far from ready

bridgend woods

ahead of the advised delivery date, i received a new pair of cyclocross tyres to replace those about which i recently wrote, where the tread was parting company with the carcass and the sidewalls were in a sorry state. and just to reiterate at this point, there is not chance whatsoever of my participating in an organised cyclocross event, neither in the present or foreseaable future. however, as an avid 'cross fan, i take great pleasure in riding my cyclocross bike across terrain that bears some resemblance to that seen on 't tellybox, hence the requirement for suitable replacement rubber for the specialized.

i do plan to provide some sort of review of the chosen tyres (challenge grifo 700 x 33c), but there's no denying that the box containing said tyres, while sat in a corner of the sitting room, was beginning to cry out to be fitted to my set of wheelsmiths, so on saturday morning, i happily acquiesced to its persuasions.

i do hope that it's not only me, but for the past few years i have found the fitting of pretty much all types of tyre, to be a trial of strength and tenacity. the majority seem to have been manufactured by individuals who have little understanding of the specific 700c measurement, for even with an appropriate set of tools and unbridled enthusiasm, the battle between tyres, wheels and yours truly, inevitably ends with sore thumbs, a furrowed brow and a lot of bad language, though i'd be willing to agree that the end result is often (almost) worth the aggravation.

however, having fitted the tyres and possibly overinflated them just a smidgeon, i headed for the confines of bridgend woods where, quite some time ago, i last attempted my world famous wout van aert impersonation, famed for its lack of any resemblance to the belgian's speed, bike handling or panache. nonetheless, with the 23/24 cyclocross season just visible on the horizon, i find that my enthusiasm for the sport is immeasurably enhanced by my own feeble attempts to imitate the professional practictioners.

at one time, following online instruction from former usa cyclocross champion, jeremy powers, i learned how to correctly mount and dismount a 'cross bike. my own attempts may have lacked a certain something, but they did produce a warm glow inside that i might just, from a distance, have passed for someone with a vague idea of what they were doing. sadly, all those hours of practice have been relegated to the backroom, and there's no real doubt that i will have to put myself throw the selfsame growing pains once again to give the appearance of being in possession of the necessary cyclocross augmentation.

however, as an opening gambit, i satisfied myself with getting around the unwritten parcours without falling off, or making a complete fool of myself in front of the inevitable dog-walkers.

as it transpired, dog walkers were all but absent, allowing me to strut my stuff bereft of audience. though it's been a few years since last i rode these trails, nothing much has changed, though i note that the gate previously barring entry to the woods appears to have suffered an ignominious fate, lying derelict and misshapen beside the track.

though the trees in the woods have yet to adopt their autumnal hues, the mud/gravel/grass track features an often dense overlay of leaves, hiding the bumpy bits that i had hoped to avoid. the route through the woods can be construed as a circular pattern, allowing the intrepid cyclocrosser to exit at the same point of entry. it's a parcours that i was once in the habit of riding across subsequent weekends, predominantly on the basis that it's a reasonably intense workout; undertaking it just once on saturday morning, was as much as i could comfortably manage without being faced by a population of black spots in front of my eyes.

i'd love to say that, in the true tradition of professional cyclocross, i persisted for the full hour but, truth be known, i baled out after only half that time to head for debbie's and my double-egg roll.

i have ridden islay's roads twice, each and every weekend for as many months as i can recall, with an average distance total of around 160km per week. as far as anyone else is concerned, i'm a fit fellow (for my age), but it would appear that, in order to undertake even half an hour's simulated cyclocross (without, i might add, any attempt to dismount and carry the bike up a steep hill - that'll come later), i am going to need considerably more stamina.

unfortunately, that's very unlikely to be achieved sitting in front of an imac five days per week, but i'll let you know.

monday 25 september 2023

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

on the way down

car free street scotland

when lockdown kept us all at home, apart from the daily exercise allowance, those still employed and able to work took to the saddle as a means of transport. so doing obviated the need to share enclosed spaces, such as train carriages, or buses with others who might well have passed on the often deadly covid virus. as a result, bicycle shops were given licence to remain open, while the majority of retail suffered compulsory closure. in fact many eventually found themselves constrained to offering repairs and maintenance only, as the bicycles that occupied the shop floors had mostly disappeared like snow from a drystone wall.

