected to solve a problem that has, so far, cost in excess of £100 million without any satisfactory result. the favoured route from those eleven was chosen around three years ago and pretty much consisted of the present route with unspecified mitigations. since then, we have waited for transport scotland to announce a preferred solution, news of which arrived late last week.

what we might call a snow bridge, the powers that be refer to as a debris flow shelter. in other words, a roof built over the road, but open at one side, over which any debris from the hillside will slide harmlessly into the valley. one of our local councillors has posited that, were a similar problem to have affected a major route in the central belt, it would have been cured years ago. the problems at the rest have existed since before i moved to the hebrides, well over 35 years past..

in november 2020, a local gent wrote to islay's newspaper suggesting the very solution they have now chosen, some two years after i had written to our msp and transport scotland also to suggest the snow bridge. that it has taken them this long to confirm this as the solution to the problem is a perfect example of procrastination at its best (or worst). we now all await a similar level of procrastination awaiting work to commence on the solution.

but, on the basis that people in glass houses probably shouldn't throw stones, i too am guilty of procrastination, though in this case affecting only yours truly and not an entire geographical region. in november last year, having noticed cracking in the outer cable controlling the front gear mech, i purchased a set of campagnolo replacement cables. these sat in the bike shed to serve as a reminder of work i had yet to carry out.

but, i'm guessing, like most of us, when there might have been time available to carry out the cable replacement, i went cycling instead.

this past saturday, i had an afternoon engagement to play percussion with the secondary school wind band, a few weeks prior to the end of term. the timing of the concert left insufficient opportunity to head out for anything like a meaningful bike ride, so, instead, i opted to finally replace those gear and brake cables, along with the bar tape, which had also become rather tired and grubby.

due to a recalcitrant campagnolo rear caliper brake, the whole process took a tad longer than planned, resulting in the need to scoff a cheese and tomato sandwich, washed down by a cup of green tea before grabbing snare, cymbals and sticks to make my way to the nearby school for a very impressive and remarkably well attended concert. the ritchey was left aboard the workstand outside the back door, awaiting my return to complete the work as advertised.

however, though a set of gear and brake cables is hardly an expensive purchase, i did expect to receive all the bits and bobs i'd need to make a decent job; inner and outer brake cables, inner and outer gear wires, sufficient ferrules to match the number of cable stops on the frame, and at least four cable ends to prevent fraying once all had been fitted and cut to size. yet those cable ends were found to be missing in action, leaving me with neatly cut brake and gear wires exposed to the elements.

fortunately, i had a plentiful supply of cable ends in the bike shed enabling me to complete a much-delayed, but mechanically sound replacement job. but why were there no cable ends in the cable kit? to my mind, they are every bit as essential as electrical tape to strap the cables to the handlebars, though i generally expect to supply that myself. but when campagnolo can ask £4,500 for a wireless groupset, surely it wouldn't be too much to ask them to supply four very cheap cable ends? and while i'm having a moan at campagnolo, how hard would it be to install stainless steel cable pinch bolts on their rim brakes? both front and rear calipers on the ritchey currently feature rusted bolts, a decor they obtained only a matter of weeks after being fitted.

it's something that has occurred on every campagnolo groupset i have owned. stainless steel would probably add around 5p to the cost of the groupset. so come on vicenza; replace your bolts with stainless steel alternatives, and give me some cable ends with my next cable kit please.

sunday 11 june 2023

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our local averagemarket has a plan. this does not quite take the form of a definable marketing strategy, but one that dictates which products are stocked and where they should appear on the shelves. staple foods are relatively safe, perhaps moved around the shelves from time to time, but, assuming no hiccups in the supply chain, readily available at all times. tea, coffee, breakfast cereals, eggs, bread etc., tend not to see much variance in the plan.

however, a few weeks past, the store removed all tropicana fruit-juice products from the plan, and despite confirmation that this was due to a 'change of sizes' (of carton or shelf-space, i never found out), they have yet to reappear. and despite offering a sizeable range of dairy-based yoghurts, it was deemed necessary to change the plan to remove the only soya-based yoghurt from the shelves. these changes to the plan appear not to be based at all on sales figures, but to the whims of head office, a bastion of indifference to the needs, purchases or desires of their customers. at least those who reside on islay.

letters or e-mails to their customer service department mostly result in platitudes, if they result in anything at all, with perhaps a sales voucher to placate the downtrodden. to all intents and purposes, they have seemingly moved on from being a part of the service industry, originally constituted to serve the needs of the customer. over recent years, it is relatively clear that we have simply become pawns in a strategy to which none of us (including the store manager, apparently) are privy.

