doesn't time fly when you're having fun?

100 years of the racing bicycle

i shan't bore you with the details of why, but just after lunch today, i was riding a folding tricycle (no, i don't get the point of that either) along shore street, heading out of bowmore, before turning, rather gingerly, back from whence i came. i will confess to never having ridden such a vehicle since i was knee high to robbie mcewen, and was rather surprised as to how unstable i felt. balance, or rather over and under doing it, was the progenitor of an added frisson i'm glad i don't have to deal with on a daily basis. the irony is that i felt less safe with that extra wheel than i do with two in-line. from my point of view, not the most useful cycle i have ever ridden, and i'm darned if i can see the point of folding it, considering the weight and the existence of a substantial wire basket on the rear.

100 years of the racing bicycle

impracticality is an accusation that could, and sometimes has, been levelled at the modern day racing bicycle, effectively cycling's formula one. the true formula one car, however, has to be one of the most impractical vehicles ever constructed; i doubt even jeremy clarkson could find justification for its existence other than to be driven incredibly fast, around purpose built roads. they cost stupid amounts of money to build and operate, and those employed to drive them get a smidgeon more than the minimum wage, and then some. formula one bicyles, on the other foot, are readily available to all and sundry, though again, i fear you'd need to be on more than the minimum recompense to afford one.

cost of ownership notwithstanding, racing bicycles hover around the line between practicality and immediately useful, depending on your degree of perspective and forgiveness. since none that i've seen possess mudguard/fender eyes, rack mounts or wicker baskets on the front, the weekly shop could involve quite a few trips. 100 years of the racing bicycle you'd know this if you'd ever attempted to get a packet of scott's porage oats into a rear jersey pocket. however, for a fast commute, or simply a ride to the coffee shop, this all things to all riders, formula one bicycle is no less worthy than a pashley roadster with a three speed hub. minimal cargo can be accommodated in a courier bag, musette or backpack. it would also do your street cred no harm at all, and be the ideal pose if possessed of a shiny paint job and deep rimmed wheels.

practicality or otherwise aside, the development of the racing bicycle has kept it within the range of human powered endeavour. while racing cars commenced their history as stripped-down, souped-up versions of motor cars that could be driven on public highways, all too quickly they became purpose built vehicles that had no place to go, other than on the race tracks of the world, and were of little use other than as museum pieces when superseded by next year's model. part of the joy of cycling, or at least cycle racing, is that the very models raced by whomever your particular hero/heroine is, can be ordered either from your local bike shop, or from an online retailer. and you're relatively unlikely to be given quizzical stares as you freewheel to the lights clad in full bbox bouygues telecom team strip. it's always just possible that tommy voeckler is your mother's cousin.

100 years of the racing bicycle

with competitive cycle racing having commenced almost as soon as bicycle became publicly available, means that we have over a century of design and manufacture to celebrate, with machines constructed and raced in the latter part of the 19th century being just as rideable today as they were then; in this year's tweed run some were doing exactly that. part of the myopia that affects our appreciation today is that we have become separated from a true appreciation of the history of the racing bicycle. when 2011 bicycles are announced before we're even half-way through 2010, it has often become a case of looking for the next great thing to come out of italy, taiwan, america, britain or several places in between. the malleability of carbon molding means that the round tube that we all know and love, is rapidly heading in the same direction as downtube gear levers and five speed freewheels. to keep everything in perspective, the lineage of speed on two pedal powered wheels needs to be lined up side by side; heavy steel and wooden rims tread to tread with carbon everywhere.

100 years of the racing bicycle

i'd love to tell you that this was my idea, and my idea alone, if only to impress you with the breadth and depth of my appreciation and much vaunted historical knowledge. but of course, i only write to inform you of its existence, an existence that has not one whit to do with me. however, so keen am i, along with others that your wholesale appreciation of the heritage many take for granted, that it bodes well for me to point out that after thursday 29th july, such an exhibition will enter the same historical line as the velocipedes it venerates. downstairs in the rapha cycle club, clerkenwell road, london, are some fabulous old, middle and modern machines representing over 100 years of the racing bicycle. comparing developments that were at the forefront of their day can but lead to a greater appreciation of what we all know to be the finest sport in the world.

it can also instil a greater respect for the men who rode such machines to victory, a tribute paid by the four men who retraced the steps of lapize et al in that 1910 foray into the pyrenees. despite being on single gears, on heavy frames and riding less than billiard table smooth roads, 100 years of the racing bicycle it took those 1910 competitors two hours less to reach their destination than their modern day emulators. this is an exhibition to which schoolchildren should be taken in coach parties, one that should be filmed with a voiceover by matt rendell and distributed to every british cycling member when their subscription falls due. appreciation of the contemporary can but be enhanced by a respect for our cycling past.

