uh oh


a recent letter to our local newspaper, followed by a reply to same, has, for me at least, highlighted a situation that was previously not a part of day-to-day conversation. a chap who is a retired marine engineer called out calmac over the possibilities of a electric vehicle fire on-board one of their ferries while in transit. the reply was from calmac ceo, robbie drummond, who offered the current practices implemented on-board the ferries as required by the marine and coastguard agency (mca). in essence these comprise the minimum that any seagoing transportation is required to have available should any untoward ev happenings occur en-route.

perhaps correctly (i know not), the original correspondent took even mr drummond's reply to task, but given that the latter consisted of calmac's legal requirements, in truth, nothing more was likely to change, and the correspondence was brought to a halt. mr drummond's contentions were that an ev fire was no more likely than one affecting a vehicle featuring an internal combustion engine, which may or may not be considered true. however, there is no doubting that the nature of any fires affecting either type of vehicle is considerably different.

petrol or diesel-engined vehicle fires can be put out reasonably quickly, and when extinguished, they tend to stay extinguished. battery fires, however, are subject to what is often referred to as 'runaway' combustion. each battery comprises many individual cells, not all of which catch fire simultaneously, and require considerably more water to curtail than is required for a petrol or diesel conflagration. it seems quite obvious that a ferry at sea would have access to limitless amounts of water from the surrounding sea to continually douse the ev with water throughout the journey, but there have been one or two fires at sea reputedly at the behest of electric vehicles that have proved almost impossible to contain.

the argument continues.

meanwhile, there has been much made in the media recently over the number of e-bike fires, almost all of which relate specifically to the charging process, either caused by individuals having purchased non-standard and much cheaper chargers or batteries on the internet, many of which have been allegedly uncertified in terms of their safety considerations. unfortunately, some of these fires have resulted in serious injury or even death. it's worth pointing out that quality e-bikes feature the highest of safety considerations, and as long as you charge with the manufacturer supplied charger and install genuine brand batteries, there shouldn't be any problem.

or is there?

in a suspected move that might inevitably impact private individuals, a bicycle store in new jersey, usa was recently advised that the annual insurance policy they'd held for more than five years, was not being remewed. the insurer made it plain that their non-renewal 'has nothing to do with your business specifically,' but 'the company will just no longer be writing the class of business.' the latter is official speak for saying that the insurance company has withdrawn from that particular area of insurance.

the shop in question specialises in beach cruisers from brands such as trek, electra and sun. in addition, it stocks a range of e-bikes and e-scooters, along with providing e-bike repairs and rental, and it is those that the proprietor believes has caused the present situation. the insurance compnay would not, strangely enough, provide an answer for their withdrawal and even when contacted by bicycle retailer and industry news, they declined to offer further comment.

the shop owner says that he has never once instigated a claim with any of his insurance providers over the past thirteen years, but suspects that recent fires and issues with unapproved chargers and cheap lithium-ion products in new york city (as of september 2023, there had been 175 bicycle-related lithium-ion battery fires, 96 injuries, and 14 deaths), has brought about the insurance company's withdrawal from what it may perceive too risky an area.

that majority of us do not provide sales, repair or rental of electric bikes or scooters, so we can probably sleep easily at night. after all this current situation is playing out in a nation far, far away, in a country noted for its litigious culture. however, most of us have home contents insurance policies, many of which offer limited insurance for bicycles stored within the premises, or within a garden shed or garage. granted few policies take into account the sometimes exorbitant costs of the modern road, mountain, gravel or cyclocross bike, and currently, seem not to differentiate between acoustic and electric bicycles.

however, trends that originate across the pond have a habit of travelling east, eventually inflicting themselves upon a british psyche (gravel bikes, for instance). should the instances of e-bike fires continue at their current level (pun not intended), or, heaven forfend, begin to increase, how long will it be before home insurance policies, either contents or buildings, begin to specifically exclude the storage of e-bikes, or add a substantial surcharge to accommodate the ownership of such bicycles.