this cycling boom, proclaimed by many who ought to have known better, was welcomed as the bicycle's finest hour having arrived at last. paying at least lip service to this state of affairs, cities and towns across the world made temporary provision for the dramatic increase in cycling numbers, promising that these would soon become a permanent part of their transport infrasructure. of course, we all know what happened next; lockdowns were lifted as a result of available vaccines making daily life a great deal safer, resulting in many a bicycle being left in the shed, while the car resumed its previous ascendancy.

the forlorn hope was that those who had taken to the saddle during the pandemic would have discovered what the rest of us already knew. but then, what would life be without a few fantasies to entertain?

according to recent figures published by the department of transport, cycling numbers in the year to june 2023 have declined by 5.2% compared to those of june 2022, a mere 0.6% above pre-pandemic figures. and as if to confirm the previous paragraphs, promises made in 2020 by then prime minister, boris johnson, assured the country of a 'cycling revolution'. but then, why would anyone pay any attention to the words of boris.

by comparison, over the same period, car use apparently increased by more than 2%, somewhat ironic when you consider that friday last week (22 september) was world car-free day, yet another useless waste of time, along with cycle-to-work-day and national bicycle week.

until i sneaked a peek at x (the artist formerly known as twitter) on friday morning, i confess i was blissfully unaware of world car-free day, as were the dozen or so folks that i queried during the day. and though your own mileage may have varied, it seems no-one on islay had been informed in advance, as i witnessed not one iota of difference from the vehicle traffic seen on monday, tuesday, wednesday or thursday. and, at the risk of upsetting someone in cycling uk or similar organisations, i fail to see the point of a car-free day about which nothing is known until the nominated day itself.

surely, if any perceivable difference is to be made, the media (both social and traditional), should have been awash with promotional articles, adverts, interviews, anything in fact that might have persuaded the average motorist to leave his or her car at home in favour of walking, cycling or public transport? but then, perhaps the lack of any pre-publicity was based on not only a lack of conviction, but a total lack of any means of justification? for what was a twelve-hour period bereft of cars supposed to achieve, given that this left 364 days when normal driving activities could continue as before? was the expectation that those who inadvertently discovered friday to be world car-free day would experience a revelation and present themselves as born-again cyclists or pedestrians?

with the current uk prime minister seemingly hell-bent on undoing all manner of governmental ecological promises and environmental strategies, counteracting such obstinate stupidity is going to take a darned sight more than a token day or week of employing non-car transportation. and despite the well-meaning propaganda espoused by cycling uk and associated environmental groups, it's quite clear that a solitary cycle-to-work-day is failing miserably. were the opposite to be the case, we would not be hearing of a 5% decline in cycling over the last year.

i realise that cycling uk, and to a lesser extent, british cycling, face a very tough uphill struggle against the uk's embedded car culture, and if i know it, they know it. so when will it be time to implement a cycle-to-work-month, car-free week, and national bicycle month? the odd day here and there is quite plainly having no effect whatosever.

sunday 24 september 2023

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

the bicycle wheel 3rd edition jobst brandt. isola press hardback 160pp illus. £27

the bicycle wheel - jobst brandt

on wednesday afternoon, a visiting cyclist dropped by the office to enquire whether i might be of some service regarding a damaged rear bicycle wheel. it seem the hapless fellow had arrived off the evening ferry at port askaig and, in the process of making his way to the campsite at port mòr near port charlotte village, he had hit a pothole in the dark, unsettling the rear wheel. according to him, the slight buckle induced by said pothole had resulted in the wheel rim hitting off the brake shoe at every revolution. he had, therefore, loosened the brake cable to make his journey somewhat less irritable.

in the bright light of daytime, the following morning, he had attempted to true the wheel and remove the wobble, but had apparently only succeeded in making matters worse. as he admitted, "i didn't really know what i was doing." as far as that's concerned, he can count himself amongst the large majority of cyclists, who know what wheels are for, but remain uninformed as to how it is they carry out their trade.

