best foot forward

quoc pham tourer

many are the folks who use their bicycles for purposes other than going as fast as possible at the weekends. it is a form of myopia that many of us struggle to see past shiny carbon fibre, and accept that the velocipede is a particularly effective means of transport. this is not to say that events of the weekend cannot be construed as transport, in that going from home to home, or home to cafe to home is transport of a sort, though it may not gain a lot of credibility to push the point. it often means a shift in mentality to accept a more sedate means of just getting about, but i need not underline the carbon-saving benefits of eschewing the car in favour of two wheels and a pair of pedals.

and there, is perhaps one of the fundamental differences between rushing about in lycra, and trundling steadily through traffic on the way to the office. yes, pedals. from personal preference, thewashingmachinepost stable of bicycles are shod with mavic road pedals, and those delightful dromarti leathers and in your face yellow mavic zxelliums have the corresponding cleats affixed to the soles. while these are more than ideal for blasting across the remains of island roads (though there has been some beautifully smooth tarmac laid over the past few weeks in bizarrely strategic locations), they do suffer slightly on the pragmatic front when it comes to wandering aimlessly about the supermarket, and they do little for the office floor.

quoc pham tourer

many, not of the weekend warrior persuasion and those perhaps new to the art of getting about on two wheels and a brooks saddle, will be looking at me quizzically and wondering what is wrong with an ordinary pair of shoes or, heaven forfend, trainers. without wishing to displace too high and mighty a demeanour, the answer is in the sole, and i mean that not in a spiritual sense.

for walking about a bit, it is more pleasant on the feet to have a degree of pliability in both uppers and soles; it makes climbing stairs and running for the bus a lot less stressful. however, shift this propensity across to bicycle pedals and that very pliability becomes a liability. the contact point between foot and pedal is relatively small, and assuming you paid attention at cycling proficiency, you would be aware that it's the ball of the foot that should connect and certainly not the instep. in so doing, the rearward portion of the foot is unsupported, and a pair of non-specific cycling shoes will not do you any favours. thus, a stiff sole (the stiffer the better) can restore cycling perfection. or at least a perfection that pertains to you and i.

so you can see the shoe designer's dilemma when designing a shoe that can be utilised for both cycling and walking; not too stiff and not too pliable.

quoc pham tourer

the irrepressible quoc pham made a pretty good attempt at this with his first pair of shoes, reviewed in these very pages in may of last year, shoes which saw me through a week of walking about distilleries (as you do) with campagnolo replica pedals on the bicycle. but what if the daily commute is a bit more rugged than clerkenwell road, or dare one say it, a tour has started to impinge upon your horizon? that would likely involve a whole different ball game (pun intended).

rugged commutes and loaded touring will probably involve less than pristine paved surfaces, in which case, the idea of having one's feet firmly cleated to the pedals may just begin to look like a fine idea. i've already pointed out that road cleats are less than practical for the job in hand, which leaves us with those tiny spd cleats that sit in the deepest recesses of a variety of appropriate footwear. unfortunately, much of said footwear looks fine when hiking across the yorkshire dales, but less than impressive in harrods or the corporate boardroom. or even in the local supermarket for the style conscious cyclist. and that includes all of us (doesn't it?).

quoc pham tourer

since first bringing the fixed leather shoe to market, quoc has not been resting on any laurels that might have accrued, but feverishly calculating, scribing and fashioning a pair of stylish leather shoes that could handle the rigours of the daily commute, or that world tour you've always promised yourself, but retaining an innate sense of style and charisma. this rather delectable footwear is about to be offered to the cycling world at large under the name of the quoc pham tourer, and should be available at a cycle retailer near you or me (well, maybe not near me) very soon.

sporting a rather rugged sole with the appropriate gap for an spd or similar style cleat, the leather tourer also features a logo embossed tongue, and a heal tab to aid easy fitting. but the crowning glory that achieves two entirely different goals is the stripe down the back of the heel. this is of scotchlite reflective fabric, enhancing visibility on those dark morning or late evening commutes; but everyone knows that a stripe increases speed by its very existence, and it's hard to resist a pair of shoes with a racing stripe down the back. i have no numbers that could be placed next to a pound or dollar sign, but the quoc pham fixed leather shoes were more than resonably priced, and i would expect these to follow that trend.

