patience, dear boy


as i begin to scribble, lennard kamna has just taken the win in stage nine of the vuelta espana, currently led by jumbo visma's sepp kuss. and a tad nearer to home, the seemingly irrepressible wout van aert provided the perfect lead out for fellow team member, olav kooij to take the first stage in the tour of britain, the belgian holding on for second place.

in the vuelta, due to poor weather at the summit and a disagreeable amount of mud on the road, the organisers opted to take the gc positions at 2.5km to go to the finish line. earlier images on eurosport showed a very wet and muddy final 100 metres, a situation that closely the resembled the cyclocross season soon to commence. according to a quick search on google, the first official european cyclocross event will take place on the weekend of 17 september in mechelen in the netherlands. whether this is an event likely to be televised on eurosport is unknown at present, but i'm led to believe that every event comprising the uci world cup, the x2o badkamers trophy, exact trophy and super-prestige races will be broadcast by eurosport/gcn.

following last year's wall-to-wall coverage, it may be that cyclocross has garnered a sufficient following to encourage the same level of broadcasting this year and into 2024. aside from the spring classics in the early part of the year, i am very much of the opinion that the giro, le tour, la vuelta and all the races in between simply get in the way of the annual cyclocross season. however, for some events, there's still something of a lengthy wait. the x2o badkamers series kicks off on 1 november with the trofee oudenaarde - koppenbergcross, while the super-prestige series presages that by several days with the overijse - vlaamse druivencross taking place on 22 october. the uci's world cup series begins across the pond in wisconsin on 15 october, before moving onto belgium at maasmechelen on 29 october.

it seems more than likely that current cyclocross world champion, mathieu van der poel will participate in several of this year's events, along with wout van aert, possibly keen to redress the balance when it comes to the world championship race in tabor, czech republic on 4 february 2024, and where the latter two go, so (usually) goes tom pidcock. in last season's events it was not at all unusual to watch van der poel, van aert and pidcock ride away from those for whom cyclocross is the sole object of their careers. that can hardly be a palatable state of affairs for the riders who began their 'cross season on day one, only to watch the latter three turn up midway through a hard-fought season and ride off into the sunset.

however, from a spectator's point of view, the participation of mvdp and wva was manna from heaven and reputedly increased spectator numbers at each event, to say nothing of the tv audience. for british viewers, and particularly those north of the border, it will be interesting to see whether british 'cross champion, cameron mason, can bridge the gap and make it four riders aiming for the top spot on each podium.

if nothing else, it allows me to regale my office colleagues with frequent mentions of badkamers and super prestige, to say nothing of the names of those belgian riders. nobody actually pays a blind bit of notice, but it always help start the winter weeks the way i hope to continue.

monday 4 september 2023

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the right tool for the job (part two)

world bicycle relief buffalo bike

returning from my recent trip to scotland, the coach on which i travelled, passed auchentoshan distillery, one that is related to bowmore distillery down the road from the croft, and also owned by beam suntory. on the approach was a sign near the road on which auchentoshan had paraphrased steve jobs by declaring the product to be 'distilled different'. it would be a full time job pointing out to modern-day copywriters the niceties of english grammar to prevent them from trashing years of education, but if we bypass that for the present, that sign is manifestly incorrect.

a good friend of mine, a retired distillery manager, once pointed out that the biggest problem for any distillery, new or old, is differentiating its product from the competition. according to his considerable experience, there is a very narrow window of opportunity to alter the distilling process in order to produce a dram that is marginally different from the next distillery along the road. islay whiskies are renowned for their peaty smokiness, despite the fact that there are only really three out of the current nine which offer heavily peated whiskies (ardbeg, lagavulin and laphroaig). the farther north and west on the island you travel, the lower the phenol content of the dram.

however, no matter the smokiness - or lack of - of the whisky, the distilling process is essentially the same. granted, everyone's stills vary in shape, but we're still talking a combination of water, yeast and barley. so to concoct a sign that infers, out of all the distilleries in scotland, that one distills its product different(ly), is playing fast and loose with the truth. however, it is an inherent quaintness of the whisky industry that aficionados of whichever brand you care to name, seem more than willing to suspend belief, and indulge the media departments in their often false conceit. if you doubt my word, read the story on the back of ardbeg's latest expression at thirteen years old and matured in sauterne wine casks.

