tools for the job

bill bruford snare drum

i'd like to apologise in advance for once again involving drums and percussion in today's conversation, but since i rather enjoy the occasional relevance the subject brings to that which i eventually hope to discuss, i'll agree that it's a somewhat empty apology. as we have talked about before, the difference between riders aboard specific bicycles, and drummers who chastise a specific marque of either drums or cymbals, is that the latter are said to endorse those brands, while cyclists are sponsored by the bicycle manufacturer. in essence, there is little to no difference between either, but the percussion world prefers to give the impression that, out of all the brands available, drummer x has chosen to play their products.

within the professional peloton, the rider really has very little say over which top tube he or she swings his or her leg; that's the team's preserve. however, if you're willing to accept that there really is very little difference between one carbon frame and the next, a contention that survives every bit as well within the percussion world, whether you're sponsored or endorsing, the end result is pretty much identical.

drummers, or certain members of the percussive milieu, do have a habit of jumping ship with apparent ease, rarely due to any perceived sonic or hardware difference, but most often due to the services the drum company intends to offer. if you are one of the top hitters in the game, it's possible that your endorsed drum company will arrange for there to be a suitably constituted drumset available at venues throughout an international or domestic tour, and the same service within recording studios. the benefit is having no need of continually shipping a kit across the world at great expense to either you or the band which has employed your services.

the purported benefit to either the bicycle brand or the drum marque can often be seen in their press advertising, though on occasion i have had my concerns over the velocipedinal aspect of that process. for example, in the 2004 tour de france, frenchman, thomas voeckler nabbed the yellow jersey on stage four, and defended that jersey for ten consecutive days. at the time, voeckler rode a colnago, with the italian company providing him with a matching yellow frame across those ten, happy days. but, to the best of my knowledge, never once did they capitalise on their good fortune, by publicising that fact in any press advertising.

however, in essence, the message from any brand that has the good fortune to have a rider wear yellow or pink, is that if a frame with their name on the downtube can do this for a professional rider, imagine how much it would enhance your own velocipedinal activities. looking at a particularly attractive drumset as played by a top drummer, the implication is very much that owning a similar setup has the power to transform you from a wannabe into a top percussionist. of course, both situations are marketing codswallop.

if i might use my own situation as a perfect example, i am the proud owner of a five-piece drum workshop drumset, wrapped in vintage marine pearl and featuring a 13" tom, plus two 16" floor toms; a reasonable facsimile of the set used by buddy rich and occasionally, gene krupa, and though a different brand, it features identical cymbal sizes and placement. the hiccup in that situation is the 22" bass drum; krupa and rich were wont to employ a 24" bass drum. but neither lived in a mid-terrace house as far as i'm aware, where a 24" bass drum would be something of an imposition.

of what i can assure you, is that i am possessed of nothing like the abilities and technique displayed by either big band drummer. the set might conceivably visually resemble their own, but that's as close as it comes.

by comparison, were i to avail myself of a sram equipped, black and yellow cervelo, the chances of being mistaken for either jonas or wout is undoubtably to stretch credibility a tad too far. which is why i find it of minor concern to discover features in the cycling press, both in print and online, spelling out component by component the wherewithal employed by the sport's top riders. once again, the implication is that, by acquiring a similar setup, the world will soon be your oyster.

in mitigation, i'm not naive enough to contend that every such feature ought to be viewed with suspicion over any commercial intentions. paying attention to a recent list of bicycles and componentry used by those competing in sbt grvl 2023 (incidentally, i do wonder about the current trend for removing vowels from brand names; it is not one of which i approve), there's no doubt that those considering a personal entry for such an event may be keen to learn of what the top riders consider to be ideal choices for potential victory.

for instance, though i have little truck with the whole gravel genre, were i to opt to participate, it might be seen as foolish to make choices based on either advertising or word on the street. however, there's a high likelihood that many of those top riders possess sponsorships of their own, meaning that, while there may be better products available, they are constrained by the terms of the aforesaid sponsorship contract. in other words, their advice might not be based purely on efficacy.