but why does it close so soon? well rapha's cycle club will be no more after the turnround into august, and they've a preview of september's autumn/winter range to show you before then. if sense is to prevail, miss neither.

many thanks to laura etherington for supplying the photos used to accompany this article.

rapha cycle club


posted thursday 22 july 2010

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is there an antidote to insatiable desire?

dromart black race shoes

in february 1997, the then recently retired robert millar was invited to guest edit that issue of cycle sport magazine (something i can't see happening today), an issue that not unsurprisingly featured an whole slew of articles about the scotsman's career. one of those articles took the form of a question and answer session; not quite an interview, but heading towards the smash hits territory of robert's likes and dislikes. one of those questions related to which bicycle robert would recommend, the reply being 'buy a red colnago and fettle it'. while i wholeheartedly agreed with robert's choice of frame, one which he re-iterated in a recent washingmachinepost interview, the colour strongly influenced my choice when it came time to avail myself of a c40. sadly, the waiting list to have just the red colnago that i wanted, was longer than i was willing to survive without a c40, so i ended up with blue which, i confess, i rather like.

my very first proper road frame was in 531, and painted red because there had been a rather fine looking red bicycle of completely unremembered manufacture on the cover of an issue of bicycling magazine i had at the side of my bed for many months during the mid-nineties (how fickle can one person be). the approach at that time had been to ride a century, and bicycling magazine was always chock full of articles describing just how to go about it. the cover was just the cover.

spring forward at least a decade, and i have become firm interweb friends with a man whose regular output and racing team delight in the colour red: richard sachs. while there have been richard sachs frames in other colours over the years, in much the same way as owning a ferrari, a sachs frame really has to be red to carry that degree of authenticity and funk. there maybe some deep, psychological reason as to why red is equated with machines that go fast (though i've never noticed nasa painting their saturn five rockets in that colour), a reason that is lost deep in our ancestry, but coupled with black tyres, or even better, a pair of black carbon wheels, red bicycles look like they're winning when simply leaning against a wall.

dromart black sportivo shoes

however, de-coupling black and red from any speed associations, there is something intrinsically pleasing about this particular colour partnership. in the days when web design formed a greater part of my armoury, common thought proclaimed that black and red formed a creative, pleasing and legible colour option for pixels on a screen. it's likely no accident that adobe systems' logo makes use of 255,0,0 and 0,0,0.

regular readers of the post, and one or two other cycle publications will likely be aware of the beautiful, hand-made iltalian leather shoes emanating from the marresi workshop in monte san giusto near italy's adriatic coast. these are brought to us by martin scofield of dromarti, and have to be just about the finest pair of cycling shoes it is possible to own. looked after carefully, in similar manner to a leather brooks saddle (this isn't too retro for you, is it?), they should last for years and years. i wore a pair of the storica, uncleated versions to the edinburgh nocturne, and two people took photos of them. when was the last time anyone took photos of your shoes?

up until now, the three varieties of dromarti leathers (race, mtb and uncleated) have only been available in brown leather, a perfectly acceptable and reasonable choice in my estimation, but there are obviously occasions where more sombre black would be deemed appropriate. martin, who has greater experience of his market, and the whims that need to be catered for, has long wanted to offer the same style of shoe in black, but the problem is, as can be readily observed, that in black they have an unfortunate tendency to resemble a pair of training shoes. hardly the look you wish to portray via such sumptuous footwear. despite the rather finely tooled leather, the black version did not lend itself to the wow factor so often experienced when wearing the brown.

dromart black storica shoes

i have had a pair of the brown race shoes for over a year now, shoes which have been worn regularly because they're comfortable and they look less ostentatious than my mavic zxeliums if i need to be somewhere non- cycley. they have been polished regularly and conscientiously stored in the bag in which they arrived. aside from a bit of scuffing at the toe where my incompetence has prevented seamless foot/pedal interface, the leather just looks better and better, while becoming subtly more pliable with the passage of time. in much the same way as the previously referred to brooks saddle, the leather molds itself over time, and these are stunningly comfortable. similarly the storicas which i have taken to wearing regularly day to day; partly because they're very comfy shoes, but additionally because they make me look far more stylish than a pair of converse all-stars; they are the perambulatory equivalent of those tan marks incurred by the dromarti mitts. just ask the photographers at the edinburgh nocturne.

and this is kind of where we came in, for what is the very colour i have proffered as a luxurious accompaniment to black?

well remembered.