remember who mentioned it first.

quoc pham


posted friday 10 september 2010

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just to illustrate the point

richard mitchelson jersey

i have, residing on my macbook pro, a rather aging copy of adobe illustrator, one that is sadly underused, and now apparently beyond the pale for an appropriate upgrade. this is not of any serious nevermind, given its underemployment, but it's a piece of software i like to identify with, if only because its name is illustrator. i know of people who have downloaded the trial version of this program and failed miserably to get to grips with it within the 30 days usually allowed. i think it not an admission too far to say that i know where they are coming from.

for many of us who desire to own the epithet of illustrator would, in days gone by, have employed the use of rotring pens, sharp pencils, gouache, and perhaps even a smidgeon of acrylic. all are relatively intuitive, particularly if, like me, you are an exile from a few years at art college in those late teenage years. ask me to illustrate anything you like in times like those, and i'd have reached for the pencil. adobe illustrator is, however, nothing like that.

my years at art college were prior to the advent of the macintosh and use of a point and click device, so eventually leaping aboard an illustration program on a macintosh some ten years later made for an excellent definition of the word 'floundering'. for illustrator is vector software consisting of lines fashioned by means of bezier points, named after the french engineer pierre bezier, who first publicised them in the early 1950s.

richard mitchelson jersey

we're all cyclists here, so i have no intention of describing the intricacies of the bezier modus operandi (you'll be very relieved to hear), but it's good that you know of their existence. and why is that? because were you to have a eureka moment leading to a jersey design that would likely set the cycling world alight, you would need to approach someone to produce it for you, that you could then fill that bikeshed with carbon on the proceeds. that someone is almost honour bound to ask you for vector artwork, a format that, had you been paying attention to the preceding, is entirely the preserve of adobe illustrator.

removing the corporate definition of the word illustrator for several moments, let me re-introduce you to a man who is a true illustrator in most every sense of the word. he may profess specialisation in the field of animation, but that is surely a subset of illustration; simply one that moves about a lot. we were all first made aware of his work through rouleur magazine where he gave us a comic book giro, reprised a few issues later by a month in the life of the tour de france. you may even have seen his iconic t-shirts in the late, lamented rapha cycle club.

rich mitchelson.

richard mitchelson jersey

while richard has concerned himself with our velocipedinal well-being on paper of late, the true art of an illustrator in reality, know no bounds, and it was surely only a matter of time before he turned his critical gaze to that of the cycle jersey. this is a dangerous game to play, for no matter our desperation for ever less traditional forms of carbon fibre, we are a bunch of nodding traditionalists when it comes to just what appears on that polyester or sportwool.

the masses, however, are to be approached gently and quietly in order not to frighten, so richard's eclectic jersy design has been limited to only thirty, and when they're gone, they are gone. since it is always possible to misinterpret the aims of the artist, i will here allow the man to speak for himself

"based around the classic french jersey with white and blue stripes, 2cvs and cycling silhouettes, it symbolises to me all that is great about letour, riders, racing and summer. the three colour jerseys appear on the rear pockets to keep you motivated through the tough climbs, sprinting for a sign on the club run or leading the bunch on the way to the cafe".

from my point of view, cycling or no cycling, anything with a citroen 2cv emblazoned upon it is alright by me. the jerseys go on sale from 30th september, and may provide a more graphic hint at the qualities necessary to be a true illustrator than i can provide with mere words.

order your jersey here


posted thursday 9 september 2010

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social networking

we're a sociable bunch in the peloton. i know well of the horror stories about joining a new club; being dragged out on the sunday ride, burned off the back wheels of those in front, and left to find your own way home in the forlorn hope that you'll be keen enough to do it all again next sunday. doubtless there are/were many spirited bodies lost to cycling through such practices. however, on the basis of those i have met through such as the ride of the falling rain, the braveheart ride and the annual london-paris ride, those days may have been thankfully left behind. though i don't doubt there are some hard old codgers somewhere who still maintain that we're a bunch of big girls' blouses nowadays with our shiny trinkets and carbon. steel is where it's at.