in the early nineties, in a forlorn attempt to demonstrate my technical ability as a mechanic to the good folks of the hebrides, i not only acquired a lugged steel frame, but the necessary components to transform it into a road-going bicycle. in for a penny and in for a pound, i opted to purchase two campagnolo hubs, 64 stainless steel spokes, and a pair of appropriately eyeleted mavic rims, convinced that i had the necessary skills to build and true a suitable pair of wheels, using one of the flimsiest (and cheapest) truing stands that money could buy, along with probably the clumsiest spoke-key on the market.

surprisingly, the resulting wheels were not only remarkably true, but until a few years ago, were still to be found attached to the bicycle for which they were constructed.

wheel-building was, at one time, presented as one of the dark arts probably taught by professor severus snape in the depths of hogwarts castle, and approved by he who must not be named. if you take a look at the component parts necessary to construct a wheel laid out on the floor of the bicycle shed, it's often hard to comprehend just how they can be laced into a pattern that will suffer the slings and arrows of argyll & bute roads department, without caving at the sight of the first pothole, as befell the unfortunate fellow mentioned above.

but there is a logical science to the so-called art of wheelbuilding, that the spokes on one side balance out the lateral load placed on the rim and hub flange by the spokes on the opposite side, while simultaneously maintaining a vertical tension that prevents the rim from straying out of the round. as with pretty much any task, the more often you undertake it, the easier it becomes, as was the case with my own wheelbuilding activities. however, when you see the way real masters of the craft approach the situation, it rather undermines the smug sense of satisfaction to be gained from what appears to be a perfectly acceptable pair of wheels.

individuals such as wheelsmith's derek mclay, or former owner of portland's sugar wheelworks, jude gerace, are able to tune a wheelset to suit the customer's weight, style of riding and the use to which any wheelset is to be employed. i can only build wheels, invariably having to relace on discovering that i had inadvertently placed the valve hole beneath a pair of crossed spokes.

however, in an attempt to quantify the explicable science of the bicycle wheel to those eager to explore the nooks and crannies of the art or craft, new york born engineer, jobst brandt, (who passed away in 2015 at the age of 80) wrote the acknowledged bible on the subject, tautologically entitled the bicycle wheel. first published in 1981, the book has been reprinted several times, with this third edition originally released in 1993. until this limited edition reprint from isola press, it last saw the light of day in 2003.

there are no doubt several reviews of the original available on the interwebs, and it's unlikely that i will be able to add much to what has already been said. however, amongst those of us who will secretly admit to being wheelaholics, this is manna from heaven. the majority of wheels fitted to any genre of contemporary bicycle you care to mention, are nowadays likely to be factory built, frequently with straight-pull spokes because that's a lot simpler for the machines employed in their construction. it's also true that many of those spokes are proprietary, costing almost as much for one as for an entire box of dt swiss double-butted stainless steel spokes.

but despite the apparent lack of spokes in some of the factory builds, they are still bound by the scientific principles as laid out by mr brandt.

"guided by engineering principles, I learned to build true and durable wheels."

to outline those principles, part one of 'the bicycle wheel' covers the theory of the spoked wheel, describing tension and compression, explaining how the wheel stands on its spokes ("...the wheel is not supported by the bottom spokes only. Without the rest of the spokes, the bottom ones would have no tension."). even if you have absolutely no intention of building your own set of bicycle wheels, understanding how they work, might well have allowed the chap mentioned in my opening paragraphs to repair his own wheel by knowing which spokes to tweak.

for two distinct reasons, you should probably acquire a copy of mr brandt's the bicycle wheel; for one, it is an almost mythical part of cycling's rich heritage: buy a copy to sit on the book shelf, even if its contents remain incomprehensible. but the second, more pragmatic approach, is akin to forcing a drummer into learning to read music. we all laugh at motorists who have no idea where the oil dipstick resides in their engine, or where to fill the screenwash, so don't be the cycling equivalent. read and understand the principles behind the wheels on your bicycle(s) to provide a better understanding of how they affect performance, comfort and motion.

it has often been said that men in particular will only read the manual as a last resort. sat on the shores of the north atlantic in howling wind and horizontal freezing rain with a buckled wheel on a loaded bicycle is not the time to wish otherwise.

as essential as a saddle.