on saturday evening, i happened across a youtube video featuring ten or eleven snare drummers, most of whom played a different marque to that of their neighbour. granted, each drum was tuned to the satisfaction of its player, but even listening through headphones, it was well nigh impossible to discern any notable quality of sound that would recommend one over the other.

ask yourself this: if tadej pogacar were to ride the tour de france on a colnago v3 equipped with shimano 105 di2 instead of the expected v4rs with dura-ace di2, would so doing be likely to have dropped him several places down the general classification? i think it doubtful. it's the rider that wins races, rarely the bicycle. and vinnie colaiuta, despite at one time changing drums and cymbals more frequently than i change my socks, sounds like vinnie no matter what he plays.

of course, there's absolutely nothing wrong with buying a replica bill bruford tama drumset, or a pinarello identical to that ridden by tom pidcock if you have the money and the desire to do so. there's every possibility that possession of either would provide a degree of inspiration that has you drum or cycle better than usual, but they are simply tools, designed to help you enjoy whichever past-time you choose.

rarely, if ever, is it the equipment that fosters the win, or the impressive drum solo. but i cannot deny that it's nice to have nice stuff, as long as you don't place yourself in debt to do so.

monday 21 august 2023

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it's a fair cop, but society is to blame

crashed car

i have just returned from a brief sojourn to scotland, during which, bereft of bicycle, i was both pedestrian and bus passenger. i cannot testify to the entire coach trip from kennacraig to glasgow, predominantly because i dropped off to sleep en route, but the return journey was a bit more of an eye-opener (if you'll forgive the pun).

the bus service between glasgow and campbeltown, which stops at calmac's kennacraig ferry terminal in each direction, is operated by a partnership between west coast motors and citylink, taking in, as part of the daily route, the roadway alongside loch lomond. as you may be aware, the latter is something of a tourist route, even so far as arrochar, with inevitably at least one pair of individuals alighting at the latter town in order to go hillwalking.

tourist routes are, by definition, busy during the majority of daylight hours, but the oddity, to me at least, seems to be the approach taken by those plying such routes while on holiday. taking a break from either work, the rat-race, or both, is, i believe, intended to provide an opportunity for relaxation, to dispel pent-up anxieties and essentially to live at a slower pace for a short period.

it is something of a conundrum, therefore, to encounter a large majority of motorists and motorcyclists, driving or riding as if they were auditioning for the red bull formula one team, or the intent to participate in next year's isle of man tt. when our coach made its regulatory stop at inveraray, i overheard the driver saying to a colleague, that his heart had been in his mouth at the behest of a large gaggle of motorcyclists who had idiotically ridden on the wrong side of the road to overtake, despite the appearance of traffic in the opposite direction.

and then there were the motorists who, it would appear, simply cannot drive at reduced pace behind a citylink coach, despite the driver proceeding at a more than adequate pace. how some of those drivers made it safely to their respective destinations, is one of those facts only explicable by faith in both wings and prayers.

i may have mentioned on several previous occasions, that not only do i not possess a motor car, but that one of the reasons for that being the case, is the self-admission that i was never a very good driver. at the time of divesting myself of the motor car i did once own, i figured it better so to do both for personal safety and for that of my once fellow motorists. though i believe it to be highly extraordinary for a male of the species to admit to being a very poor driver, in my case, it's just as well i had the apparent humility to do so, for everyone's sake.

i do have infrequent occasion to hire a vehicle for the purposes of transporting an ever-increasing size of drumset, but it is a vehicle that undertakes as short a distance as humanly possible, and a speedy return to the hirer from whence it came. i cannot deny that not only do i feel a great deal more confident on a bicycle, but that might also be verging on over-confidence; perhaps if i lived on the scottish mainland that would be far less likely.

at this time of year, islay plays host to many visitors who arrive predominantly by motor vehicle. only yesterday afternoon, as i valiantly attempted to cross the road on the homeward travail having purchased my weekend newspaper, i was prevented from doing so in a timeous manner, by a convoy of very expensive and personally number-plated aston martins, all, according to large white stickers on their doors, participating in the annual skyfall tour so-named in celebration of the james bond movie.