conversations such as the above are, it seems, an intrinsic and necessary part of any 21st century peloton. there is always someone keen to know whether those mavics give any advantage over a similar pair of fulcrums. which would be better, thirty six spokes or thirty two, and what crossing pattern should be used on the way to the rim? we've all been there, and there's a good chance that most of us still are. now i mean no deference to those with whom you regularly cycle, but after a few rides, you either all know the same stuff, or you've run out of comments to make about the bicycles/clothing/components you already have.

you will hopefully agree that such a situation makes for some very quiet bike rides, apart from that guy at the back who never seems to oil his chain. all that sociability, and nowhere to put it.

harking back to the 21st century paradigm once more, there are no end of opportunities to partake of this social networking which don't even involve getting the bicycle out of the bikeshed, with curious names such as twitter and facebook. and it would likely not be beyond the capabilities of most to setup their own accounts with the latter two and continue those wonderful mobile conversations from behind a monitor. ok, so it's no real substitute for a bike ride, but the wind is getting a bit stronger these days, and it's very difficult to hear properly.

so we're back to social networking; the principal problem with twitter is being restricted to only 140 characters, though admittedly that is sometimes a blessing. setting yourself up on facebook seems to invite, along with friends and family (now there's a worry) a host of undesirables, and there are enough of those who haunt bikeshops across the world without meeting them electronically. what we need is a website that fulfils the latter functions, but is specific to cycling and cyclists.

i appreciate that i am conversing with the illuminati, and that the bulk of you will have seen this coming from several paragraphs away, but yes, there is a site that is at least heading in that direction: completely free to use, this site allows you to create your own profile, list the bicycles and gear that you own, and create a wish list of the stuff you'd be rather keen to own. you can help others by rating the stuff you already have, write complete reviews if the desire so takes you, participate in discussions, ask other cyclists for advice, and read 'proper' reviews of stuff you'd been thinking about. cycling nirvana, come to that, and something to take the strain when the weather prevents pelotonisation.

currently featured on the opening page is the opportunity to vote for the company you believe is the most innovative in its engineering and product design (i fear the current vistors of the site may have misunderstood the question, judging by the answers, and particularly the company currently leading the poll.)

the question we must ask, however, is what prompted its formation; is there a catch somewhere? according to australian originator, ben dunn "the original idea was born from frustration with trying to research cycling products on the web when considering an addition to my bike. there are a some good resources out there, but many are attached to an online store so their reviews and opinions are not all that independent and generally come from a short trial ride using the product. forum posts relating to particular products are scattered across so many sites and often buried within indirectly related discussion threads, making research time consuming and limiting for those who don't know where to look. so aims, over time, to collect all this information for cycling products in one place, and to gather the thoughts and opinions of those who likely really know - the owners of these products.

i have to confess, i'd be hard pressed to argue with him, particularly in the light of many bicycles, clothing and components retailing for a king's ransom these days. it's nice to know in advance that all those pennies are being poured on something worthwhile. and you just never know when you might find someone to go ride with in a location not your own. it's a well-known fact that the prime purpose of the computer as we know it, is to serve the modern needs of modern cyclists, particularly those ensconced in the more remote parts of the world. can but aid that purpose.

i told you we were a sociable lot.


posted wednesday 8 september 2010

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crouching tiger, hidden treasures

crouching tiger tours

sometimes you'd almost think i meant it, in the way that one day's article effortlessly segues into the following. but if you have read here for long enough, you will already have had such conjecture banished from thought, for organisation on that level is currently beyond my capabilities. i was, if you will allow a brief reprise from yesterday, laying bare my lack of affinity with a need or desire to travel further afield than specific areas of the united kingdom, most notably this comfortable little rock in the atlantic.