purchase a copy of 'the bicycle wheel'

saturday 23 september 2023

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


islay e-wheels

as previously advised, i am almost totally bereft of wanderlust, preferring the more conservative option of staying at home for the majority of the year, persistently riding the same roads week in, week out. i can confidently state that, though the velo club peloton has been joined by many velocipedinists over the years, the majority appear to be very much in sync with my philosophy, at least as far as riding on islay is concerned. that said, many appear already to have participated in any number of sportives, gran fondos and cycle tours, so it could be that their sentiments were expressed from a sense of pity.

but it appears (not that i suspected otherwise), that i may be in a diminishing minority, since cycle tourism is reputedly on the increase, though i confess my experience of this development stretches only as far as scotland. scotland's tourist board, officially referred to as visitscotland, likes to think of itself as an organisation with its finger on the (tourism) pulse, to employ an overused cliché. yet as i visited its website yesterday while researching this monologue, i discovered that the landing page, over one month after the event, still states " Glasgow and venues across Scotland gear up to host the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships."

hardly confidence inspiring.

prior to the uci championships, visitscotland were keen to alert and advise potentially cycling-friendly accommodation providers and businesses as to the additional revenue they might acquire were they to adapt to the whims and necessities that a peloton of riders might bring their way. to do so, they offer a series of advice pages covering the practicalities, the potential value-add, marketing advice, and once-again, with disappointingly poor grammatical skills, " businesses got prepared" and benefitted from the cycling world championships. and despite my awareness that many cyclists have displayed a predilection towards either touring or bike-packing, i confess i'd never actually thought of cycle-tourism as a thing.

that very fact might tend to undermine my complicity with any local accommodation providers or businesses, when visitscotland suggest teaming up with local influencers, which, when it comes to velocipedinal matters, local lore would tend to suggest i am pre-eminent. the oddity that currently occupies my inquisitiveness is why those who arrive by motor vehicle are simply referred to, in local parlance, as visitors, while those who arrive by bicycle, are cycle tourists. i realise that this is simply a case of possibly mistaken semantics, but there's no denying that, phrased as such, the distinctions are implicit.

somewhere secure to leave your bicycle is likely of paramount importance; even though islay and jura are very low risk as regards cycle-theft, old habits die hard for those more used to the vicissitudes of mainland existence. surprisingly, visitscotland suggests that accommodation providers keen to acquire the cycling dollar, go the extra mile (pun intended) by offering emergency kits and tool stations, including a range of spanners and allen keys, a bike stand, spare helmets(?) and foremost among their suggestions, a track pump to fit both presta and schrader valves (with a link explaining the difference for the cycling-innocent).

in the years during which i produced websites for several local self-catering or guest-houses, one or two featured the approved visitscotland bicycle logo, indicating their cycle-friendliness. however, other than an outhouse, garage, or shed, in which visitors might safely store their bicycles, i did not come across any which featured a track pump or bike-stand in any of those locations. however, in recent times, the islay access group have placed bicycle workstations in bowmore and on the mixed-use path between bruichladdich and port charlotte. a third will be installed on the soon to be renamed three distilleries path on the outskirts of port ellen, when a fourth distillery is finally completed at portintruan, near laphroaig.

and while there are a number of cycle racks at the entry to the courtyard at ardbeg distillery, those that once existed outside the shop at bruichladdich seem to have disappeared.

of course, given my predisposition towards the road-cycling fraternity, i have touched not at all upon the opportunities that might arise from mountain biking (or gravel) tourism, but i confess that the idea for today's monologue was brought about by the news that a team from canada's whistler adventure school is due to present a series of free sessions in scotland, advising of careers in adventure tourism. this includes information about studying abroad, such as in whistler itself. one therefore has to wonder whether there may be similar opportunities catering to the aspiring road-cycling tourist?

during my early years in the hebrides, there were at least two regular cycling guides who brought parties of cyclists to the island, taking them (i'm embarrassed to say), i know not where around the principality. and a few years later, i met up with two fellows who intended to setup a cycle-touring business, specifically geared towards visiting the distilleries by bike (though following that initial meeting, i never heard of them again). then there was the aspirational tour de islay, prototyped in 2015, inviting participants to ride to all (at that time) eight distilleries in a single day, proffering brevet cards at each visitor centre and having them stamped as evidence of the visit. the variation on that theme was the possibility of doing so at a less frenetic pace over several days.

sad to say, that didn't last either.

but perhaps we ignore the potential joys and propaganda benefits to be conferred by encouraging cycle-tourism both on and offroad. rather than sitting smugly confident about the annual cycle to work day, perhaps encouraging folks to take a holiday by bicycle might be a far more subtle means of introducing a cycling lifestyle, leading to greater confidence in the use of two wheels and a saddle (and battery if necessary) as an everyday means of transport.

worth a try, don't you think?