the inners of the black marresi leather shoes are completed in red, something that seems akin to lining a water bottle with gold leaf; who the heck is ever going to see it? but here's the clever bit: the red interior is continued around the top of the shoe as a red beading, providing that impressive contrast. this is reinforced, in both senses of the word, by red detail stitching on the black leather uppers which still feature those delicate almost random ventilation holes.

those of us lucky enough to wear the brown leather shoes have had the option for many a month to match hands and feet by way of the cognac leather, crocheted back mitts. while these would not clash with black shoes as much as red jersey and green shorts would clash with each other, we'd all rather have a pair of matching black mitts to wear with the new range of shoes. your wish is dromarti's command; the ensemble is now completed with black as an alternative to the cognac.

dromart black track mitts

if emulating thor and cav is not quite your thing, and ascending the tourmalet like a helium filled balloon not something you'll be attempting anytime soon, modernity with a touch of retro is a nice place to be. there's no real reason why we shouldn't have alternatives to sartorial elegance on the bike as we also have when in civilian attire. i can see no justifiable reason why it is not within the bounds of possibility to have brown shoes and mitts for one weekend, followed by black (and red) shoes paired with black crocheted mitts for the following weekend. however, as was the case with the original leather shoes, and in keeping with italian hand-made items in general, when they're here, they're here, when they're not, you might have to wait a while, so don't prevaricate too long, if at all.

still, if you miss out this time, they can only improve with waiting.

marresi leather shoes are available from dromarti in three variations: race (for standard three point cleats); sportivo (for recessed spd type cleats); and storica (for clips and straps and featuring reinforced areas on the sole). prices for the brown leather ar £139.99 ($195.39); £149.98 ($209.33); and £169.97 ($237.24) respectively. the black/red versions are roughly £10 dearer across the range. the mitts are priced at £99 in either colour.



posted wednesday 21 july 2010

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if all else fails...

campag centaur lever

about a month ago, the local newspaper office in which i have occasion to ply my trade became due for some interior decorating. nothing flashy, just a coat of paint basically, but preparing for the painters meant removing everything from the walls (i'd to take down all those lovely cycling posters and cards), and taking everything off the shelves in order to provide a clear runway for the satin emulsion and paint roller. in the process of so doing, the victoria and albert museum of software had to be cleared from the corner in which it has resided for the last decade or so, and with no word of a lie, therein were the original manuals and disks for the dos versions of borland paradox 3.5 and wordperfect. i even found the keyboard strips that aided the operator to press the correct buttons. them were t'days.

operating software in the pre-point and click days was far from intuitive, and relied entirely on keyboard combinations and those up/down arrow keys. open a version of borland paradox 3.5, never having used the thing before, and you'd be pretty lost without the manual. in fact, if memory serves, the manual usually sat next to the keyboard throughout daily operation, in similar manner to wordperfect. i never could remember which colour of highlighting referred to bold italics. thankfully, computer technology has marched on a pace, and the manual that arrived with mrs washingmachinepost's new ipad consists of a sheet of card. i did receive a review copy of ipad - the missing manual but to perfectly honest, it tells you nothing you couldn't figure out by yourself.

thus, in the time taken for computers and attendant software to become exceedingly complex, the ability to operate either has become correspondingly simpler. unfortunately, i'm not sure i can concur when transferring the same criteria to those little paper books that come with bicycle components nowadays. delivered in today's mail was a brand new pair of 2011 campagnolo centaur carbon levers which, in the next day or two will find themselves attached to an fsa traditional bend handlebar on my yet to be completed colnago master x-light (i've tried getting away with my dilly-dallying by citing my slow cycling of a few days ago, but it's not working). aside from the generous three-year warranty leaflet, inside the box was the expected booklet in every known language, accompanied by simple, but effective line drawings.

campag centaur lever

it is my contention that the wrong time to find out just how the brake and gear cables should be fitted, is when the levers have been bolted to the bars, so i checked the levers, and when all else failed, i read the manual. the accompanying illustration is that which refers to inserting the gear cable. it states insert the rear derailleur cable unto the bottom of the control (b). of course, to the naked eye, there is nowhere into which the end of a derailleur cable might go. it's only when trundling across to campagnolo's website, selecting the exisiting 2010 downloadable instructions, that one discovers there are missing words that would have aided the process:

'raise the support cover', by which i assume they refer to the lever hood.

it seems a tiny ommission and one perhaps not worthy of making mountains out of a molehill, but i have to admit that the last pair of campagnolo shift levers i actually installed, were the original record carbons from quite some number of years ago. as i mentioned above, technology has moved on just a bit since then, and doubtless all three of the groupset folks have made improvements to their shifting systems. i wouldn't expect it to be otherwise, but i would rather have hoped that they could have updated the accompanying literature. does anyone actually know the diference between power-shift and ultra-shift?