campagnolo's recent introduction of their wireless, super-record groupset was notable for at least one thing, other than the loss of the downshift thumbshifter. as pointed out by several commentarors and reviewers, unlike campagnolo's other offerings, both electric and mechanical, super-record wireless is disc-only, with no rim brakes currently on offer. to a certain extent, so doing makes a certain amount of manufacturing sense, for continuing to offer both disc and rim brakes means not only manufacturing two types of stopping power, but effectively four sets of levers: electric/disc, electric/rim, mechanical/disc and mechanical/rim.

given the wholesale adoption of both electric gearshifting and hydraulic discs, not only by the professional classes, but the majority of amateur cyclists, maintaining production, servicing and spares is likely to be an expensive option. witness the fact that both shimano and sram have already electrified their top tier groupsets, without any mechanical options available. though campagnolo, until now, at least, seem still to harbour some regard for their aficionados, all in all, it appears we may be at the very end of a somewhat blunt foodchain.

so far as i'm aware, no-one ever campaigned to have the groupset manufacturers implement hydraulic disc-brake technology to the road bike. i defy anyone to quote a professional racer who announced, in the post race interview 'if only i'd had hydraulic disc brakes on the bike, i'd have won that stage.' i'm sure the same could be said regarding electronic gearsets. don't get me wrong; for once, i'm not knocking either technology, simply pointing out that neither were the result of consumer demand.

that such is now the case, however, might point directly to the perception that rather than simply being on the receiving end of straightforward marketing, we are, in fact, being subsumed into an industry-wide persuasion. and before you label me as paranoid or neurotic, simply as a means of justifying my luddite tendencies, let me offer a smidgeon of evidence for such claims.

there are many aspects of contemporary bicycle design geared directly towards the professional peloton, aspects that can mean the difference between winning and losing. and when there are such large annual sponsorship budgets at stake, that's pretty much the sole objective. electric gears, hydraulic brakes, tyre widths, aerodynamics all play their part in the professional milieu, but, to be honest, make very litte difference to the sunday peloton. however, since the carbon monocoque became the ubiquitous means construction, it's a great deal less economic to make the super stuff for the professionals, while offering a lesser version for the rest of us.

but in a similar manner to the marketing of early bmw motor cars, clever persuasion is required to convince us otherwise. in the 1970s, anecdotally, a specific model of bmw motor car managed to incorporate particularly difficult handling. bmw's marketing department managed to turn that around by inferring that it was a car that only 'experienced' drivers could handle, thus making a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

and there can be seen the foothills of a similar situation in gruppo media's acquisition of a controlling stake in cycling specific media agency, conductor. gruppo media is the publisher of rouleur magazine, and whose acquisition of conductor is in line with their desire to become a "comprehensive solution' for brands, covering the entire marketing and sales funnel, offering a suite of creative services to help elevate brands throughout the cycling industry."


though london-based conductor will continue to operate more or less autonomously, it says it is keen to continue offering services including 'brand creation, product and awareness campaigns, content strategy and creation, paid and organic digital marketing and PR, event and sponsorship activations...'. while i think we're all willing to accept that any brand or marque worth its salt will almost certainly wish to advertise its products to the great unwashed, the above mentioned services would seem to indicate a few steps removed from simple advertising.

though it obviously makes little sense for the larger inhabitants of the cycle industry to bow to the individual needs of the minority, in a sense, that is precisely what they are doing, leaving the majority as pawns in a much larger game. if you add together all the sunday pelotons across the world, their numbers would surely dwarve the professional classes. yet road bikes are conformed to suit the latter, before marketing strategists persuade us that, even though we hadn't realised, they're exactly what we've always wanted.

don't you just love it when the plan comes together?

saturday 10 june 2023

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down to the wire

wind turbines

during my three week period riding a specialized turbo vado electric bicycle, i experienced a downside that has been corroborated by several other e-bikers: battery-watching. this hitherto unexperienced situation was most certainly a lack of experience with the genre, but a tangible reality nonetheless. having little faith in the manufacturer's small print, i chose not to wholeheartedly believe the purported distance available from a single-charge. thus, during any extended ride across the principality, i would persistently find myself calculating whether there was sufficient charge available to ride home. were i to be proved wrong, i'd possibly have found myself struggling into an atlantic headwind on a remarkably heavy bicycle.