we can laugh, but to a certain degree, as cyclists with a penchant for a new bicycle every now and again, it appears we may be no better.

witness, if you will, the wholesale shift to 'dropped seatstays' for which i have received no convincing explanation, no matter who i've asked. as far as i can ascertain, this is a fashion choice rather than an engineering one, serving no particular mechanical purpose. and where once the concentration was on making the average road bike frame as light as practicable, suddenly the emphasis changed to aerodynamics, despite the majority of us riding too slowly to gain any pragmatic advantage from reputedly cutting through the air with greater alacrity. and on recent anecdotal evidence, it appears that aero frames may now be so last year, with the tables having reverted to weight saving, a factor that, for most of us, really only comes into play on lengthy, steep climbs.

though i'm scarcely comparing like with like, while my steel ritchey logic gives every indication of lasting longer than its owner, the taurus corinto that sits forlornly at the back of the bike shed, proffers a robustness that may even place the ritchey in shadow. yet all this is what might be capitalised as cycling different, to borrow from the folks at auchentoshan, despite any acoustic bike at which you might point the finger, working in a similar manner. as does the buffalo bike engendered by world bicycle relief.

so while many of us live in thrall to the next big thing from canyon, pinarello, cervelo et al, keen to slice through the air with greater ease and the extreme lightness of being, the buffalo bike eschews all such fripperies with the aim of getting the job done. while shimano, sram and campagnolo refine their hydraulic disc brakes, the buffalo continues to stop by means of a rear wheel coaster brake. and though no self-respecting roadie leaves home without a small saddle pack containing multi-tool and inner-tube (or whatever the tubeless equivalent might be), the buffalo features a rear rack capable of supporting up to 100kg.

though it will never come to pass, i doubt very much whether the current vuelta espana would be any less exciting if our heroes were to compete aboard identical buffalo bikes. where we have witnessed carbon bicycle frames and components breaking in the heat of battle, the buffalo's plain gauge steel tubing would likely survive falling off the angliru. the only thing wbr's bike would appear to have in common with jonas vingegaard's cervelo is a similar lack of exposed cables, though in the case of the buffalo, it's because it doesn't have any.

do not misunderstand me, i am not for one minute suggesting that we divest ourselves of the latest in velocipedinal technology in favour of a return to our early 20th century roots. but what i am suggesting is that, in order to help those with nothing, to cycle different, that you donate at least a tenner to help some poor soul in rural africa experience the same delight that any of us would, on a new bicycle day. then, instead of being different, we can become the same.

donate to world bicycle relief

sunday 3 september 2023

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i've got you covered

british cycling membership

on the channel five programming that follows the activities of britain's traffic police, more than just a handful of arrests involve youngsters subsequently charged with either careless or reckless driving (a distinction not fully explicable in the course of an episode), frequently augmented with the charge of driving without insurance, a somewhat tautological appendment given the nature of the alleged offence. for it is a legal requirement that the majority of those on four wheels must possess at least third-party insurance, if not the full comprehensive kind. bicycles, however, remain exempt from a requirement for either, a situation that, in modern times, i still find to be an oddity.

in my daily ministrations to earn a crust, it has been commonplace (until recently) to receive an amalgamation of the previous week's legal infringements, kindly and helpfully distributed by a member of the constabulary in lochgilphead. though not all of those electronic missives features misdemeanours incurred within the islay and jura area, it is of note that many of the road traffic excesses also include the lack of suitable insurance.

from a cyclist's point of view, it is still an extreme rarity for any bicycle to be stolen, even those with a relatively high monetary value, for two particularly good reasons. firstly, from a population of just over 3,000, there are probably less than thirty who would admit to the apellation, cyclist. therefore, stealing a bicycle of any description would surely prove to be a rather pointless exercise, given the lack of any appreciable market into which it might be sold. apart from that, the acquisition of someone else's bicycle would scarcely remain a secret for more than a few hours.

secondly, while we often read of high-value bicycles being stolen to order, that would prove an uneconomic task, given the need for not entirely inexpensive travel to the island on the off chance that there's a bicycle worthy of nicking, and the not inconsequential task of removing it from the island un-noticed, particularly where ferry timetables and advance bookings are concerned.