additionally, bowmore distillery and aston martin have been in partnership for the past three years or so, the distillery usually featuring a metallic blue aston martin dbx in front of the visitor centre. with the expense and power of such vehicles, i'd expect the onwers to exhibit both courteousness and pragmatism while driving on islay's less than pristine road surfaces. but overall, it appears, driving standards ore on the decline, and evidence would suggest that such a declination is not solely exhibited by british drivers.

as i approached a blind corner on the way home from debbie's on saturday afternoon, i was overtaken by a foreign-plate car which displayed no hesitation in speeding past, despite being totally unable to see whether anyhting was likely to be heading round that blind corner in the opposite direction. regular readers will be aware that this was hardly an isolated case. though the end result is often the same, british drivers at least seem to exhibit a moment or two of hesitation before driving past, oblivious to the possibility of death or serious injury.

so are driving standards actually on the decline, or, as cyclists, are we perhaps more frequently, yet less typically exposed to idiots behind the wheel?

according to a survey undertaken almost ten years ago, by motoring publication auto express, 90% of those polled believed that driving standards were very much in decline. however, only 15% believed that their own performance had dropped. this sort of thing bears comparison with those who agree that fewer short journeys ought to be undertaken by motor car, but obviously, for perfectly justifiable reasons, not by them. in other words, everyone else's driving standards are falling, "...but obviously, not my own." to make matters worse, over half of those questioned believed that their own driving had improved.

anecdotally, a member of islay's constabulary agreed with my observation that driving was notably worsening as the years rolled by. an opinion piece by chris harris posted on the top gear website earlier this year, contended that at least a part of the reason may be the introduction of speed cameras and an observable reduction in the number of police cars concealed in the shadows.

"Before speed cameras were invented, we had things called 'police cars'. They lurked in unexpected places and sprung out on you when you'd been naughty. In my case, this would have been due to youthful exuberance, and the result would have been a stern talking to and maybe a few points on my licence."

mr harris continued to point out that, when a speeding ticket arrives in the mail, it is mostly often reluctantly paid, then forgotten about. rarely, according to the presenter, is it regarded as a salient judgment on one's driving ability. "improvement is useless. it will be assimilated."

a few of us in the velo club have seriously considered augmenting the front and rear flashing lights on our bicycles, employed even in broad daylight, with video cameras. however, despite a march 2022 announcement by the scottish government that they had allocated £300,000 to develop a national dashcam safety portal, by october of the same year, police scotland stated that the portal was under review due to budgetary constraints. and despite support from over 30 road user organisations, including both the aa and rac, cycling uk is still having to campaign for implementation of said dashcam portal.

a lack of the latter effectively means that, should we decide that a dashcam is a necessitous part of contemporary road cycling, it is still an uphill struggle to have police scotland view any precipitous footage that might lead either to conviction, admonishment or even a possible improvement in driving standards.

we should not, however, as cyclists, become too self-righteous. though i and others tend to observe a greater number of iniquitous moves by motorists, those on two wheels cannot consider themselves to be blameless. on single track roads, refusing to pull in at the nearest passing place to allow demonstrably faster motor vehicles to proceed, will almost always result in the latter reaching the end of their patience and bludgeon their way past no matter what. that's how accidents often happen.

irrespective as to how justified you believe in your right to be where you are on the road, it's rarely a major hardship to display a little courtesy and get out of the way. be the bigger man/woman; at least you have a better chance of reaching your destination in safety. you'll win very few brownie points by attempting to improve driving standards by more obtuse methods.

sunday 20 august 2023

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standards dear boy, standards

united kingdom conformity assessed

i would be fibbing if i implied that i fully (or even partially) understood the various safety standards to which the cycle industry has to adhere and gain approval. the principal standard most often, and perhaps erroneously quoted by yours truly, is that of bs6102, originally enacted in october 1981. if i've done my research correctly, that particular document was updated to bs6103 in 1992, providing the safety and performance requirements for bicycles used on public roads.