the art of unintended consequences.

monday 2 october 2023

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contains artificial ingredients

whoop coach

much has been made in the media of the release into the wild, of artificial intelligence agents such as chat gpt, allowing pretty much anyone to create artworks, movies or grammatically correct essays, with little personal input, other than an initial directive. the chap who functions as relief editor at our local newspaper, recently featured a fully-formed essay on what it means to be an islay resident, by effectively reframing that as a question. the published response took, quite literally, ten seconds to produce a 600 word dissertation.

whoop questions

granted, there were a few inconsistencies; the spelling of colour and favour were rendered in their american formats (presumably because the software is of that nationality) and it did include reference to an area of similar name to that on islay, but which is, in fact, on one of the islands in the clyde. but apart from that, had the chap not subsequently admitted how the feature was written, it's likely that the majority of readers would have been none the wiser.

that then beggars the question whether, on days when i'm scrabbling to find a worthy topic on which to write, i might solve my predicament by asking chat gpt to get the job done instead. and just in case you're wondering, that's not something i have yet done, nor is it something i intend to do. these daily scribblings are often my means of keeping the grey matter in as fine a fettle as i can manage. others do crosswords or sudoku.

however, so-called artificial intelligence is far from foolproof. the latest version of adobe photoshop includes the company's firefly technology; their moniker for a proprietary ai engine. on first opening the new photoshop, i was presented with an image consisting of a rocky foreground, grassy middle ground on which was sited a house which had already been turned into a selection by the software. floating above the image was a panel into which i could type instructions; for instance, i asked the software to replace the house with a garage which it did seamlessly in a matter of seconds.

i then instructed it to replace the garage with a lighthouse, and that's where the cracks began to appear. rather than a lighthouse, the garage was replaced with a candle-lit lantern. further input did eventually result in a red and white hooped lighthouse, redeeming itself momentarily. however, given the darkness of the rocky foreground, i instructed the software to lighten the foreground, an instruction that resulted in the previously installed lantern being placed midst the rocks. several alternative phrasings only made matters worse, eventually having the foreground replaced with grassy mounds, every bit as dark as the rocks i had asked to be lightened.

there's no doubt, however, that artificial intelligence is the genie that cannot be put back in the bottle. time will tell, but it seems entirely possible that more creative minds will find ways to use the technology that were not considered by its inventors. (look how bicycle engineers have found the means to interpret uci mandates in favourable ways not foreseen by the blazers in aigle.) until recently, the data on which these programmes were trained had a sell-by date of september 2021; however, this limitation has now been discarded and the software now possesses the ability to search the internet in real-time for answers to the questions humanity might pose.

genies are not always benevolent souls.

it was, therefore, only a matter of time before someone, somewhere, decided to apply this nascent technology to the world of the bicycle, though that's not to admit that this may already have been previously undertaken without our knowledge. in this case, it's a company by the name of whoop, founded by its ceo, will ahmed, who has made use of gpt-4, currently openai's most advanced generative system, to offer subscribers, "the most personalised, on-demand health and fitness coaching available on the market."

apple computer's ceo, tim cook, has admitted that the iphone and apple watch have long featured nuggets of artificial intelligence, allowing them to measure biometric information to return personal health data to the included apps. whoop, however, would appear to take those principles a few stages further. according to mr ahmed, his proprietary algorithms (at least they've not become redundant), combined with a custom-built machine learning model will take advantage of the latest in performance science and research to agglomerate an indivudual's unique biometric data to identify a suitable path to recovery, lessening of strain, promotion of healthy sleep patterns, while monitoring health and stress.

as a result, according to mr ahmed, whoop coach can produce individual responses to health and fitness questions almost immediately and in more than fifty languages. chief operating officer, brad lightcap insisted that whoop will help to enable even more value from wearable technology. at present, the interface would appear to be via a smartphone app, combined with what looks like a watchless watch-strap. by visiting try whoop, you can try the device free of charge for 30 days, following which, if you decide it's for you, the cost is £229 per year.