© visitscotland/kenny lam

friday 22 september 2023

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

every which way is up

give way sign

i'm acutely aware that making comments on the frequently poor behaviour of motorists from the luxury of an island featuring far less traffic than pretty much any mainland location, is perhaps not only ironic in some ways, but just a tad conceited. however, trends, such as poor driving, or an apparent lack of consideration for other road-users is not something that appears to pay much attention to boundaries. thus, if such a lack of etiquette can stretch as far as the hebrides at the tail end of the summer season, then i think it quite possible that something unpleasant is afoot.

or is it?

in the letters page of our local newspaper this weekend is a missive from a local resident whose frequent pleasure it is to undertake a bicycle ride around a portion of the principality, at least half of which includes single-track roads and the occasional cattle-grid. her letter refers to a recent bike ride on which, she claims, five oncoming motor vehicles within a four kilometre stretch of singletrack, ignored nearby passing places and forced her to dismount and drag her bicycle onto the roadside verge to allow them safe passage.

on a personal level, i recently experienced two incidents in the space of a few metres that effectively indicated the placing of cyclists (in this case, yours truly) as second-class citizens. as i reached the junction of bowmore's shore street and main street, two visitors walking on shore street pavement, stepped off at the junction to cross the road without so much as a backward glance to check for oncoming trafiic (in this case, yours truly). i had no option but to slam on the brakes, with no real option to check if anything was behind me (thankfully, there wasn't).

having made it into main street, i headed uphill to the crossroads, intent on turning right into flora street. as is my usual practice, i signalled as i moved into the middle of the road, then signalled once again as i neared the turn, only to be overtaken by a mercedes just before steering right. had i not being paying attention to the vehicle's engine note, which suggested that stopping was not part of their plan, i would probably have had the word 'sedecrem' embossed upon my right thigh. and in response, i did say out loud "what on earth was that all about?" while wondering whether there was any part of the highway code i had ommitted. as you will probably agree, the fault lay entirely with the mercedes driver, who obviously had no concern for my wellbeing whatsoever.

but then there's the persistent query, is it me? and in the case of the aforementioned letter writer, is it her? her experience is hardly uncommon, even here; it happens to the velo club peloton each and every weekend, as does the experience of being overtaken on blind corners. in our case, we are so used to such happenstances, that they scarcely elicit comment. though it would be nice if motorists observed the unwritten protocol that, if closer to a passing place than any cyclist, they were the first to give way, we always work on the assumption that they won't. i reckon the majority of cyclists do likewise.

however, the more we do so, the more such behaviour becomes normalised. i'm unaware whether the newspaper's correspondent met with five vehicles effectively nose-to-tail, in which case, tarring them all with the same brush might be a tad disingenuous. if you've stopped at the side of the road for the first car, why would the following four think it their responsibility to pull over for a stationary bicycle? and if these were five cars met separately over the course of the four kilometres, none will be aware that their predecessors hadn't given way. yes, it would be nice if such a courtesy were proffered, particularly if they had reached the passing place prior to the cyclist, but it's not a legal requirement.

and since neither party appears to have had need of adhering to a timetable, isn't it sometimes nice to be nice? perhaps more to the point, if the cars can be seen in the distance, accepting that at least the first is unlikely to pull-over, would it not be more pragmatic to stop in advance and show that cyclists are courteous where motorists (in this, and many other cases) are decidedly not?

i can definitely see both sides of the argument, and though i would inevitably wish to come down on the side of the cyclist, this is the real world where unicorns and candy floss are not every day occurrences. if dismounting and standing on the roadside verge ensures your safety, perhaps that's the better option. then we can call the vehicles' occupants all the names under the sun, as we pedal on our merry way. considering all the iniquities taking place in the world at present, giving way to oncoming vehicles is a long way from being top of the list.