thankfully, both for the future of cycling and providing interesting subject matter on which i can digress to my heart's content, there are many who shrug off the hardships, the danger, the unexpected, and thrust themselves into the unknown with nary a look over their shoulder. for such intrepid adventurers, the very notion of an organised cycling adventure is tantamount to an attack on their virility and man or womanhood; they look upon the catered-for cycle excursion with disdain. for me, and many others like me, being provided with a bullet-point itinerary, sensible feed stops, and the local equivalent of a mavic car driving behind is definitely not a step too far.

crouching tiger tours

for many a year, so-called training camps have been provided on many of the spanish islands, masquerading as the ideal spots for pre-season training. only we know better; none of those attending such pain and suffering for softies have much intention of imitating cav or brad through the coming months. that is not to say that it's all a waste of time, for there can be little doubt that most will come back fitter than when they left, it's just that all will likely be squandered within a few weeks of reality. there are little if any bragging rights to be had by casually mentioning that one had spent the previous weeks amongst the hills in majorca, and at the risk of being struck off sven thiele's christmas card list, riding for three days from london to paris is no longer the trial of strength and endeavour it was once thought to be.

so what now?

when at school i was introduced to thailand by a studious geography teacher, though it was years later when i realised my mistake, having thought it was tie-land; in much the same way that everyone thinks those of us north of the border wear tartan skirts, i was of the impression that the population of this far-off land wore ties. sad, but true.

crouching tiger tours

thailand is, of course a far more interesting location than my misapprehension would have me believe, and now offers even more than i had at first surmised, due to apparently being the hidden secret of the cycling world. and should you need any convincing of this fact, perhaps a look at the crouching tiger cycling tours website would cure of any misgivings.

the mention of the london paris bike ride is not entirely co-incidental either. in 2008, i rode this event in the company of many fine and friendly cyclists, one of whom was a chap by the name of gary thomas. riding events such as l2p, the tour of wessex and the tour des cols had already convinced the man of his affinity with cycling, so when he shifted to thailand, he felt he'd like to offer some of the same, but in the unarguably more exotic surroundings of this asian paradise.

crouching tiger cycling tours.

"the initial business plan was to run open fixed date tours on the routes that can be seen on our website, and that is still a future objective. however to date, we have found ourselves needing to cater for groups of riders who already ride together regularly and are looking for a new challenge. in general the majority of enquiries are from customers who are looking for tailor made tours to fit in with their existing schedules. we have happily adapted to this booking pattern and this has become our speciality."

now, doesn't that sort of sound like what we've just been talking about? but is it therefore a case of getting oneself to thailand with bicycle and being handed a route map, a monogrammed water bottle and told to have a great time? for instance, does anyone know what the thai is for inner tube, or, perhaps more salient, which side of the road they ride on?

crouching tiger tours

"all tours are fully supported. our clients' safety and comfort are of the highest importance. our cycle guides take a similar role to the group captains on london-paris, assisting with marshalling the group along the route. we have vehicle support to assist with mechanical issues; and as an option for anyone who wants either a morning or afternoon off, a lift up a long climb, or simply a short rest. the support vehicle also carries refreshments and energy sustaining snacks. we have an excellent photographer on the team capturing memorable moments from the tours.
as well as our everyday support, we have an excellent relationship with the local police authorities and can arrange an escort where group numbers require.

if we assume that most of us will employ the same well-used euphemism, and ascribe the word training of a pre-seasonal variety to a week or couple of weeks in thailand, the ideal would be that the pelotonese joining a crouching tiger cycle tour ought to get a bit faster and fitter. since this would require to be gained from a base level of some description, is it necessary for the incumbent to maintain at least a minimum speed to partake of a tour? or, given the exotica of the surroundings and thailand's reputation as a holiday destination, are the tours geared more towards the family group looking for something a tad more strenuous than lying on the beach.