though i have no intention of dissecting the many paragraphs that consitute the charter, it is perhaps worth learning that, while flashing rear lights are not required to adhere to bs6102/3, the flash rate must be between 60 and 240 equal flashes per minute. i would now expect every last one of you to stand behind your bicycles with stopwatch in hand. just to make sure. however, it appears that the advent of brexit may have caused the cycle industry a tad more certification concerns than with which they'd have liked to deal.

while the uk remained a member of the european union, items such as helmets were required to perform to ce standardisation. so doing, created a level playing field across britain and mainland europe, ensuring that uk manufacturers could sell their products in any country affiliated to the european union and vice versa. it also presented manufacturers and importers outside the eu with a single, union-wide specification.

so far, so good.

however, the result of the brexit referendum disassociated britain with its former cross-channel partners, encouraging the uk government to introduce a replacement set of standards: ukca (united kingdom conformity assessed) requiring not only uk manufacturers, but all those intending to sell their products in great britain, to invest 'considerable resource and investment'. there was, therefore, a legal onus for the aforesaid manufacturers to potentially feature stickers for both sets of standards on their products, assuming they were intended for sale across all current and former parts of the eu.

despite the potential requirement for what could legitimately be described as 'double standards', experts have suggested that " most cases they can use the same standards, risk assessments, test data, and technical files. So the only thing which changes is the logo on the product and the words on the Declaration of Conformity."

the ukca standard was originally introduced in 2021, with a period of grace allowed until the end of last year for manufacturers to adopt and display on their products. however, the department of business and trade subsequently delayed the legal date of introduction to 11pm on 31 december 2024. but, as with many aspects of uk life resulting from the uncertainties fostered by brexit, things have changed yet again, with the same government department announcing earlier this month, that they'd decided to extend recognition of the ce mark indefinitely.

and while the cycle industry at large has welcomed this news, it has deftly pointed out that they are now in the situation where they are required to adhere to a standard, the future over which they now have no say. it has also entailed substantial expenditure which, it transpires, was not only unnecessary, but somewhat pointless. chief executive of madison was quoted as saying, "When we were part of the EU we could also influence those standards and I know the Bicycle Association were very influential in ensuring the voice of the UK cycle industry was heard. Unfortunately, due to Brexit, we will no longer have any say in future standards but we will have to adhere to them."

that, he went onto say, was preferable to the costs involved in certifying to both standards, and would, in the long-term benefit british consumers. it was eminently possible that some manufacturers and importers may have decided not to bother with ukca if their present sales level made doing so, commercially unviable.

so, if at some point in the near future, you find yourselves in possession of an item of velocipedinal desire or necessity bearing a hitherto unrecognised sticker, feel free to regale all within earshot, of this specific inequity engendered by the national decision to fly solo.

saturday 19 august 2023

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the future's green; the future's plastic

recycled road

the common apprehension nowadays, bolstered by clever marketing and standardised symbols moulded into a wide range of plastic containers, is that plastic is recyclable. to a certain extent, that's no word of a lie, but it would appear that much of the plastic carefully placed in your blue bin is likely to end up in landfill, for two very simple and explicable reasons.

firstly, as many will be aware, plastic is derived from oil and, as fuel revenues inevitably decline as transportation modes switch away from petrol and diesel to electricity, the oil companies see increased plastic production as a means of protecting their revenue stream. secondly, and arguably more importantly, recycling plastic is an expensive business, more expensive, in fact, than producing new plastic. for aside from the actual costs of melting down plastic waste in order to create new products, like humans, not all plastic is created equal. therefore, the greatly varying plastic containers that we diligently put aside for recycling, require to be sorted into their different types.

our misguided thinking that plastic, is plastic, is plastic, is something that, in truth, doesn't actually fly. and though there may be machinery capable of sorting those plastics into their different varieties, that too, costs money. it is also a less commonly known state of affairs, that plastic can only be successfully recycled two or three times before there is little option but to chuck it into landfill as it reaches the end of its recyclable life.

so why do we recycle, if, within the industry, this is an apparently well known fact?