though pedal cycles are frequently covered under a home-insurance policy, given the increasing sums of money incurred by ownership of a quality bicycle, it would be unusual to find the insured amount being equal to that of the price paid. however, despite the above information, the last time i enquired about the costs of specific bicycle insurance (for research purposes), i was informed that there were only two categories: city locations and everywhere else. so despite the likelihood of bicycle theft on the islands being quite miniscule, i would have been charged the same as a cyclist living in one of scotland's more populated urban areas.

however, i believe that my liabilities as a cyclist, while demonstrably and statistically lower than those domiciled on the mainland, are still more likely to be tested than that of bicycle theft. i have, as a rule, altered my grand dèpart of a saturday morning to a slightly more circuitous route past the local secondary school, then down past the distillery and leisure centre, rather than incur the possible iniquities engendered by the more direct route down bowmore main street. the latter is not only fraught with crossing pedestrians, often oblivious to the speeds attainable while freewheeling downhill, but also drivers who park and open their car doors without checking for oncoming traffic of any kind.

however, should one or other of those obstacles be encountered elsewhere upon my route, there's no denying that i could be caught unawares, or collide with one while attempting to avoid the other. in that case, it is entirely possible that i would be held responsible for any damage caused, despite the circumstances being not of my making. which is right where appropriate, third-party insurance could well come in handy, a thought of which i was reminded on arrival of this year's british cycling membership details.

i have mentioned frequently that, despite no intention to pin a number to my jersey, my membership of british cycling's governing body is curated by a need to ensure i am insured. my silver membership brings with it the benefits not only of free legal advice should any of the above happenstances come to pass, but an appropriate amount of third-party insurance should i be remiss and cause damage to a vehicle, property or personage. cycling uk offers similar benefits for a similar annual fee.

the islay ferry route has become the largest for freight of any of the west coast routes, outsizing that of even the western isles which feature a population almost seven times greater than that of islay and jura. that is almost entirely at the behest of the distilleries' production levels and current construction projects, but it means that the islands' roads are highly populated by articulated trucks and construction vehicles, not always the best of bedfellows for even the smallest peloton. however, i tend to think that even this level of commercial traffic is likely a great deal less than seen on many a mainland route.

in which case, if you're not insured, you really ought to be asking yourselves why?

saturday 2 september 2023

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time is of the essence


incredibly, and almost surreptitiously, we've reached the beginnng of september, a situation made incalculably worse on realising that i'm not sure i've yet finished with the month of may. and, as i leave the croft each morning for the daily pre-office walk, there is the constant reminder that the south-facing wall of thewashingmachinepost bikeshed is in sore need of painting with wood preservative; more or less the sole component that keeps the building standing. if 2023 proceeds as has every other year, there are few, if any weekends left on which to remedy the situation.

of course, 'tis not all gloom and doom. there are events and cyclocross to which one might look forward. next weekend will see the first islay book festival for several years, interrupted as it was by covid and lack of a suitably constituted committee. mid-september brings the highlight of the islay season (for me at least) in the shape of the lagavulin distillery sponsored islay jazz festival, during which i hope to, at least briefly, strut my percussive stuff. and to shift focus a smidgeon further north for a couple of days, there's the jura music festival at the end of the month.

we might be described as a remote community, but we know how to party.

september does, however, herald the onset of having less concern over the carriage of a stowaway waterproof, to a wholesale shift towards leaving home while wearing goretex. the trick, as seen from the outer edge, is to maintain the spring/summer schedule by continuing to ride each and every weekend. while those of you cosseted in more urban or inner city regions might be currently discussing the possibilities offered within the indoor world of watopia, we are considering the possibilities of, as scotty would have said, 'raising our shields'. it is important to take an aggressive stance against the weather, and ensure that we, as cyclists, are always on the winning side.

of the velo club members, there are but two of us who live in thrall to the world of european cyclocross, eager for eurosport to reprise last year's superb coverage of the major trophy events, allowing pelotonic conversations to become once again peppered with mentions of badkammers, super prestige and bingoal!. i fully intend to celebrate the return of the one hour portions of unmitigated joy, by outfitting my specialized crux with a new set of challenege grifo rubber.