crouching tiger tours

"the tours are aimed at the more experienced road cyclist with a good level of fitness, but there is no minimum speed or level of expectation. participating cyclists simply need to be aware of the difficulty of the ride they subscribe to. we take great care to plan suitable itineraries, based on experience, expectation and ability so that our cycling friends will not only complete and enjoy them, but will also find them challenging and rewarding.
tours catering for family cyclists is not a market we are anticipating entering."

if you, like me, have taken the time to have a browse through the tours on offer from crouching tiger, it will perhaps not have escaped your attention that there are many with breaks in continuity. by this, i mean, and unlike the london-paris, it is rarely a case of climbing aboard one's bicycle in the morning and setting off into the sunset for a day of perpetual riding, aside from the occasional stop for sustenance. surely cyclists are sufficiently obsessed to have it so, and not stop off to look at the scenery of an afternoon?

"our listed itineraries are designed to ensure that our cyclists have an experience of thailand, not only on the bike but as well as at the end of each day's cycling. we include rest days in listed tours because they are usually necessary, but in the new bespoke world of our tours we will include or exclude these days to our clients' requirements with due consideration and using our considerable knowledge and experience. for example, a group of australian riders recently took on the 700km 'thai highland tour' in just five days.

crouching tiger tours

"any cyclist or group of cyclists who book a tailor made tour can choose to set any pace that they are capable of maintaining. however we offer group tours and would not allow any individual rider to set off alone and unaccompanied. we offer a fully supported tour with safety foremost in our minds. While cycling on thai roads can be considered safe, in many regions we can be quite isolated. It can be many miles between anywhere to buy or beg drinking water and places where there is no mobile phone signal in the event of an accident or mechanical failure. with all cyclists to date being club mates, colleagues or team members, we have seen the usual camaraderie and encouragement we all enjoy as cyclists. don't get me wrong, it's fine to sprint for a post or be first to the top of the climb and wait, but a group ride should be just that, we start together, ride together and finish together.

so far, so good. thailand seems like the ideal location to combine rest and recuperation with days of pain and suffering, and much-a-plenty scenery to occupy the senses on the days when turning another crank is just a chain link too far. but on the days when cycling is the prime objective, there is little doubt that this will take place over the roads that thailand's population use for the day to day, likely less than wholly concerned with the proclivities of those awheel. so can the average crouching tiger peloton experience closed roads?

crouching tiger tours

"quite simply, no, but wherever possible we use quieter routes, and we are in the lowly populated areas of the country, meaning that traffic levels are generally relatively low. in our experience thai drivers are very aware of and considerate towards two wheeled traffic. our support vehicles will be on hand to lead and or follow if necessary. safety is a top priority."

let's, for a moment, take a step backward and look at life in the real world. finding an easyjet or ryanair flight to spain or its surrounds is a particularly economic, if not entirely luxurious travelling experience, and once there, the worst that can happen by way of internal transport, is perhaps the need for a taxi to a local hostelry. thailand is half-way around the world, so what sort of costs are likely to be involved in transporting self, sportwool, lycra and carbon from here to there?

"there are a number of factors to consider, but typically you can fly from london to bangkok from about £550. some clients who may not live a suitable distance from heathrow might find departures from their local airport that connect via amsterdam or other hubs for similar prices. luggage can be an issue, with a bagged bike weighing close to 15kg, but i recently flew with emirates who offered a generous 30kg. in my experience, eva and thai airlines offer the best direct service, eva with seatback personal choice entertainment. emirates were also excellent.
"and certain of our tours offer free internal flights within thailand."

crouching tiger tours

so there you go. while the rest of the velo club are finding odd bolts in the bike bag from last year, and perhaps in one or two cases, a bike that appears not to be theirs, as they pack for next year's flight to benidorm, having packed enough sandwiches and cans of fanta to obviate any excess fees from ryanair, you can smugly announce that your bike bag will be travelling emirates to thailand, fully catered for several days of an altogether different quality of cycling.