as it transpires, it appears to have been common knowledge, since at least the 1970s when, according to a september 2020 report on america's npr (national public radio) an industry insider stated, "There is serious doubt that [recycling plastic] can ever be made viable on an economic basis." the reason that we all tend to think of plastic as being recyclable is because the plastics industry has spent millions telling us it was true, because if we all thought that to be the case, we'd be less concerned about purchasing new plastic products. the belief that plastic can be economically recycled, ironically, sold more new plastic; our consciences were clear, and the oil companies' profits remained intact.

the basic problem, as highlighted in the above mentioned npr report is thus: all used plastic can be turned into new stuff, but collecting it, sorting it out and melting it down is expensive. it also degrades each time it is reused, and can't be reused more than once or twice. with direct reference to velocipedinal matters, with a great many of today's bicycle frames built from carbon fibre, (or, as mike burrows was wont to call it, burnt plastic), the quest to find a successful means of recycling those frames at the end of their lifecycle could well be seen as more of a marketing effort than a bona-fide environmental crusade.

it's highly likely that the producers of brand new carbon fibre matting are a tad less interested in recycling their product than they are in producing new product. that's sort of the way capitalism works. however, there might just be a path (literally) out of this less than palatable state of affairs. according to a recent white paper, as highlighted on the website, velo (formerly velonews), in the future, roads and cycle paths could be surfaced using, in part, recycled plastic combined with admittedly oil-based asphalt. the idea itself is not particularly new, with india having apparently installed just under 100,000km of plastic-based roads to date.

and, if i understand it correctly, it would also appear that the types of plastic involved in the process, need less attention paid to their differing types. india discovered that asphalt and plastic are more similar than for which they were originally given credit (both are originally manufactured from oil). replacing a percentage of the asphalt with plastic also reduces co2 emissions, the surface tends to compact less than traditional road surfaces and the microplastics arising from recycled plastic roads are substantially less than those abraided from car tyres.

though the above mentioned reports are of american origin, britain is not entirely outside the loop. with offices in both scotland and england, roadfill has already conducted trials with recycled plastic infused asphalt with tayside contracts and bin group as well as buckinghamshire council. their process excludes pvc (polyvinyl choride), but does include combinations of low density polyethylene (ldpe) and polypropylene (pp). roadfill attempts to use plastics not easily used in more common plastic recycling processes.

perhaps, with a bit of engineering ingenuity, road surfaces might soon find themselves home to former carbon bicycle frames. the ideal circular economy.

the original npr article can be read here

friday 18 august 2023

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road writing

cycling uk and british cycling are the two principal organisations looking after the british nation's cyclists, though arguably with differing membership criteria. i have written previously, suggesting to myself that i may possess membership to the wrong one; i have been a long-time member of british cycling, the very body responsible for issuing racing licences in the uk, when, in point of fact, not only have i never raced, but have no intention of doing so. like many other british cyclists, my membership is largely at the behest of the third party insurance provided with the annual fee (something i believe ought nowadays, to be compulsory for all adult cyclists).

so why didn't i join the possibly more appropriate cycling uk? well, at the time i joined bc, cycling uk was still known as the cyclists' touring club, with a somewhat more fuddy-duddy reputation for arguing over the necessity (or otherwise) of triple chainsets, and cotton duck panniers. nowadays, they're more inclined to lobby government for improvement of the cyclist's lot in life, particularly in the face of ever-increasing motor traffic on britain's roads. however, with a similar set of membership fees, in that respect, there's little to choose between them, so one of these days, i might just find myself jumping ship.

however, having said all that and attempting to make plain the apparent difference in ambition between the two organisations, i do recall more than once, reading press releases from cycling uk, which refer to their intended developent of 'the sport'. though perhaps used erroneously in each set of circumstances, it is rarely helpful to class cycling as a sport, if, in fact, the reference would more logically consider it as an activity. i doubt that any families who take the kids out for a leisurely ride when on holiday or at weekends, would consider themselves to be indulging in sport. there may be a short race to determine who gets the first ice-cream, but it would seem odd that any such participant could compare their velocipedinal outings to those of the tour de france, liege-bastogne-liege or even a track race at herne hill.