however, the nub of this monologue is not about that which i or my cohorts intend to practise, but what we do as a whole. according to those who purport to know, weather patterns across the world are in the throes of change and not necessarily for the better, surely reinforcing the need to lead by example? whether you consider cycling to be an activity, a sport, or something hovering in between, if we harbour desires to recruit others to the cause, while demonstrating a facade of stoicism it does us a great disservice to retreat into semi-hibernation at the first sign of the year's latter two seasons.

though winds inflect island life for the majority of the year, they have a distinct tendency to notably strengthen as september heads towards october and november. though you may think that the addition of new cyclocross tyres comprises a predominantly aesthetic reasoning, joined by a soupcon of narcissism, there is a high-level of practicability involved. when the wind blows hard enough to disturb the matrix, the intrepid velocipedinist can opt to ply the chunky routes within bridgend woods. might i be brave enough to suggest a similar option to those of you domiciled within brief pedalling distance of a similarly wooded area?

according to a former workmate, we spend an average of 84% of our waking hours at work, meaning there is somewhat less than 20% left during which to ride our bicycles. might i suggest that we concentrate on maximising that percentage, even in the face of adversity?

friday 1 september 2023

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less is not more

buddy rich practice pad

in the teen years of my deprived childhood (factually incorrect; used solely as a literary device), i had a hankering after a drum set, having painfully discovered that i was not destined to become the next allan holdsworth. one afternoon making scraping noises on an acoustic guitar and the subsequent remarkably painful fingers on my left hand convinced me of my unsuitability as an apprentice guitar hero. judicious choices such as the above at such an early age would, you might think, have smoothed the path towards an enthusiastic career in music; but you'd be wrong.

my late father, who was a (very) amateur pianist, bore a somewhat unfathomable prejudice against drums, considering them not to be a 'musical' instrument and forbidding any further discussion. at which point, i made use of the orange box of a guitar by masquerading as an earnest classical guitar aficionado whenever my dad returned home from work. what remained under wraps and under the bed, was an upturned biscuit tin, with loose coins inside and a cork table mat taped to the bottom. on this most rudimentary of practice pads, i would assiduously learn my paraddidles, ratamacues, flams and stroke rolls in enthusiastic defiance of my father's expressed percussion embargo.

as it transpired, despite being self-taught, my ministrations were right on the money, providing me with an impressive rudimental technique that persists to the present day. however, as a drum teacher, predominantly at the local secondary school, it concerns me that my father's prohibition was unintentionally the catalyst for my learning the necessities of being a well-rounded drummer. and though it is outwith my remit, i would dearly love to ban any drumset playing for those embarking upon percussive study, across the entire school year.

though this may appear as a contrary stance to adopt, the existence of a shiny, impressive, five-piece drumset in the practice room, exists as an unfortunate distraction to that which i believe would be the beginnings of serious learning. few of the pupils are in possession of a drumset at home, and though i have suggested acquisition of a practice pad, i doubt too much attention has been paid. that said, i have been known to advise that a lack of complaint from their parents concerning wear and tear on the furniture, would be seen as a dereliction of duty, and evidence that frequent practice is being avoided.

unfortunately, no complaints have been received, and i remain without evidence that my junior charges are following my direct wishes.

in essence, that's somewhat contrary to velocipedinal happenstances affecting my daily travail to the newsagent for my newspaper. i have mentioned on previous occasions that i appear to have innocently become a spokesperson for 'my people'. rarely does a week go by that i am not accosted in bowmore main street by a friend or acquaintance, in order to relate an anecdote concerning one or more cyclists who failed to pull into easily observed passing places on the high road. though i may be able to exert minor influence over the sunday peloton (though that's rarely required), i have no means of influencing visiting cyclists as to the level of courtesy they might display when visiting the isles, other than including suitable admonishments via these very pixels.

in this respect, we have been here before, and i'd be inclined to agree with those of you currently thinking 'oh no. not this again!' however, in this particular case, i figure it has become an earnest case of playing to the gallery. those likely to heed such advice are unlikely to be those about which local motorists complain. and those who remain the subject of such complaints will be convinced they are certainly not in need of advice from a country boy such as yours truly.