the above situation (based upon real events) was recently brought to the fore on discovering that an e-gravel bike is a real thing. given that the modus operandi of the gravel species is unfettered access to the wide blue yonder, unhindered by many of the trappings of present-day society, the lack of charging points concealed in the undergrowth would seem likely to curtail at least some of the promised freedom. but, in truth, infiltration of traffic society on an e-bike is no more user friendly than the country's main thoroughfares. though islay benefits from very few electric vehicle charge points, to the best of my knowledge, none of them are compatible with the current (pun intended) strain of e-bikes.

and even if they were able to charge an e-bike, none are located anywhere near the roads likely to be explored from the saddle.

the e-bike, however, is predominantly aimed at the commuting cyclist, an individual who suffers not from an extended distance to work, the shops, or school. but, in common with many rural locations the full-length of the nation, islay offers hire of quality e-bikes, all of which proffer a potential range of up to 100km. granted, the average distance of the intrepid sunday morning peloton tends to top out at 70km, so perhaps it's overly optimistic to expect holiday hirers to exceed that distance. but, if i propose an e-bike outing from port ellen, from where the e-cycles can be hired, to craighouse on jura, a return trip of almost exactly 100km, there might be tears on the low road during the return trip. (the 12km road to craighouse on jura is somewhat hilly).

a recent article in the guardian newspaper highlighted that the uber taxi company in london, intends to electrify its entire fleet of cabs by 2025. and despite london at large, featuring approximately 43,000 charging points, the contention that the bulk of them are in the wrong places for e-taxi drivers, has meant that uber are now funding and installing another 700 public charging points. over the entire nation, from land's end to john o'groats, however, there is a notable dearth of vehicle chargers, despite britain's intended transition to electric everything. if the nation's love affair with the e-bike continues at its present rate, in tandem with a concomitant desire to leave the metalled roads behind and embrace nature in all its glory, it's possible that the problem hiding in plain sight will soon hit e-cyclists right where it hurts (their batteries).

however, it has become apparent to many, that there is a potentially larger problem on the horizon; electricity itself. great faith is being placed in renewable energy available at the behest of windpower, but official statistics have shown that, over the past couple of weeks, despite harbouring a substantial number of windfarms, scotland has had to import electricity from south of the border due to a period of very low wind across the country. granted, nova innovation is showing considerable success with tidal power, a form of energy that offers clockwork predictability, but there's little denying that britain has placed nearly all its transport eggs in an electric basket, yet it seems possible that the big picture remains disappointingly small.

and while we're talking small, what about e-bike chargers, or rather, the lack of? assuming you can find just such a device when the need arises, casual observation would suggest that they are not of the expeditious variety. the turbo vado referenced above took almost eight hours to charge from empty to full using mains electricity. battery technology has undoubtedly improved in the years between today and my review of the specialized e-bike, but i confess i have not come across any advice that suggests a cycle battery can be charged to at least 80% in ten to fifteen minutes.

thus, if the day comes to pass when the rural countryside is peppered with e-gravel-bike chargers along the gravel path, would a carefully curated sense of adventure survive sitting in the middle of nowhere for a few hours, waiting for the light on the downtube to turn green?

of course, there's always the acoustic bike.

friday 9 june 2023

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to boldly go...

orb zeppo

this is going to come as something of a queryable conundrum, considering today's discussion is from someone who has long lamented the effective disappearance of the one-inch headset and steerer tube, the loss of the quill stem and the square-taper bottom bracket, not to mention the arrival of electronic gear-shifting. there are many aspects of the modern-day road bike that fill me with considerably less than total glee, and though i warned everyone, none took heed. therefore, i take no responsibility for the current state of the velocipedinal nation, even though i'm probably every bit as much a part of it as the next luddite.

but overall, is the cycle industry and its customers, being unashamedly retentive?

yes, it is perfectly acceptable to challenge the mores of the industry; for the greater part, it is they who appear to dictate the format of that which we opt to ride. but it is within our power as customers, to refute those dictates by with-holding our purchasing acumen. we have been provided with the option of nano-tubed carbon fibre that purports to cheat aerodynamic drag with the efficiency of a cruise missile. that carbon fibre also arrives with seatstays that connect to the seat-tube around half-way along its length for no discernable reasons. and more recently, italy has provided us with an alarmingly expensive means of wirelessly changing gear.

none of the above comprises the price of admission for the aspiring roadie, therefore, we are well within our remit to shun them all, remaining faithful to bicycles that feature less forward looking aspects. but, in truth, that is never going to happen. the words hook, line and sinker spring to mind.