based entirely on such suppositions, i recently questioned the purported efficacy of holding the ten-day uci championships in glasgow. though it gained great publicity for the city and for scotland as a whole, the connection between mathieu van der poel's road race victory, and a leisurely ride through the trossachs, or undertaking a cycling commute in glasgow or edinburgh city-centre, seemed almost to be polar opposites. though not a car owner, were i to consider the purchase of a duck-egg blue fiat 500 for the purposes of getting about, i can assure you it would not have been inspired by max verstappen's string of formula one victories. i (and many others) tend to think of cycle racing as many kilometres distant from the use of a bicycle to commute to work.

that, however, may turn out to be an errant point of view.

several bicycle companies used the championships to organise events and, in the case of specialized, the launch of their tarmac sl8 (of which several members of the cycling media have trumpeted exclusive first rides), so perhaps there's more of a relationship between cycling racing and leisure than i'd considered? or, then again, perhaps not.

no doubt the continued success of england's women's football team in the world cup will result in a notable increase in the number of girls participating at what is often referred to as grass roots level, but there's no denying that soccer is definably a sport, since you can hardly football to work, or soccer to school (though i've seen some kids try). so is it possible that there is a number of recent or future cycling converts gaining inspiration to cycle to work having watched wout van aert in action? from a distance, the relationship would seem minimal at best.

however, scotland's principal tourist organisation, visit scotland, ever keen to underline their own success and the popularity of the nation as a holiday destination, claim to have seen a 195% increase in family cycling routes by the final day of the recent championship events. at which point i am reminded of graeme obree's perceptive words "83% of statistics are made up on the spot". visit scotland would therefore seem to be suggesting that cycle racing has had a noticeable influence on the more mundane aspects of cycling, and not necessarily encouraged more folks to rush out and purchase a £4,500 carbon bianchi with 105 di2 and a rotor chainset.

the proof is quite likely to be found in the pudding; many sporting events create an immediate level of enthusiasm that subsequently struggles to persist. when those recollections of the day that tadej came to town have subsided and summer turns to winter, reality might be a tad less inspiring. i will readily accede to accusations of cynicism, but tempered by the hope that i am, in fact, an optimist at heart, in this case (and many others) i would dearly love to be proved wrong. to learn that visit scotland were bang on the money all along and that traffic lights in glasgow city centre have become the scenes of bicycle tailbacks as a result of mathieu and wout having lit the velocipedinal fire, would indeed be a fine reward to reap.

has the bicycle's greatest hour truly arrived (yet again)?

thursday 17 august 2023

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currently on mainland scotland, even if only briefly, i am having to adjust to several different ways of achieving stuff. for those not of an island disposition, the bulk of those adaptations will be second nature, and though i don't wish to advertise my total lack of street smarts, i can't help noticing that which has made me sit up and either feel quite naive, or move-on with many a question to ask. so far, only one of those questions has been of a velocipedinal nature.

but firstly, there is the subject of transportation, which, in my case, other than the initial ferry trip, has been by bus (i don't have my bicycle with me). in order to get to glasgow from the ferry terminal at kennacraig, i had the luxury of a citylink coach to buchanan bus station for a period of three and a half hours.

in the past, even as far back as my college years, it always amused me greatly that on the reverse of the average bus ticket, were the words 'travel by bus'. the amusement came from the knowledge that you had already to have boarded a bus, in order to buy a ticket that advised you to do what you had obviously already done. however, being of an age whereby i have a plastic card that allows free travel on scotland's buses, the practice had usually been to place that card where directed on the ticket machine, following which, the coach driver would press a few buttons and a small bus ticket would be issued from the slot.

that, to my mind at least, made perfect sense, for though no payment had been made, i had a tangible receipt that i hadn't sneaked on under the cover of darkness. as if to reinforce that state of affairs, there are still posters on the glass/perspex behind the driver, encouraging passengers to retain their tickets for inspection. despite the years during which i have made infrequent use of the nation's coach network, i have never known an inspector to board unannounced and proceed to inspect the aforesaid tickets. however, on the three separate but recent occasions on which i have undertaken bus travel, i have received not a single paper ticket, a situation that seems to be the norm. yet those posters advising retention of tickets are still to be seen behind the drivers' seats.