however, the corollary to my seemingly unrelated drumming diatribe above, is the level of satisfaction to be silently gained from an increasing number of complaints. not to suggest that i delight in their professed and indignant pain, a logical deduction would imply that, if local motorists are finding more frequent cause to moan about visiting cyclists, then it seems likely that islay is playing host to an increasing number of cyclists. and where previous complaints have mostly revolved around solo velocipedinists, recent interactions have been populated with remarks concerning groups of cyclists.

yes, i do indeed wish that slow-moving cyclists would be courteous enough to use the frequent passing-places and allow faster moving traffic to pass, but i am also buoyed by the knowledge that the revolution appears to be proceeding as expected.

thursday 31 august 2023

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is it enough?

bicycle traffic lights

for all those who are aghast at the implementation of london's 'ultra low emission zone' (ulez) the better news that those amongst the self-employed whose ministrations necessarily take them into the zone have been given free rein by his majesty's revenue and customs (hmrc) to list the cost of doing so as a deductible expense on their annual tax return, is at least succour to the self-assessed. this assumes that their vehicle of choice lives outwith the regulations imposed by london's mayor. however, it seems quite likely that the elderly-vehicle owning self-employed might be in the minority, meaning that a perhaps sizeable majority will still find themselves penalised for ownership of an overly polluting vehicle.

the additions to the existing ultra low emission zones is intended to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 10% and car exhaust emissions in outer london by up to 16% by charging an entry fee to those drivers of vehicles excluded by the regulations. i can only assume that the powers that be assume this to be a sturdy deterrent, because there's no current evidence that handing over money to the authorities, actually reduce noxious emissions at all. diesel cars and vans appear to be the hardest hit, with cars registered before 2015 and vans before 2016 falling foul of the rules. a majority of petrol fuelled cars made before 2006 are also restricted. however, since there is still a large number of such vehicles in daily use which have little option to enter the ulez for work purposes, the city of london will levy a daily fee of £12.50. not paying will result in a penalty of £180, reduced to £90 if paid within 14 days.

while the motives for implementing such a scheme (glasgow has also commenced a similar scheme in recent weeks) could be seen as admirable, it's likely the poorest who will suffer the most, unable to afford the cost of upgrading their vehicles to comply with the scheme. while the political machinations might eventually result in a more equitable solution, currently transport for london is offering a scrappage scheme of £2,000 for residents and some businesses, reputedly intended to incentivise londoners to switch to e-bikes, cargo bikes or acoustic bicycles. it's just as well, however, that the scrappage scheme is not being positioned as a means of upgrading to a less polluting motor vehicle, given that the uk's most popular ev (tesla model y), retails from £44,000, and the uk's most popular regular car, (the now discontinued ford fiesta) costs a little less than half that, at just under £20,000.

that being the case, and though there are cheaper regular and electric cars available, none come any where near a purchase price of £2,000. so if e-bikes, cargo bikes and regular bikes are the intended purchasing target on the other side of that £2,000 grant, how pragmatic an offer is it?

edinburgh's electric cycle company mentioned but a year ago, that the average price paid for an e-bike collected from their shop floor, was around £2,700, a cost that may have escalated by a few pounds since then. though i did come across an e-cargo bike in a sale, reduced from £1,999 to £1649, the majority sat in excess of £3,000 up to a riese and muller at just over £8,000. acoustic bikes do reach lower price levels, depending on the type of machinery you're after, and if you're willing to accept that the gravel bike is the current do-it-all bicycle, a decent quality model can be had from under £1,000. however, if we assume that the average number of people in a motor vehicle is two, that scrappage grant may well have to accommodate a second bicycle, certainly doable if acoustic is the way you wish to proceed, but a mere fraction of the cost if sights are set higher.

there's a better than evens chance that, if sadiq khan's plans prove successful, more and more towns and cities may opt to do likewise, many without the financial wherewithal to offer anything like £2,000 or, indeed, anything at all. while i'm all in favour of persuading motorists to leave the car in the driveway and ride a bicycle as an alternative, i'm not sure the cause will be helped by forcing the issue, particularly when the suggested alternatives are probably considerably more expensive than the funding on offer.

and as a last aside, bicycles don't appear to be getting any cheaper.