gary affirms that crouching tiger cycle tours are in their infancy; they have likely only scraped the surface of what is possible in an emerging nation. he figures that cyclists across the world are all looking for the same way to the top, (relatively speaking) and crouching tiger would like to help us get there. however, it's not all give and no take. while thailand may be a paradise for western visitors with bicycles, it is not short of problems of its own, and crouching tiger aim to cement their position within the thai community by putting something back. currently the hope is to aid with education and healthcare for refugees, while in the sphere of conservation, they aim to aid work to protect the endangered asian elephant.

can i fly direct from islay?

crouching tiger cycling tours

crouching tiger tours

posted tuesday 7 september 2010

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the lost cyclist by david herlihy. mainstream publishing. 326pp illus. hardback £12.99

the lost cyclist

wanderlust is not something i find myself afflicted with. if truth be known, i am more than happy with the roads around the island, even though none provide more than the fleeting challenge of wandering sheep, cattle grids and the occasional gravel deposit. this closet-like manner is only ever of consequence if tied in conversation with a cyclist of far greater international repute and wide-ranging geographical wanderings. otherwise, who's to know?

this insularity, however, is no obstacle to reading books and articles regarding those of a more exploratory nature, for i would imagine that such are aimed at folks just like me. if we were all of this 'i love to go a wandering' state of mind, the impress would be considerably lessened.

with the dawning realisation that the world is becoming an ever smaller place, due in part to the interweb, e-mail, skype and other associated means of communication. it takes mere seconds to find out the nature of events on the other side of the world, and even in the insignificant institution that is thewashingmachinepost, i have been known to carry on complete conversations with folks across the pond over the course of an evening. but in the days long before any such notions; indeed in the days when those opting for the pneumatic tyred safety bicycle over the ordinary or penny farthing, were all but considered heretics, days when little was known about those in the next american state let alone strange countries across the seven seas; even then, there were those afflicted by their own wanderlust.

the motor car was in the very early stages of development, and the bicycle had taken over, in many strains of life, from the horse. its aptitude for carrying its own engine and substantial additional luggage to far flung places, without the need for daily feeding made the bicycle the ideal vehicle on which to explore the world, and there were those eager to take advantage.

william sachtleben, along with a college associate, thomas g allen jr., much taken with the benefits and joys of the safety bicycle, completed a round the world pedal in the year 1893, having gone from west to east over the course of 'a three year, fifteen-thousand-mile romp across europe, asia and north america. the duo had eclipsed an earlier similar journey by thomas stevens atop a high-wheeler. it shows not only the propensity for world exploration of sorts, but the continual rapid development of the bicycle, and the eagerness for which the nouveau cyclist was wont to adopt these changes.

george lenz was one given to the excitement of cycle racing, competing in many races during the late 1880s as a member of the allegheny cyclers; lenz was an aficionado of the high-wheeler and won many events from such altitude, but in the course of his sport, transferred his allegiance to the safety as a more pragmatic alternative. not content with a modicum of success as a racer, frank lenz hoped to distinguish himself further amongst the company of so many others from pennsylvania who had done so before him, though in fields other than that of the bicycle. having read of the exploits of other travellers and explorers in the pages of outing magazine, he resolved to undertake his own circumnavigation of the globe, but conversely to that of sachtleben and allen, his would be from east to west. and in order to make this journey more attractive to potential sponsors, he intended to carry a wood and brass camera, considerably more bulky than the compact digitals of today, to supersede the paintings and drawings of a more recent navigator.

so comprehensive a discourse is that of david v herlihy, author of the award winning bicycle: the history, that i can but offer a brief precis of his work here. lenz never made it home from his cycle trip, perishing under mysterious and unconfirmed circumstances in the region of turkey. it is presumed he was murdered. such an outcry was raised at his disappearance, that his sponsor, james henry worman, owner of outing magazine, was compelled to engage the services of the previously mentioned cycling explorer, will sachtleben, to travel to the area of lenz' disappearance, ascertain just exactly what had happened to him, and hopefully bring home his bones to an ageing and fretting mother.