however, stepping off the pavement in front of a moving cyclist without looking, and overtaking a cyclist who has already signalled he is about to turn, are a lot more consequential for both parties. the fact that such instances appear to be on the increase is likely to hamper moves to encourage more people to cycle for work or leisure, and do little for the effectiveness or credibility of the highway code, no matter how often it's updated.

thursday 21 september 2023

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

close enough for jazz (part two)

cargo bike with gretsch drums

as i departed debbie's on sunday lunchtime, after a favourable repast consisting of a cheese and tomato toastie accompanied by the usual soya latte, aileen pointed out that she had just received more stock of the much-favoured, green city jumbo porridge oats. disappointingly, at the time, i had no means of carrying one or more of the 3kg bags on the homeward journey. i asked, therefore, if she'd put one aside for me, and i'd collect it on friday when delivering copies of the local newspaper

however, given that the two remaining clear polythene bags of oats were, at the time, sitting on the left-hand shelf as you enter the premises, coupled with the knowledge that aileen does not usually work on mondays, i harboured suspicions that the bags might disappear before my request was actioned. thus, on monday afternoon, in lieu of hours spent attending meetings or weekend events on which to report, i played hooky from the office around 3pm and cycled the 14km to debbie's with an empty backpack for company.

en-route, i met a heavy shower just short of foreland road-end, one which disappeared almost as quickly as it arrived, reverting to breeze-inflected sunshine and threatening to dry my jacket, jersey and bibshorts.

having successfully acquired two 3kg bags of oats, safely secured in the aforementioned backpack, i headed homeward with the benefit of a sturdy tailwind as far as bridgend. unfortunately, just as i reached the outskirts of bowmore, the heavy rain seen crossing the loch, pretty much drenched me as i neared the safety of home. though i have no wish to position myself as a paragon of virtue, as i placed my dripping bicycle in the shed, it occurred to me that the majority of villagers of my acquaint would have undoubtedly driven their cars, even had they needed only a few comestibles from the co-op in main street. i, on the other hand, had pedalled an occasionally drenching 28km for two, less than featherweight, bags of oats.

however, despite the possible eccentricity of my own porridge-fuelled cycle trip, were proof required of the apposite-ness of the bicycle as an alteernative to motor transport, this over-glorified journey would surely find its place in someone's eco chapter.

this continued use of the bicycle is often justified in their favour by the many who are aware of my car-less existence. in other words, if i truly desired to purchase those bags of porridge, which i admit was the case, i really had no other option but to ride to debbie's. islay's public transport system would certainly have afforded me the option to take the bus to bruichladdich, but the service's infrequency would have had me outstaying my welcome in debbie's, while waiting for its return. in which case, instead of describing this monologue, i would have only just arrived home to make my tea.

and i'd have missed out on a 28km bike ride.

however, there are those who do own motor cars, yet have gone out of their way to seek out a not altogether inexpensive alternative. on the past saturday afternoon, i was detailed to assist with a jazz workshop in bruichladdich hall (to which i also rode my bicycle), alongside drummer, tom bancroft, pianist, paul harrison, and low-whistle player, fraser fifield, as part of the lagavulin distillery sponsored islay jazz festival. noting my distinctly velocipedinal garb, tom bancroft showed me a short video on his phone where he was to be seen arriving at edinburgh's queens hall on an e-cargo bike, replete with his entire drumset in the forward container. only the snare drum was left out, instead, occupying the rear rack.

tom told me that he lives about 24km (15 miles) outside edinburgh city-centre, and if required for a jazz gig in the metropolis, he leaves the car at home, taking the cargo bike instead. the beauty of this short video was that it showed him not only riding his bike in through the back doors of the venue, but into the hall itself and up to the stage where he was able to unload and setup his drumset. try that in an estate car.

by way of comparison, i have watched villagers exit the local averagemarket carrying one or two small green carrier bags and clamber into their motor cars to return home with a cargo with which they could just as easily have walked. but if tom bancroft can cycle with an entire drumset, these folks ought to hang their heads in shame.

sadly, you and i know that they won't.

tuesday 19 september 2023

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