sadly, my own biometrics retired to the cupboard under the stairs several years ago.

sunday 1 october 2023

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incomplete confidence

mavic support

i like mavic. i have the greatest faith in their wheel rims, particularly having been informed by a professional wheelbuilder many years past, that of all the rims on the market, mavics required the least amount of truing to provide a quality pair of wheels. in my wheelbuilding days, now long gone, i did find that to be true (if you'll pardon the pun). however, i am a tad less enthused by their factory-built wheels; not because of any shortcomings in terms of their aptitude for the job, but frequently due to the aftermarket servicing.

i possessed a pair of mavic ksyriums which succumbed to the blight that afflicts many bicycle components in the hebrides: corrosion. not only do mavic employ proprietary spokes in the latter wheelsets, but also spoke nipples, all of which are built from an aluminium alloy. in my experience, these have a tendency to corrode quite quickly in our salt-laden atmosphere, rendering them all but impossible to true. by the time any variation in their lateral or circumferential construct is affected, both spokes and nipples have become one, and tensioning with the (proprietary) spoke-key, either does, or threatens to break them. trying to obtain replacements has often been a far harder process than you'd hope it would be.

and while i cannot truly vouch for their current ranges of apparel or footwear, that which i have in my possession has proved not only highly effective, but remarkably resilient, to the extent that i still wear jacketage received over a decade past. from a less than dispassionately emotional point of view, i very much bemoan the absence of the yellow and black tech support vehicles from the tour de france. i've no doubt that shimano provide every bit as efficient support as did their french predecessors, but those blue coloured skodas just don't cut the mustard for me (so to speak).

my most recent pair of handbuilt wheels commissioned from london's condor cycles. though crafted upon campagnolo record hubs, they're joined by stainless steel spokes to a pair of alloy mavic open elite clincher rims, in my opinion, still amongst the finest on the market, especially when built three-cross on hubs featuring a comfortable 32 holes. though i've experienced very little trouble with wheels of considerably fewer spokes, old habits die hard: the combination of mavic and camapagnolo seems one that might be hard to beat.

however, the company has been through its own troubles which, at least in part, contributed to their disappearance from le tour peloton. apparently, at one time, they appear to have been owned by two different companies simultaneously, while suffering almost insurmountable financial woes. but all's well that ends well, and mavic have consolidated their long-held existence and once again appear to be prospering. but rather than indulging in the consolidation, mavic seem to have initiated what i would judge to be a wholly unnecessary step, that doubtless cost money that would have been better invested in something more tangible.

i recently received a communication from the press department intimating that it had appended a new signature below its well-recognised logo type. advising that the company had previously focused on performance oriented road and mountain bikes, its 2023 ambition is to address '...a broader range of cyclists, including gravel, e-bike and urban cyclists.', those it defines as prospective customers seeking 'soft mobility and health.' the outset of this desire to increase its market reach means it is "...thus moving from an exclusive to an inclusive positioning.'

so far, so unremarkable.

but if we might return to the new signature trumpeted by mavic's pr missive, it transpires that this takes the format of 'my way, my ride', a slogan that i can only assume is meant to encapsulate their new positioning. in that context, what does this actually mean? i confess, if mavic had a previous signature, i, and probably many others, cannot recall what that might have been. that (highly subjectively, i agree), would tend to suggest that it actually made little or no difference. i asked condor cycles to build my wheels on mavic rims because of the quality of their reputation and their reputation for quality, and very definitely not because of any notional signature.