accusations of stupidity or lack of suitable appraisal will be well considered, because it really didn't take me very long to suss where the slot existed that was ready and waiting to accept the gear cable, and i'm sure that bicycle shop mechanics up and down the length of the country and across several continents are wiping tears of incredulity on their workshop aprons. but my point has less to do with my ineptitude and more to do with campagnolo's hieroglyphics and naming conventions, for not all of us have a local bike shop that knows. and on the basis that these levers are available via mail order, there's likely a substantial number of pelotonese who require to fit such componentry in the comfort of their own bikesheds. i fear for their sanity and gear cables.

does anyone yearn for the days of simplicity and downtube gear levers? nope, me neither.



posted tuesday 20 july 2010

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hub of the universe

chris king r45 hub

equipment reviews, at least in these pixels, usually consist of how well the product fulfils its intended function(s). this can only be based on the type of riding that can be done at the time, and on the fact that the majority of components are either brand new, or certainly within the first few months of their chosen career. it is patently untenable for manufacturers to send out a constant stream of bits and bobs with the proviso that they are returned in five years or so. thus, all that can be done by the favoured reviewer (and i certainly fit that description) is to appraise the build quality, figure out if there are any obvious shortcomings before pedalling the squish out of it. the words come later.

it may be that the majority of manufacturers quite like it this way, because there can be little in the way of joy to read a review explaining in great detail just how the blue anodised gripple widget calmly fell apart as it was removed from its recyclable packaging. i'm being grossly unfair here, because the quality of bicycles and their attendant components has, in my opinion, never been higher, and it is very rare that anything i've tested has shown signs of not living out its life in exacting servitude for many a long year. however, due to the graciousness of portland's finest precision component supplier, chris king's, i am in possession of not only their cyclo-cross hubs in pink, but the oft mentioned r45 hubs released only last year. and both have been ridden sufficiently to need a taste of some simple maintenance.

if you're more used to the standard hubs from the mainstream providers, then anything relating to dismantling a freehub will have received a substantial body swerve. i'm sure that if the majority of cyclists were aware of just how little in the way of metal separates them from removal of teeth on the handlebars, it would lead to a rapid re-appraisal of their choice of extra-curricular activity. lengthy are the memories of trying ever more exasperatingly to re-install a campagnolo freehub, while trying to keep those tiny, spring-loaded pawls in place. i'm sure i taught myself a few swear words i hadn't heard before.

chris king r45 hub

chris king has, for the entire history of hub production, utilised their patented and proprietary ring drive aorund which i have still not truly wrapped my comprehension, but basically consists of a spring-loaded, helical toothed ring inside the hubshell, which mates to a second set of helical teeth machined on the end of the freehub. freewheeling allows the spring to disengage the two sets of teeth, while pedalling pulls the two back into mesh. it's almost like the internals of a car gearbox. chris king recommend that their hubs be checked and re-lubed every three to six months, though my complete inattention to detail, coupled with a temerity to go where no allen key has gone before, meant that my cross hubs have ridden way beyond even the upper advisory limit.

ck hubs are warranted for five years, and judging by my inspection of the internals of the pink cross variety, there's every likelihood that they'd reach this number comfortably without so much as the innards ever seeing daylight. that, i'd like to point out, should only be as an absolute last resort, and though i have a modicum of technical and mechanical ability when it comes to such things, either model of hub is exceptionally easy to maintain. as, indeed, i hope to point out.

if you're more used to faffing about with locknuts, cones and cone spanners, threaded axles and bearings that fall out when the foregoing is removed from the hub, chris king offers two alternatives: easy and even easier. the cross hubs, similarly to the classic road hubs, feature a 5mm allen shaped socket at each end of the axle spacers. pop a 5mm allen key/wrench in each, turn in opposite directions with a modest degree of force, and the slotted locknut and spacer easily unscrew, and the axle can be removed from the drive side. grab the freehub in one hand and gently twist anti-clockwise, and the freehub can be removed. the r45 is even easier.

there's a locknut on the non-drive side held in place by a 2.5mm allen bolt. unscrew the bolt, pull the dropout spacer off the axle, then unscrew the spacer from the axle, which can then be withdrawn from the drive side. same removal policy for the freehub applies as with the r45. chris king recommend the use of their own proprietary ring-drive grease; if you live remotely, like i do, there's every chance nobody stocks bottles of this, and again, if you're anything like me, the thought of purchasing in advance won't have appeared on the radar. thankfully, according to the service instructions, if the grease is otherwise engaged, lubrication can be by means of a 10w oil. regular grease is likely to be a tad on the thick side, creating problems with drive engagement. i've had a convincing degree of success with chain l no5.