if you will allow me to place this story in context, these were days of continued unrest in the middle east (nothing much has changed), but also days of incredibly slow communications in comparison with modern times. much was accomplished, if such is an appropriate term, by means of letter; and the written missive most certainly isn't e-mail. the events took place across a number of years at the end of the 19th century, almost 120 years ago, and the lost cyclist is a marvellous testament to not only the research, tenacity and historical skills of mr herlihy, but also to his narrative expertise. for this is one of those can't put it down books that is even more enthralling for its being a true story. granted, the part the bicycle plays in its disbursement is that of supporting act, but the early chapters provide an accurate insight into the last days of the penny-farthing bicycle, its replacement by the pneumatic tyred safety bicycle, and the degree of heretical accusations that accompanied the transition.

it is a book that transcends its subject matter, which we, as insular obsessives, will blinkeredly accept as being that of the bicycle. would it be that we would have it any other way? however, such is not truly the case, and those, such as mrs washingmachinepost, would likely find the narrative just as intriguing and enjoyable. for this, i can only offer my respect to the author.

but, much as i would hate to engender a reputation as a reviewer given to picky trivialities, though i fear this may already be one that has some merit, when recounting the initial cycling explorations of sachtleben and allen across britain and ireland there is this:

'...passing through the famous giant's causeway, where rows of basalt columns meet the north sea...

if mr herlihy will permit just a small criticism of such an extensive work, unless the giant's causeway has been recently moved, that would be the atlantic ocean. the north sea meets scotland's east coast. as i said, a triviality, though perhaps not to those such as myself, who are bordered by the misrepresented body of water.

an important addition to the panoply of cycling literature, both for its historical context, sense of adventure and for being a damn good read.


posted monday 6 september 2010

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rapha la vuelta cd

xavier and roberto

it's 4:55am, saturday 4th september, the town of elda in alicante, spain; xavier hortache is already awake. he and his brother roberto have agreed to rise at 5am, but xavier has never had any problem waking early, no matter when he's due to get up. the radio is playing quietly in the background, the alarm having been set for 4:15; xavier enjoys lying half awake in bed listening before having to hang a leg out the bed. roberto is still face down on his bed, mouth half open and an arm dangling over the side. the tune playing is makala's meneíto magistral , a worthy accompaniment to a bright, sunny morning.

stage eight of la vuelta will finish not too far from elda, and the brothers plan to drive to castalla, park the car, and cycle up the ascent towards the finish at xorret del cati, there to cheer the riders or, more specifically, to cheer for any of their countrymen in the peloton. roberto takes a few nudges and a kick to awaken sufficiently to get him out of bed, but once up and dressed , breakfast is consumed in relative silence but with excitied anticipation of the day's outing. although both have watched previous vueltas on the television, never has a stage finished so close on a weekend, and both intend to take every advantage of this singular opportunity.

5:30am, and the sun is beginning to shine.

about a third of the way along the cv-80 route to castalla, the early start is making good sense, as traffic heading in the same direction, presumably with the same end in mind, is starting to thicken and slow forward progress. the rear view mirror shows more cars behind than there are in front, many with bicycles strapped to the roof, and roberto is getting concerned that they might struggle to find somewhere to park when they get there. his concerns are not altogether unfounded, for castalla is a busy place on a saturday even without the arrival of a cycle race, which itself has placed restrictions on parking and access. however, a lucky break sees them turn a corner just as another car moves off, and xavier slides the elderly fiat into the vacant space before anyone else has the chance.

rapha la vuelta cd cover

making a mental note of just where they and the car are situated, they lift the bikes from the roof rack and head towards the avenue de petrer, along which the vuelta peloton will arrive sometime around 5pm later that day at a far higher speed than xavier and roberto. it's currently 11:20am, and they and seemingly hundreds of others are either walking or cycling up a steadily increasing incline eager to find just the right spot from which to watch the proceedings. those walking seemed to be struggling even more than those riding on what is certainly one of the warmest days in recent weeks, but further up there would be a bit more tree shelter offering some welcome shade.