for those new to velocipedinal activity and perhaps to mavic (certainly from the e-bike market), i completely fail to see how the appendment of the words 'my way, my ride' are going to engender the sort of confidence that might have them opt to choose mavic wheels, clothing, shoes, helmets or rims. the e-bike market is almost entirely supplied by the oem market; in other words, you purchase an entire bicycle, rather than a frame and individually specified components. thus, the component choice has already been made. this leaves only the options of apparel, footwear or helmets, a market in which mavic seems well-equipped to succeed. but they were every bit as well-positioned to do so in their previous incarnation, before the words 'my way, my ride' entered the equation.

rather than inspiring confidence in a potential market, it comes across as a lack of confidence in their ability to perform. mavic was founded in 1889, bestowing upon it, 134 years of experience. that says far more than four words comprising a new signature.

saturday 30 september 2023

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design is a good idea (part 341)

canyon inflite

though i shudder at my choice to cite motor vehicle design, under the circumstances it seems perhaps the ideal means of getting my point across to the largest number of folks. i'm quite happy to admit that i am a former owner of a bright yellow citroen 2cv, possibly the closest you can get to cycling on four wheels. aside from the untold practicality of the vehicle, i am, to this day, quite besotted with its design parameters, which, i believe can be adequately described by the german word, gestalt. in other words, the citroen's design is well nigh perfect; there really is nothing that can be added or removed that would improve its physical appearance. in this, it arguably shares this aspect with the original porsche 911, a considerably faster vehicle, but again, a vehcile of which the design is exemplary.

there are, of course, many examples of industrial design that have followed suit, where form does not over-rule the object's function, yet offers a highly aesthetic aspect that is more than just pleasing to the eye. no doubt everyone can name their own examples, but while i doubt there is a gold standard that might provide a suitable benchmark, vehicles such as the 2cv and the 911 must surely be considered as amongst the closest we've got.

bicycles, by-and-large have followed the form-over-function ideal since day one, where the end result arrives principally at the behest of the mechanical and engineering principles required to ensure that it simply works and works simply. depending on your point of view, the advent of carbon fibre as a frame material has either enhanced those principles, or undermined their veracity.

take the squiggly forks present on almost every recent pinarello, or perhaps the so-called cantilevered chainstays on colnago's c40hp and c50hp. the latter failed to persist past the last named version, so despite endorsement by the university of milan, it would seem that they may have been more gimmick than advancement. bianchi did briefly offer a similar 'innovation', but it too is now ancient history.

and if you're better disposed to believe the engineering principles developed by ferrari, those squiggly forks on a pinarello could easily be adjudged of purely cosmetic importance. where once the manufacturers of steel forks, specifically colnago, engineered a forward curve on the basis that it would offer a smoother ride, ferrari demonstrated that, in fact, straight forks (realised in colnago's precisa fork), were considerably more efficient in that pursuit.

carbon has thus offered the modern-day frame designer a whole new playpark, allowing their designs to twist and turn in oblique and often incongruous ways, yet still provide the necessary qualities of strength and stiffness by the bucketload. disappointingly, from the point of view of the confirmed aesthete (my hand is firmly in the 'up' position), many of these have the effect of undermining any sporting proclivities the bicycle may affect. until today, i had thought the best examples i might cite were the various time-trial bikes as used by world tour teams, many of which can easily assume the description abominal.

but then, with the 23/24 cyclocross season on the horizon, along came the canyon inflite cfr, the bicycle beloved of world cyclocross champion, mathieu van der poel. given the latter's success on the european cyclocross circuit, it would be hard to criticise the machine on the basis of it failing to fulfil its directive. but why, i must ask, was it necessary to ruin a perfectly good frame with the ungainly-looking two-pronged seatpost and the very awkward kink evident at the junction between the top tube and seat tube. i sincerely hope that its ugly idiosyncracy proffers some untold mechanical benefit, because it sure as heck looks ridiculous.

obviously, canyon think otherwise, as the text on their website claims the inflite cfr to possess 'stunning looks'. i can only presume that their definition of 'stunning' differs greatly from mine.