chris king hub tool

now i'm aware that the thousands of you bereft of even one pair of chris king hubs will have left long ago to water the plants, make a coffee or something considerably less interesting instead. however, while i'd never recommend you carry out detailed maintenance of anything based on a few words from me, the main thrust of my diatribe is the simplicity of design that was obviously the result of some complex thought and fabrication. time was when work dictated that i strip down sturmey archer hubs, a seriously intimidating process: sturmey had certainly figured out the complexity of gearing, but seemed not to give a fig for those who may have to repair or service without the backup of a substantial factory behind them.

chris king components and others have applied logic from the other end. the ring drive is a triumph of practical thought and efficiency, but servicing looks to have been incorporated from the outset; i was able to strip, clean and lube the cross hub in less than fifteen minutes, and that included removing the cassette sprockets, cleaning them, and putting them back on again.

as something of a disclaimer, i'd really rather you checked the service instructions applicable to the hub(s) you own before getting into a mess you can't get out of. if mechanical ability is not your forte, take it to a bike shop. i'm a trained author (allegedly), skilled in the ability to make things sound either easier or more complex than they really are, depending on my sense of humour at the time.

chris king


posted monday 19 july 2010

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slow cycling, as distinct from cycling slowly

slow cycling

i'm a great believer in the maxim 'it is better to travel well than to arrive.' partially explaining why i'm quite happy to spend the better part of an entire day on a ferry and a bus travelling from islay to glasgow, while others would rather take the 35 minute flight. it has less to do with the minimising of my carbon foortprint, than to do with the appreciation of distance and the reality of living on a rock in the atlantic. purely by accident, i have aligned myself inadvertantly with the ever-expanding slow movement that simmers in the background.

a movement that commenced as a protest against the opening of a macdonalds restaurant in rome, spawned slow food, the anti-matter opposition to fast food. the world, or at least those listening, was encouraged to appreciate their food in a manner differently to a big mac, and experience the fresh food that likely surrounded more immediate locales. there's every likelihood that the rise in farmers' markets has the slow food movement to thank. however, 'tis human nature to not just come up with a good idea, but to then milk it for all it's worth, in this case, resulting in a whole myriad of slow movements: slow money, slow parenting, slow travel, slow art, and even slow media. some of these, as you may infer, are simply cases of bandwagon jumping, which is sort of where i come in. if there's a bandwagon to be jumped on (last years' homecoming ride of the falling rain for example), then the post is ready to do the jumping.

yes, i am proposing a slow cycling movement, with a subtle but real distinction from cycling slowly.

carlo petrini

i can hear the more boisterous amongst you clamouring for a clearer explanation, a courtesy i am more than willing to provide in the following paragraphs. examined not even particularly closely, carlo petrini's (photo right) instigation of the slow food movement placed the emphasis on the experience of cooking, serving and eating locally produced food. obviously if you're in a hurry, perhaps to get out to the bikeshed to clean the bike, then choosing a meal that doesn't take forever is hardly against the rules. so if we extend this mindset to the currently hypothetical 'slow cycling' movement, then it clearly doesn't mitigate against cycling quickly, simply being mindful of slow cycling as you head, missile like, towards that 30mph speed sign. could not this be seen as somewhat contradictory? indubitably, but my contention is that slow cycling is more an attitude of mind than one entirely related to speed.

i can expand upon this by using the example of a cycle commuter. the object of commuting is generally regarded to be the act of getting from home to work in a given time, taking into account how early you wish to arise in the morning, and just how late you can be before anyone in the office notices. in this case, cycling is simply a means to an end, rather than an end in itself, so what i suppose i'm proposing is a reversal in attitude to make cycling the principal object of desire. thus, when hurtling down foreland hill at squillions of kilometres per hour, i should be taking time to appreciate my position on the bike, the rapid shifting of the wheels upon what passes for tarmac in these here parts, and how well the bicycle and its components react to the experience. currently i have far more concern for the possibility of a range rover ascending in the opposite direction, likely cutting corners in the process. clearly i have a way to go yet.

slow food

those of you who take great pride in cycling slowly, either as a career choice or due to a severe lack of fast twitch fibres are not excluded from this movement, for while i would contest that there is a difference between slow cycling and cycling slowly, the two are not mutually exclusive. when all is said and done (not by some way yet, i'll wager), i think i'd like you all to enjoy your cycling even more than you already do by cycling in the moment, so to speak, rather than using the velocipede as a way of getting to that cup of coffee as quickly as possible. the folks at the tweed run may almost be on the ball with this, were it not that they find it necessary to make an exhibition of it all, thus slightly devaluing the experience and placing it firmly in the look at me category. i have little doubt, however, that many tweed acolytes have it nicely sussed, appreciating the finer qualities of bicycles made up to 100 years ago, and at a velocity that will hardly trouble elderly bearings.