technologically, the foregoing is certainly one way to proceed along the path to road cycling nirvana, but it's unlikely it's the only means of arrival at the summit. oddly enough, this particular realisation was brought on by innocent perusal of a local e-bike hire business, particular on discovery that aside from several flavours of electric bike, they also hired a singular example of an acoustic bike.

it may not surprise you to learn that i am occasionally quizzed by e-mail by intending visitors to the isle, who wish to ease their transportational logistics by arriving sans bicycle and wishing to hire while here. the majority of these interlocutors are not fans of electric bicycles, but until recently, i was unaware that acoustic bicycles could still be hired on these shores. it transpires that the none electric cycles on offer are the very embodiment of pragmatism, featuring as they do, mudguards, hydraulic disc brakes, a gates carbon belt drive and a shimano eight-speed alfine hub gear.

the only disappointment is a lack of drop bars, though i am reliably informed that flat bars are more user-friendly. i would humbly disagree.

my promotion of such a bicycle might come as contrary to one in possession of a steel bicycle festooned with campagnolo's twelve-speed, mechanical record groupset, and wheels that sport rubber no wider than 27mm. however, in my observations, i have excluded myself from this internal survey and, by implication, the rest of you too.

checking the manufacturer's website, i learned that the above machine is priced around the £1200 mark, an impressive number to be attached to an acoustic hire bike in the principality. when bike hire first appeared on the hallowed isle, the machinery in the cupboard topped out near £150 a piece. the fact that most of them struggled to survive a single season really came as little surprise.

there is, however, no denying that the majority of the nation's cyclists and would-be cyclists are largely unconcerned with the number of sprockets affixed to the rear wheel. and i doubt i'm the only individual who is regularly queried on which particular gear a rider ought to be in, and following an overlong explanation, matters are no better than they were. this can be illustrated by two of the most recent recruits to the sunday morning peloton, both of whom continually cycle in the two smallest sprockets, while the chain sits in the big ring up front. despite advice to the contrary by many of the regular peloton, this iniquity persists to this day.

hub gears have been around for more years than sturmey and archer would like to admit, while the inventor of the rohloff hub gear passed away only last week at the age of 73. i rode a bicycle equipped with shimano's alfine hub gear on my last visit to portland's fair city, the operation of which was simplicity itself. having to stop suddenly at traffic lights, it was still possible to change to a more appropriate gear for the restart; try doing that with a derailleur setup.

and then there's the gates belt drive, an endless loop of almost unbreakable carbon that may not be perceived as being as efficient as the humble bicycle chain, but requires a lot less maintenance, and is unlikely to transfer a film of oil to those white chinos. granted, the eight internal gears would be of little use ascending the galibier, but the majority of the world's cyclists could, quite honestly, care less.

so is cycling progressing in the completely the wrong direction? if we exclude the ubiquitous e-bike (which oddly persists in using the derailleur), the technological progress displayed by the industry pointed in the direction of the great unwashed, is scarcely cutting edge. when the classified hub is being fêted by all and sundry, why are hub gears not more prevalent across the board? and if they were, would there be greater impetus to improve them? sturmey archer once offered an aluminium bodied, five-speed hub gear, but it didn't hang around for long.

bernhard rohloff's 14-speed hub gear, despite its inherent faults, not the least of which is its weight, could surely have been honed almost to perfection were they featured on more bicycles, aided and abetted by the economies of scale. and though the gates belt drive has gained considerable plaudits, it seems only to have simmered in the background. classified have victor campanaerts riding their hub in the peloton under the aegis of on-the-job research and development, and have reputedly garnered substantial funding to get this far. meanwhile, the sturmey-archer three-speed hub has changed little, if at all, since its invention.

i might leave you with the following question which, i believe, sums up the present situation: does shimano have a wireless version of the alfine hub in development? (possibly, but given the size of the market, why did dura-ace, ultegra and 105 come first?)

thursday 8 june 2023

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riding with the rocketmen - one man's journey on the shoulders of cycling giants. james witts. bloomsbury sport paperback. 278pp £14.99

riding with the rocketmen - james witts

there is a conceit harboured by many a weekend velocipedinist, that in their version of the movie 'sliding doors', one scenario would have them, at the very least, as a tour de france domestique. those with a higher opinion of themselves would no doubt be team leaders. over the years, i have read and reviewed many books purporting to offer the very training schedules adhered to by the professional classes; i cannot subscribe to possessing an ego that would contend that page by page adherence would elevate my status to the hallowed ranks, but that is often the inherent promise contained within the front and back covers.