and while disappointment is in the air, might i express mine at the necessity of having to spend over £7,000 to purchase one, assuming that you don't find the aforementioned aspects of its design to be offputting. that's an awful lot of money.

canyon inflite cfr

friday 29 september 2023

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the numbers game

classified hub

not so long ago, the post dealt with the advent of the classified rear hub, a bicycle hub with a mission to remove the front gear mech from the lower portion of the seat tube in favour of electronically activated internal mechanics. the latter promise to replicate the function of said gear mech has already been proven by lotto dstny rider, viktor campanaerts, who, i believe, has ridden a classified equipped ridley in many 2023 events. the hub has many purported benefits, though mostly promoted by the company itself, including the ability to change gear under full load, the speed of gear-shifting measured in milliseconds, and oddly, considering the component it seeks to make redundant, it claims to be 100% waterproof.

they have now bolstered those claims by releasing key measurement data proving that the hub's efficiency tops out at 99.8%, reputedly the same as the industry standard dt swiss 240 hub. this, according to classified's chief technical officer, roell van druten, makes the classified hub, 'the most efficient internal gear hub ever created'. it's a claim that i, and many, many others are in no position to decry; but what does that actually mean?

according to accepted wisdom, a conventional derailleur system sports an efficiency rating of between 88% in the smallest sprocket and up to 99% in the larger sprockets. since that particular efficiency must also apply to a rear derailleur used in combination with a classified hub, it seems clear that there is little to be gained, in that respect, from fitting a wheel built on a classified hub. and assuming we were to combine the common or garden derailleur with a wheel built on a dt swiss 240 hub, in reality, we'd be no better off. my good friend, derek mclay at wheelsmith, offers a pair of aero dimpled carbon-rimmed wheels, built with the oft mentioned dt swiss 240 hubs for an all up price of £850.

a cursory bout of research by yours truly, shows the cost of a classified hub to hover anywhere between £1300 and £2,000, before adding the cost of a carbon rim and a set of spokes. and remember, we're talking only about one wheel, when considering the classified hub - one classified rear wheel promises to exceed the cost of a pair of wheelsmiths (or similar) by more than a factor of two. using classified's own figures, a complete bicycle featuring a dt swiss hubbed wheel, would cost considerably less than one featuring a classified wheel, yet the overall efficiency, again referring to their just released figures, would be all but identical. i seriously doubt any of us in the real world would be able to determine a difference in efficiency, should one exist, of less than 10%. and even if we could, to what end?

a campagnolo super-record wireless front mech, one of the most expensive on the market, retails at just the wrong side of £500.

contrary to my oft expressed luddite tendencies, i do rather admire the quest for technological advancement when it zeros in on notable and desirable improvements. viktor campanaerts is a notably powerful rider, and well chosen to give the classified hub a deservedly hard time. the fact that he has several victories to his name would surely suggest that the classified hub is more than just mechanically sound. i must therefore pose a similar question to that originally aimed at electronic gear-shifting: what's the point? what, i'd like to ask, was/is wrong with a conventional front gear mech? the classified hub may well achieve its avowed purpose with aplomb, but how many are willing to pay the cost for no apparent performance benefit?

hard-won statistics regarding the efficiency of any well engineered cycle component, are important when making informed purchase decisions. but it's only really comparing like with like when the comparable prices are within a similar ballpark.

or is it possible that classified have a radically different view of the velocipedinal realm?


thursday 28 september 2023

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peugeot classic bicycles - brian long & philippe claverol. veloce publishing hardback. 170pp illus. isbn 978-1-787112-15-5 £35

classic peugeot bicycles - long & claverol

decorating the walls atop the staircase to the upper reaches of the croft are two items of robert millar/peugeot cycles memorabilia. one, a promotional poster published by the cycle company celebrating millar's 1984, tour de france king of the mountains victory, the other a signed woollen peugeot jersey from the years when team riders wore such apparel. augmenting both of these items of memorabilia are several items gleaned from the cupboards of prendas ciclismo, when mick and andy were still the guiding lights (and from where this book can also be purchased). included are two casquettes, one black one white, and a similarly coloured pair of polyester peugeot jerseys. yet despite all the foregoing, i have never owned a peugeot bicycle of any description.