therefore, when something the equivalent of a carbon fibre exocet appears at washingmachinepost cottage for test/review, at the point when i am going excessively purple in the face as quickly as possible into a headwind down uiskentuie strand, or, perchance, standing on the pedals in the largest sprocket the cycle affords, defying gravity uphill, i will be sure to mentally record my emotions, reactions and imminent exhaustion alongside the creaks, groans or complete lack of from the carbon attached to the pedals.

it likely doesn't make any real sense at all, but i urge you to join the movement. nothing marks you out in a crowd more than a smug, self-satisfied grin. mind you, a polti or liquigas top might have the same effect in a shorter space of time.

slow food

slow food logo

posted sunday 18 july 2010

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what's wrong with us?

city centre racing

london, occupying 1,706 square metres, has a population of just over 7.5 million; the most densely populated metropolitan area in the united kingdom. scotland, on the other hand, has a population of just over five million, occupies an area of nearly 80,000 square metres and incorporates over 790 islands. i live on one of those. from such dry and unemotional numbers, it wouldn't take a genius to figure out that taken on quantity of people, scotland is in the minority. because if the population of london is greater than the whole of the area north of the border, by the time we add in the rest of england, we're starting to look a smidgeon on the outnumbered side. or, to bring it into the 21st century, somewhat less of a commercial proposition, for whatever commercial proposition anybody had in mind. of course, if the mine's bigger than yours equation comes into play, we've got far more corners in which to hide.

i believe that those of us who count ourselves as scottish have little option but to consider ourselves a minority, and minorities rarely get the good stuff that the majorities get. it has something to do with the black or red number at the bottom of the excel spreadsheet, if looked at in such a fashion. there are of course, as we all know, minorities and majorities within both, and extrapolated to an illogical conclusion would leave us floundering in the dark with steam releasing from both ears. and it wouldn't be the for the first time.

cycling, amongst the panoply of sporting activities, can reasonably be considered a minority, both in the number of folks taking part, and in terms of popularity amongst the public. if statistics were to be manipulated (who would do such a thing?), it would surely be feasible to incorporate all those who own a bicycle, and imply that such was an indicator of cycle sport's popularity amongst the great unwashed. however, i doubt we'd get away with it. but if we stick with the numbers related to popularity, or at least to success, cycling has, i am led to believe, possibly the largest budget of all amongst britain's olympic sports (around £26 million; ludicrous if you ask me, though i realise you didn't). so suddenly, looked at from this direction, we've become a majority; well we haven't, but the sport about which most of us obsess has.

but to briefly return to my opening gambit, if we accept that cycle racing is popular amongst cyclists, why are some more favoured than others? and would it be those cyclists in scotland to which i may, or may not, be referring?

of course i am.

city centre racing

in the early eighties, the much vaunted and well remembered city centre series of races (televised on channel four in the wake of its success with half an hour of le tour each day) took place across the whole country, with at least two events as i remember, taking place in scotland. there were more staged south of that imaginary line, but i would cite , yet again, my opening gambit illustrating the considerable discrepancy in population north and south as justification. several years back, on the eve of the start of the tour of britain from glasgow green (which is reputedly and undeniably in scotland) a series of criterium races were held around a circuit based on george square slap bang in the city centre. i know, i was there, as were a good number of not only this country's finest riders, but one or two from the continent. commentary was by hugh porter and anthony mccrossan, brian smith was discretely in charge, and a fairly large number of folks watched a great evening's racing.

it's been all downhill from there on in. the following year, the tour of britain finished in glasgow, then it made a brief excursion into dumfries, now this year, the so-called tour of britain excludes scotland altogether. if a conspiracy theory is uppermost in your mind, i doubt the foregoing has done anything to lessen such a notion, for not only have we been done out of a national tour that seems to be anything but, the most popular and televised cyclesport to be seen for almost three decades has concentrated itself very much south of the border.

sponsored by halfords in 2010, the tour series visited canary wharf, durham, portsmouth, exeter, southport, kettering, peterborough, stoke-on-trent, chester and woking. neither west coast motors nor caledonian macbrayne go anywhere near any of those places. if there's a conspiracy theory, then there has to be a scapegoat, because not only do we need one, the situation positively demands one. always one to jump readily to the the most obvious, but often incorrect, conclusion, i sent a compressed version of the above to tour series organisers, sweetspot, believing them to be guilty of discrimination against the clans. i'm not often correct, but in this case i was wrong again. james tibbets, manager of the tour series, told me that they'd been in touch with quite a substantial number of scottish councils regarding incorporation into the tour series for 2010, but it seems that all cited the current financial climate, and declined.