obsolescence part one.

the rationale behind my week-long visit, is to stay with my mother, who, despite her advanced years, is still remarkably fit and healthy. however, she is of a generation that never invested in the internet, and her abode is thus utterly devoid of an internet connection. since it is marginally necessary for me to have some connection with the world at large, i have taken advantage of my british telecom account allowing me to log into localised wi-fi hotspots, a practice that has been my modus operandi for a number of years.

however, on arrival on monday evening, attempting to connect to the above mentioned wi-fi hotspot turned out to be a darned sight more complex than has historically been the case, entirely because i have been sorely remiss in keeping my macbook air operatiing system up to date. therefore, when attempting to login, the page that ought to have appeared during the connection process singularly failed to do so. after almost an hour of inveterate faffing, i realised that my macintosh safari browser is so out of date, that it was incapable of displaying the overly graphically complex login page. setting an alternative browser as the default, then allowed login to proceed as desired.

obsolescence part two.

one of the finer points of travelling by bus is the ability to view a wide variety of goings-on surrounding the field of travel, cyclists and cycling being something for which i am predisposed to watch out. as the citylink coach drove along the very busy dual carriageway through dumbarton, on the outskirts of glasgow and past the town of bowling, i espied a well-kitted road cyclist moving off in the opposite direction, aboard an unrecognised, but quality road bike featuring deep-section carbon wheels. given the time of day, when commuting by car and/or bus was pretty much reaching its peak, i not only had serious questions as to why he had elected to put himself in what seemed to me, a less than safe environment, but quite what his choice of route was likely to achieve?

in his subsequent parcours he was sure to encounter roundabouts, traffic-lights and wall-to-wall traffic across two lanes, all intent on reaching their respective destinations in double-quick time, and most unlikely to appreciated being held up by a considerably slower-moving cyclist. i well know that i am utterly unaware of the chap's circumstances, and concomitantly unaware as to any alternative (and safer) routes that might have been available. but i'm eternally grateful that i have an glorious island on which to ride my own bicycle, happily bereft of the need to subject myself to the dangers of urban sprawl and its associated traffic.

but does that mean cycling in the melée will soon become obsolete?

wednesday 16 august 2023

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1923 the mystery of lot 212 and a tour de france obsession. ned boulting. bloomsbury sport hardback. 283pp illus. £18.99

1923 - ned boulting

the life of a cycling commentator is an onerous one. it's bad enough having to identify select riders within the peloton from the helicopter shots, while viewing the action on a monitor considerably smaller than the average flat-screen tv. but it doesn't end there. the contemporary world is data-driven, and it's simply insufficient to name the rider; today's cycling aficionados are remarkably well-informed, and we demand to know more. for instance, the lad who came third in the intermediate sprint - didn't he make the first break on the cipressa during last year's milan-sanremo? while we might not know the answer, we do expect the commentators to know.

and then there's twitter.

so aside from possessing the ability to talk intelligently and continuously for several hours, during either a grand tour stage or a lengthy one day classic, information is key. and nor should we take the ability to actually commentate for granted. select any cycle race highlights you want, turn off the volume and attempt your own commentary. and while you're at it, record what you're saying. if, when you listen back to your own words, you can manage more than five minutes without inserting incessant 'ands', 'errs' or 'ums', then eurosport or itv might be interested in your giving them a call.

but the difference between average and excellent is probably research before the fact. aside from being able to identify a colourful set of smudged pixels on a monitor, knowing everything there is to know about that smudge is paramount. just ask ned boulting, for his impeccable ability to conduct research based on remarkably little has produced one of the finest books it has been my privilege to read.