image: transport for london

wednesday 30 august 2023

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i related only the other day, that i had witnessed a group of scandinavians aboard hired e-bikes near bowmore distillery, most of whom seemed to have little clue as to how to proceed aboard two wheeled transport, even going so far as to crash into each other. though i appreciate the substantial differences between bicycles, whether electric or otherwise, and motor cars, there would have been concerned reports in our local newspaper had the above incident involved hired cars, rather than e-bikes.

renting a motor car requires presentation of both driver's licence and an appropriate means of payment, while hiring bicycles or e-bikes requires only the latter. to be tautologically annoying, there is no onus on e-bike hirers to gauge the ability of the renters to a) ride the bicycle and b) demonstrate any awareness of road traffic regulations or and appreciation of local conventions of the road. in the case mentioned above, crashing into each other might be cause for scarcely-concealed humour, but had they careered into a local cyclist or motorist, i doubt many would be smiling.

however, contemporary thinking would have us believe that the future of individual transport is not necessarily the electric car, but the e-bike. obviously enough, those contentions are not specifically aimed at foreign visitors to our land; in truth they're directed at the population at large. and at the time of writing, i am unaware of any variation on the cycling proficiency training that includes the pros and cons of riding an e-bike in traffic. the average e-bike may not look dramatically different than a standard bicycle, but there are subtle control issues and definitely a marked difference between those who ride acoustic bicycles, and those drawn to the electric side of the fence.

traipsing along glasgow's sauchiehall street only a day after the world championships had ended, despite it being a pedestrian precinct, there was almost an entire peloton of e-bike delivery cyclists weaving in and out the street furniture, riding perilously close to the pedestrian population, yours truly included. though what are classed as s-pedelecs are strictly illegal in the uk, there was observable evidence that such was a nicety being summarily ignored by more than a single rider. one fellow could be seen aboard an e-bike outfitted with a bar-mounted throttle, given the speed at which he traversed the populated terrain without so much as a single pedal stroke. of course, i have no knowledge as to whether he wore one of those delightful red and green enamel badges presented on passing the cycling proficiency test, but i somehow doubt it.

yet, despite the legality of such being in doubt, the acoustic bike appears to have been seriously overlooked in favour of battery power. should further evidence be required that this has become the case, the announcement that the car sales website auto trader will now feature over 1500 e-bikes from a wide variety of manufacturers, possibly signifies the coalescence of two distinct trends. firstly, given the one-hundred plus years of heritage bestowed upon the simple pedal cycle, and its acknowledged presence in the battle against climate-change, auto-trader has not seen fit to include sales of acoustic bicycles within its oft-viewed pixels. the same discrimination has been witnessed in recent years from uk governments, providing grants or interest free loans to purchase e-bikes, but turning a deaf ear towards those who might wish to acquire the acoustic variant.

but it also signifies the next step in subsuming the e-bike into the general classification of transport, a category that seems to have remained obtusely indifferent to the acoustic version, no matter its proffered equanimitous environmental profile. it does however, according to conspiracy theory, signify that the automotive industry might be guilty of future-proofing its own future. to take auto-trader as a pertinent example, should the portent of the demise of the motor car prove to be accurate, the vehicle sales website might turn out to be all dressed up with nowhere to go. including an e-bike category might just turn out to be a commercially astute decision.

the e-bike sales pages on include information on charging and caring for the battery (highly pertinent considering the increasing number of reported battery fires), and also answers the question are e-bikes legal in the uk?, innocently underlining my opening concerns by stating, "You don't need a licence to ride one and it doesn't need to be registered, taxed or insured." this is presumably pleasing news to the site's regular visitors who usually have to contend with annual insurance bills, mot certificates and car tax, amongst other expenses.

i would, however, humbly suggest that at least third-party insurance would be an astute acquisition.

it does seem unfortunate, but not entirely unexpected, that the site shows no signs of including regular pedal cycles in its sales categories (bearing in mind that it sells new e-bikes as well as pre-loved). were it to have done so, it could have been taken as a direct signal that the transport singularity was almost upon us.

incidentally, when autotrader features the word 'bike' as a category heading, it means 'motorbikes'.

tuesday 29 august 2023

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