city centre racing

now, it doesn't necessarily need to be the tour series itself that brings city centre racing to scotland; there's always room for a tour series scotland, if the necessary organisational experience can be brought to bear. only a few weeks back i, and several hundred others, visited edinburgh's grassmarket to watch rapha condor sharp's kristian house put on a masterclass in competitive racing, along with a marvellous supporting cast of races, from which it is possible to deduce that the numbers alluded to at the top of the page can be made to add up in the right way.

individually, there's little each of us can do to foment a sudden burst of city centre cycle racing in scotland, bringing us into the same fold as the majority down south, at which point we can all become part of the same majority/minority (delete as applicable). however, as citizens eligible to vote for those who make up our respective councils, and thus also eligible to lobby to our hearts' content, some letters or e-mails to those concerned couldn't do any harm. it may well be pie in the sky (pardon the pun) in some cases, or maybe even in all, but it would bring a warm glow to those pedal cleats.

scotland's finest is still the only uk rider to win one of the major jerseys in the tour de france, sir chris has demolished pretty much all in his path, and the nation is reputed to be negotiating for a tour de france start in the late twenty teens. yet we remain outside the scope of britain's national tour, and televised city centre racing is but a faint wheel on the horizon. to all those of you who are not scottish, i make no real apology for changing black and yellow to a saltire, but perhaps i could have alerted you to the opportunity for a long cup of coffee at the outset.

for those who feel sufficiently included, lobby for all you're worth, to have the principal councils at least investigate the possibility of cycle racing around the inner regions of their towns and cities. impartiality is the watchword of today; i don't mind who organises it, i'd just like it to happen, and preferably starting next year.

now back to literary incompetence and trivial irrelevance.

tour of britain photo by carl spiers

tour series | tour of britain | cyclevox


posted saturday 17 july 2010

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fast fixing

park tool spanners

everything in the world of road racing is fast, faster and possibly even fastest. it's the name of the game, rather obviously i suppose; that'll likely be why it's called racing. unlike a number of other competitive activities, such as music and art, both subjects i feel should never be put under the judge's hammer, there is rarely any doubt who won: the fastest. i have spent some time (i don't get out much) trying to figure out what it is that instils this need to be faster than the next guy/girl, something that i thought was fomented by the media, until i saw the cycle rush hour along old street and clerkenwell road, where ostensibly sober-suited businessmen seemed keen to pit one brompton against another in the race to the office. this would have been far more credible and believable had they been on their way home.

who on earth races to work?

of course, the speed aspect has spread inexorably to many aspects of cycling life, some of them unrelated to cycling fast. debs is wont to feel the full force of the peloton's wrath if we have to wait too long for those espressos and cappuccinos, and i'm likely to be a gibbering wreck if that rapha package takes longer to arrive than i have deemed necessary. just ask laura. can you remember what life was like without broadband? would anyone care to revert to dial-up?

fast: it's our (not so) new watchword.

rapha workshop apron

does that extend to those fixing our beloved road bikes? more than likely, though yet again, the quality of a repair, removing speed from the equation, is likely a subjective decision. can we honestly say that cable replacement by one mechanic is of a substantially higher quality than that of another? well, maybe, but provided the bit at the end of the cable does what it's supposed to do in a timely manner, is anyone seriously concerned? that being the case, and always assuming the necessity to distinguish between more than one bicycle mechanic is the objective under consideration, how would one go about such discrimination?


yes, it may hardly be the ultimate method of so doing, but it sounds like rather a lot of fun, and before that light bulb of proximity appears above the hardshell helmet, somebody has beaten you/me to the barn door. at 7pm on thursday, august 26th in the recently opened rapha cycle club in new york city, four nyc mechanics will go head to head, spanner to spanner and allen wrench to allen wrench to determine just who is the best mechanic in town.

in years gone by, across the atlantic, one of the four would be already stood in the middle of the unpaved street, sorrel and sagebrush blowing in the dust. around his/her waist a tool belt with the contents glinting in the sun, waiting for the chosen opponent to casually walk through the saloon doors and into the street to face their protagonist. naturally enough, modern officers of law enforcement frown on such activity, particularly in full view of assembled multitudes, so the modern alternative is perhaps just a tad on the less dramatic side; though a lot safer.

in conjunction with, rapha are asking the new york cycling and racing community to cast their votes online to choose the four mechanics to do battle on the 26th. voting will commence on july 29th and continue until august 12 (co-incidentally, islay show day. irrelevant, but coincidental) so far so good. the method of finding our gladiators is already set in stone, but how to determine between them?