i don't doubt that there is a case for ascribing cycling superiority to a certain level of natural talent, suitably honed at the behest of a comprehensive training programme, but i'm just as sure that there are many amongst the professional peloton who have made their way there with large dollops of ambition, dedication and a work ethic that would make the average protestant look as if he/she was phoning it in. graeme obree once told me that he figured even the act of training amounted to cheating; that all competitors ought best compete on natural talent alone. it is the latter option that is initially of concern to author, james witts.

a long-time cycling journalist, with just the sort of top level connections that no doubt eased the writing of 'riding with the rocketmen', mr witts opted to enter the annual étape du tour in 2022, featuring a parcours that encompassed some of the hardest mountain climbs france has to offer.

"Ahead would be 167km of cycling [...] including three of the most famous, and infamous, climbs in Tour de France history: Col du Galibier, Croix de Fer and Alpe d'Huez."

this annual opportunity to test your mettle against the performances of the professionals, attracts over 16,000 participants, many of whom were probably already eyeing up marco pantani's record ascent of that last climb. the author suffered from no such disillusionment, realising even in january 2022, that he might conceivably have bitten off more than his legs could chew (so to speak). however, to apportion mr witts' place in the cycling firmament, he had access to more than simply the local library's minimal selection of cycle-training books.

"...sports writing has afforded me the fortunate position of holding a direct line to the world's best riders and, arguably more important for my own travails, the world's best cycling coaches, exercise physiologists and sports nutritionists."

the pages that follow detail the next six months of the author's career, occasionally interrupted by the tail end of a virus that all but shut down the world, visiting with tadej's team-mates and performance consultants, john moore's university, coach, phil mosley, specialized's performance plan bike-fitters, manchester institute of health and performance, alongside as many otheres as can be fitted into a busy six-month schedule for both author and professional teams.

in the quest for literary and étape success, mr witts subjects himself to sportives, nutritional privations, exhaustive ramp tests and anything else he felt might sharpen the top end. "It was time to assess where I was and, once the tears of disappointment had dried, I would need a plan."

as a means to an end, you may think this something of an over-reaction for an attempt on the étape du tour by an admittedly overweight family man in his mid-forties. in 2007, as i was about to undertake my first londres-paris, following months of what i laughingly referred to as 'training', a young fellow aside me on the start-line admitted that he'd done no training whatsoever, riding a borrowed bike that was essentially too small for him. from those 16,000 who annually enter the étape, there must be a healthy proportion who seriously over-estimate their own abilities.

that's why there's a broom wagon.

so why risk over-egging the pudding, even if you do have the connections that would allow you to make several omelettes? well, in point of fact, this is a very clever book, with a strategy and modus operandi that far exceeds the notion of riding a sportive, even if that exists as one of the hardest sportives in the cycling world. if evidence is required, let me inform you that the author's actual riding of the étape occupies only a mere 23 pages of the 278 on offer. but what james witts has accomplished here is far greater than the sum of the book's parts, offering us a 2022 snapshot of cycling's state-of-the-art. the twelve chapters display the level to which aerodynamics, nutrition, training, bike-fitting, psychology and clothing technology had reached less than one year past.

and whether intended or not, it also offers some form of perspective from which to view what might legitimately be regarded as cycling's excesses. "...the Aero Power package, which includes six hours of assessment and wind-tunnel time, costing £1275." for the pros, the cost of admission is considerably higher, even if the tab is being picked up by the team sponsor. "Simon Yates won his first-ever Grand Tour time trial wearing a bespoke Vorteq suit that cost around £3,500."

tactfully, the author makes no prejudicial comment on any of the foregoing, leaving the reader to ponder, not necessarily his use of the facilities to improve his own chances in the étape, but the very fact that cycle sport finds it necessary to spend considerable amounts of money examining every last one of dave brailsford's marginal gains in the search for victory and sponsor satisfaction. we've always been aware that there's a considerable gap between our lowly selves and the professional classes. now we know not only why, but are left to consider whether cycle sport would be any less exciting and enjoyable without it.

the author's self-deprecating humour, ability to translate complex concepts into readable prose and commendably relaxed narrative, makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read. the subject matter might well have provided mr witts with the perfect platform to parade his lengthy list of cycling contacts, or his apparent progress gained from following the sage advice provided by many of those contacts. that these were subsumed almost to the point of casual asides is very much to his credit.