for scots cyclists, the principal attraction to the chequered pattern adorning both bicycles and jerseys, is undoubtedly the millar connection, but there are several other reasons to cheer from the sidelines in the shape of tommy simpson, eddy merckx and gilbert duclos lassalle, to name but three. you might also add stephen roche, phil anderson and alan peiper, so there's a great deal to admire from a professional point of view.

but peugeot bicycles didn't necessarily set out to win yellow or polka dots in the tour.

the company's origins can be ostensibly laid at the feet of jean-pierre peugeot, who was famous for making hand tools until his demise in 1814, his sons, however, jean-pierre ii and jean-frederic, had established a metal foundry on the swiss border four years previously, and a further 22 years passed before the formation of sociétè peugeot frères aînés. the next generation renamed the company les fils des peugeot frères in 1876, but it was armand peugeot who ultimately changed the firm's direction.

having spent some time in england developing his engineering skills, armand was the fellow who added bicycles to the peugeot catalogue. perspicacious to the last, he was also the peugeot who introduced motor cars to the brand a few years later.

peugeot's first bicycle was a penny-farthing (or 'ordinary' to give the genre its correct title). however, like many a bicycle manufacturer, following starley's 'invention' of the safety bicycle, with its two equally sized wheels, the penny farthing was retired in favour of what became the future of the bicycle. this point in the book is illustrated with the contemporary 'course' model which featured on the cover of the 1891 peugeot catalogue, a decade which began with consolidated sales hovering around the 10,000 mark. ten years later, and buoyed by orders from the military, sales had effectively doubled.

the early 1900s capitalised on the popularity of cycle sport with the 1903 creation of the tour de france roundly welcomed by the peugeot marque. in fact, in the 1904 catalogue listed three models displaying a distinct racing flavour: course-piste, course-route, and modéle stayer. though peugeot, like most manufacturers, produced racing bicycles to help publicise those made for the less intrepid, this studious book leans heavily on the racing activities of the brand. in fact, for the sporting peugeot acolyte, this book is total nerdsville, filled as it is with copious illustrations pertaining to each distinct era of its chequered (literally) history, along with model numbers and names.

author brian long outlines in his introduction that his writing talents are more usually occupied on the automotive side of the transportation paradigm. however, "...a huge fan of the tour de france [...] the peugeot marque holds special appeal for me...". he and his co-author, phillippe claverol must have spent endless hour upon hour trawling every relevant archive they could find for the almost unbelievable number of illustrations featured throughout the book. so copious is their number, that there is frequently a danger that the text becomes overshadowed, relegated to a few lines at the foot of the page (sometimes to the extent of interrupting the book's continuity.)

however, peugeot classic bicycles is a well-organised volume, leading from the firm's beginnings, through the decades, culminating in the glorious eighties where the factory team metamorphosed into team z. along the way, messrs. long and claverol include words on the competition, the componentry (did we know that sedis chains were originally a part of the peugeot empire?), while delineating each and every model (and number) featured in the annual catalogues that were part of cycling life prior to the introduction of the interwebs in the mid to late part of the decade.

for the avid peugeot enthusiast, this volume can be regarded as utterly essential, one that can be regularly used as a consolidated resource for everything you'd ever need to know about peugeot bicycles. however, if your interest is a tad more cursory and you'd prefer to read a few interesting anecdotes and a the odd brief biography, this might not be the book you're looking for. it is, however, a complete triumph in terms of the research that undoubtedly went into compiling and writing its 170 pages, backed with a comprehensive index.

peuget classic bicycles is available to purchase direct from veloce store

tuesday 26 september 2023

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