independent fabrication

each of the finalists will be provided with an identical independent fabrication frame and the necessary components with which to assemble it into a complete bicycle. this build pack is being finalised even as i write, with rapha continental partners fi'zi:k, sram, fsa, continental tyres, chris king and mavic, which ought to make a snap of a bike in at least one case. while this is most certainly not an audience participation event (they don't allow it in bike shops, so they don't allow it here), mingling is encouraged, as well as vocal cajoling. the winning mechanic will be the first one with a complete, ready to ride bicycle. speed is obviously where it's at, and if you're less than fast like me (though i could be kidding), perhaps it's time to step up a gear in order to stay with the masses and avoid public humiliation.

i did offer to put my name forward, seeing as how i have a rapha workshop apron and my own spanners, but apparently bowmore does not come under the new york metropolitan area. surely directional semantics?

or am i simply not fast enough?

rapha cycle club nyc | nyvelocity


posted friday 16 july 2010

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an argument full of holes

colnago c59 italia

my colnago superissimo had holes in it, holes that had been put there by colnago when they made the bike frame. there was one at the front of the top tube, and another one at the back, allowing the brake cable to enter the inner sanctum of that columbus steel tube, before finding daylight again on its way to the rear brake caliper. in my days of wrenching i have come across this feature before, though often without the courtesy of an inner spaghetti tube to ensure that in and out points could be negotiated with ease. there can be little more frustrating than the hand/eye co-ordination necessary to fish the end of a thin, flexible piece of wire from within the darkened depths (just a smidgeon of artistic licence there) of a bicycle top tube. it ranks up there with trying to replace the cable on a right-hand gripshift.

that all bicycles did not feature this internal routing was, i was led to believe, more due to the less direct routing than the undoubted technical acrobatics required to build the tube that way in the first place. kid yourselves not, metal bicycle tubes have very thin walls; boring holes in them for whatever purpose means a bit of reinforcing has to be added round the hole to prevent stress fractures.

however, if we look at the cable routing applied to the multitude of frames currently available, the brake cable departs its outer casing at the bullet stop brazed/welded/rivetted to the top tube, carrying on completely naked until it meets another cable stop. at this second slot, it pops back into a cable outer to be guided smoothly to the caliper clamp. the rear brake cable and both gear cables travel by the most direct route to their respective terminii, thus creating an efficient method of actuating any of the above three. internal routing doesn't exactly recreate pan's labyrinth, but it's not as efficient as external. for one, that thin little wire experiences less friction by not being encased throughout the entire length of its journey. secondly, though of doubtful veracity, corrosion ought to be less prevalent. on an atlantic isle, i'm not sure that anything lessens this.

seven cycles

but then along came shimano's di2 with its very fragile wires. about a year ago i tested a focus izalco with di2, and those cables were rather uncosmetically taped to the relevant tubes, allowing uninterrupted flow to front or rear gears. however, gear cables are somewhat sturdier than shimano's electric cables and, being under tension, are more resilient to outside interference from wayward spanners, cable snips and straightforward grubby paws. obviously the best way to protect them would be to stick them inside those (now carbon) tubes away from dangerous animals, until they absolutely have to join with something else, like gears or brakes.

several manufacturers have already produced di2 specific framesets, catering for these new internal needs, but this produces a dichotomy of purpose. many years ago, the premier drum company used to place the premier badge only on the forward facing side of their toms, meaning there was a production run for left-hand toms, then another was started following that to place the badge for right-hand toms (i know, i'd to wait two months for a right hand tom). logic suddenly dawned that if a badge was placed front and back, the toms could be sited on the drumset wherever the drummer preferred at any given time. obvious when pointed out n'est pas?


perhaps in similar fashion to the premier drum company, only a lot quicker to realise, it has become rather obvious that it makes a lot more sense from a production point of view to make only one style of frame, thus internally routing both gear cables and that rear brake cable irrespective of the groupset fitted. and unlike those earlier steel frames, the holes can be molded into the carbon at the outset, leaving little chance of stress or fracture. from a purely cosmetic point of view, those carefully styled lines remain uninterrupted by unsightly bits of wire, yet keeping everything in tip top working order.

do we approve? well, i'd prefer to reserve judgment until i've had to either cable up a new one (if anyone at cambiago is reading, i'm more than willing to clear some space in the bikeshed for a c59 italia), or perhaps more to the point, until i've had to try and replace one or two on a less than just out the box example. still, i can't see why there would be any untoward difficulty with this, but i do find it intriguing that it has taken the arrival of electronic gear changing to produce this dawning of realisation on the world's bicycle frame manufacturers. after all, carbon has been around since the early nineties in a variety of forms, and doubtless the capability to make holes in it followed shortly after.

is this what they call evolution?


posted thursday 15 july 2010

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