one of the finest, cleverist and ostensibly important cycle sport books of recent times.

wednesday 7 june 2023

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................

independence day

vintage marine pearl

i am, at present, wrestling with the potential purchase of an additional drum for my already overqualified drumset. the drum itself is quite magnificent, matching the wrap applied to the existing kit, but sporting a shell configuration that greatly appeals to my sensibilities and aspirations. the downside is that it currently rests in a drum shop on north america's east coast, a location that automatically adds to the price by way of relatively hefty carriage costs. and were that an insufficient obstacle to purchase, there's the not inconsiderable duties and vat applied by britain's customs and excise.

yet, despite all those agglomerated costs, the total purchase price is still several hundred pounds less than ordering the same type of drum direct from my nearest authorised dealer.

were it simply a matter of the associated costs, the purchase decision would be a simple one, and the drum would be boarding a fedex flight to scotland even as we speak. but, as with many things, there's more to it than that (isn't there always?) it's a problem related to velominati's #rule12, which states that the correct number of bicycles to own is n+1, where n is the number you already own. what that particular equation fails to regulate is just what one might do with those +1 bicycles. if i possess a road bike, mtb, 'cross bike, leisure bicycle and (under sufferance), a gravel bike, any additions to the above could potentially make life more difficult.

for instance, what would i do with a second road or 'cross bike? which would i choose on a saturday or sunday morning, and why? what happens to one of those bicycles if i discover that i favour the other? i'm sure i need not overly labour my point. whether or not to purchase the drum mentioned in my opening paragraph creates a remarkably similar conundrum.

the drumset currently in my possession comprises four drums: bass drum, rack tom, floor tom and snare. i have played such a minimalist setup for many a long year, finding that, in terms of the music i am called to perform, i scarcely need any others. but peer pressure from the professional drumming world at large, would suggest that i ought best be aiming for a set that features two rack toms and two floor toms. the drum under consideration falls under the latter categorisation. though i do not necessarily consider this as a first step to an ultimate two-up, two-down configuration, there's a greater than evens chance it would actually happen in the foreseeable future.

my main concern is, will i make best use of a second floor tom? based on the present band set-list, i can see little need for a second floor tom; the current incumbent is hardly subject to excessive stick marks on the head. that, however, does not preclude that there will come a day when two floor toms will be a welcome addition to my percussive arsenal. since the prospective purchase would undoubtedly save money on the purchase of a custom order, i have a horrible feeling that, at some point, i'll hear myself saying "i told you so". meantime, i'm struggling to identify whether i am suffering at the behest of clever marketing, the persistence of which, has convinced me that with only a single floor tom, nobody will take me seriously.

despite fervent practising, i'm neither vinnie or steve, and as far from buddy, gene or louie as ever i was.

richard moore, in his respected book, 'in search of robert millar' relates the story of millar addressing scotland's commonwealth games cycle team, and forestalling any questions regarding his choice of equipment at the tour de france, principally on the basis that they were "...not riding the tour de france." in the long-term, millar's words would appear to have essentially fallen on deaf ears. aside from my constant disparaging of the whole gravel/bikepacking scene, for which there will likely be some future retribution, i am mildly amused by the fol-de-rol surrounding the weekend's unbound gravel race, where online media have all but fallen over themselves to present insight into the professionals' preparations for the event and the bicycles aboard which they either won, or didn't.

i make the major assumption that none of those reading participated in the 2023 unbound gravel event, meaning that any bicycles, prototypes or pre-race preparations are likely of only academic interest. according to one online source, "mud can wreak havoc on a bike - wrecking drivetrains, clogging frames and stopping wheels, so equipment choice becomes even more important." at the risk of appearing overly deprecatory, i should imagine this is a state of affairs with which the mountain biking fraternity are well-acquainted. apportioning such potential problems to a specific gravel event, seems perilously akin to reinventing the wheel.

and then there's all the associated paraphernalia. knowing of individual bike choices, selection of cassette ranges and chainring teeth numbers seems particularly pertinent to only the 2023 unbound gravel event. for instance, how does being made aware that previous winner, ian boswell opted for a specialized diverge str, with 30mm front and rear travel, a 10-50t cassette and a 48 tooth single chainring, help me when i take my specialized crux for an offroad ride this saturday? i seriously doubt that three laps of bridgend woods relates in any way to the unbound parcours.

in relation to both percussive and velocipedinal choices, the word i'm probably looking for is perspective.

tuesday 6 june 2023

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................