"This is the story of an obsession. Actually, and mor specifically, it's the story of an obsession within a pandemic after which there is a war."

in 2020, itv4's well-respected tour de france commentator, ned boulting and the entire production team were forced by covid restrictions to remain on british shores. but prior to that particular lockdown, the author crashed into a ditch on his bike, breaking his arm. "there began a period of my life which layered confinement upon rehabilitation, upon self-isolation. fortunate, therefore, that a friend of mr boulting alerted him to lot 212 in an online auction, a rare film reel from the tour de france from the 1930s (condition unknown).

there's a pretty good chance that many of us might have been keen to bid on such an apparently rare artifact, but had we been successful, that's more than likely where the story would have ended. ned, however, eventually acquired this mysterious reel of film for only £120 "Lot 212 had generated very little interest."

the author's initial viewing of what transpired to be two minutes and thirty seconds of black and white footage from an early edition of the tour de france was through holding it up to the window and gently unravelling the footage from the reel. he subsequently had this short snippet digitised: "Over an internet link, I downloaded a 5.68gb mp4 file." [...] "I watched it through once, my heart racing. I don't think I blinked."

ned's research utimately brought the revelation that, despite the auction site's contention that the footage originated from the 1930s, the footage before him was from the 1923 tour de france. pinning down the precise year was harder than you'd imagine, for apparently, father of the tour, henri desgrange, used an identical parcours for the tours of 1920, 21, 22, 23 and 24, making the author's research a tad more of a challenge than it would have been had the footage featured tours of later years.

"I checked the weather reports from the various years in question. In the film it is clearly dry and fairly sunny in every shot."

through repeated watching, research, educated reasoning and conjecture, mr boulting began to occupy the hours, days and weeks of lockdown to identify the riders featured in the silent, monochrome footage, the first stage of which indeed indisputably showed the 412km stage four of the 1923 tour de france, reaching from brest to les sables d'olonne. but had the author been satisfied with simply learning the date of those two minutes and thirty seconds, 1923 would have proved to be a rather compact and bijou volume.

it turns out, however, that mr boulting is possessed not only of an insatiable degree of curiosity, but a practiced ability to undertake research into the minutest of details. in one scene from the film, a lone rider is seen advancing across an iron bridge, his name spelled in the caption as 'beckman'. "I had to arrive at the key realisation that the filmakers had misspelt his name." the rider in question turned out to be of flemish origin: théophile beeckman. having pinpointed the rider's name, the author was able to place a definitive date on this section of film: 30 june 2023.

further investigation appeared to identify one of the men present in the stage start as that of henri desgrange. the author believes this to be the only occasion on which the tour's organiser ever appeared on film. continued research identified the rider in the leader's jersey as ottavia bottecchia. had the book ended at that particular point, ned boulting would have fully deserved a thunderous round of applause for his tenacity alone. but at this point, he was already down the rabbit hole.

but it is théophile beeckman who subsequently forms the backbone of what follows. the rider had finished fifth, sixth and fourth overall in consecutive years at le tour, but "Search as I did, I could initially find precious little else about him". yet finding out more is exactly what ned boulting brings to the table, framed by parallel happenings in europe. france was fiercely imposing rigid curtailments upon germany by way of reparation for that nation's grave impositions during the recently ended first world war. nazism in defeated germany was on the rise at the behest of adolf hitler. the tour de france was not an event that existed in isolation.

this is one of the most intelligent sporting books i have come across in many years of reviewing cycling books. ned boulting's intensive research abilities are accompanied by an admirable sense of perspective and, given his well-earned stature within the sport and broadcast, a remarkable sense of humility. the writing is compulsive, eloquently conveying the twists and turns of the story as it unfolds. it would be insidious of me to recount each and every aspect of mr boulting's tour de france obsession; he can do so far better than i could achieve in a review. and, of course, the author allows the reader the necessitous luxury of viewing the film via an included q/r code on page 15 (and on the back cover). my only criticism would be the absence of a published web address for those of us bereft of a device capable of scanning that q/r code.

i cannot confidently underline just how excellent this book is. in my humble opinion, should the publisher be of a mind, it ought to win the 'sports book of the year' by some considerable margin. mr boulting, you have my undying admiration for having written this book.

the author also describes how he successfully donated lot 212 to france's pathé news archive, originators of the film, in return for permission to allow readers of the book to view the footage.

tuesday 15 august 2023

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