the brothers are now beginning to realise that what had looked an easy route on paper, is rapidly bringing them to their knees, neither of them being a particularly adept climber and, perhaps stupidly, neither quite dressed for the occasion. the original intention had been to make their way right to the top of xorret del cati, but having all but run out of gears, the mid-day heat and vanishing fitness means that they sort of half agree it would be better to look out for a decent space in the thickening crowd, and plop themselves down with enough time to eat and recover before the peloton is well and truly on its way.

roberto had drawn the short straw to wear the rucksack with munchy bits and liquid refreshment, so he is more than a little cheered when xavier points to a gap in the crowd and makes towards it, uncleating as he goes. they lift the bikes over the guardrail, uncharacteristically being careful not to dislodge the advertising banner across its front. there are seemingly hundreds of guardia civil in evidence along the route, and the last thing either wants is a caution that will otherwise spoil the main objective of their day.

with the race still some three and a half hours away, there is little else to do but eat, drink and be merry, chatting with those around them, discussing the finer and less fine points of cycling, and whether philippe gilbert's red jersey will be likely to give him wings. and then they wait. and wait some more.

rapha la vuelta cd inside

around 4:30pm, with the race still some forty minutes away, official traffic past their vantage point starts to increase, heralding the arrival of the caravan. neither xavier or roberto are too interested in the freebies being handed out by the girls and boys on bizarrely decorated vehicles, advertising a range of diverse, and often irrelevant products and services. unless the trinkets are pocket-sized, they rationalise, how will they ever get them back down the mountain in such a small rucksack that roberto insists is not his responsibility to carry on the descent?

with the stage leader approaching, a phalanx of police, photographers and officials on motorbikes whizz past erratically spaced, and everyone is now stood as close to the barriers as they can manage. david moncoutie goes past at a rate both brothers can scarcely believe, though they not getting a clear look at his face due to the plethora of waving arms, and the tv motorbike placing itself between them and him. however, when the chasing group appears heading towards their gaze, the tv bike is in front, the cameraman facing rearwards to capture the action. xavier gesticulates to his brother, unable to make him hear due to the shouting, cheering and noise of the motorbikes. as the camera bike goes past them, they turn towards it, screaming and waving in the hope of being on tv, at which point the chase group whizzes past in a blur.

it's just after 5:30pm. xavier and roberto have been up since 5am; over twelve hours. they've driven a not inconsiderable distance, ridden their wee hearts out to get as far up the mountain as they could, and stood about waiting for over three hours. now they have all that to do again to get home. and what had they seen? a bunch of lycra'd backsides riding up a mountain, all because the lure of that tv camera had proved too much.

tomorrow they'd likely be too knackered to get out of bed much before mid-day, if that early. likely all they'd manage would be the stage nine highlights on the television, and monday would bring the rest day. what on earth would they do then, to salvage their vuelta?

well, i just happen to have the solution to that latter dilemma. although appearing in these pixels around a week too late for the start, there has been a week's worth of iberian sun and cycling to acclimatise the spanish aficionados, and to maintain this state of affairs, you could do considerably worse than fill your ears with rapha's music inspired by the vuelta cd. we may well be the download generation, but doing so leaves us bereft of any real illustrative matter. the compact disc cover may not be a patch on the wide expanse of double gatefold sleeve practised by roger dean in his heyday, but there's enough room for some glossy pics from the vuelta's past and a comprehensive track listing. perhaps the only faux pas, if i'm being less than generous, is the metallic hue pervading the cover and cd receptacle; for many a year the leader's jersey has been described as gold, though vibrant yellow may have been a better description. this year however, from the organisers who gave us a blue jersey with fish not so long ago for the points competition, we have been given red as their principal offering.

rapha la vuelta cd inside

much latin american music inhabiting south america and cuba has its heritage in spain, likely due to the proliferous activities of the spanish conquistadors in the area, so it is heartening to find such fine examples of this style represented on the cd, along with the usual euro-disco suspects and some idiosyncratically monikered bands such as the gigoletto brass band and we are standard. each music track is interspersed with excerpts from the truly excellent viva la vuelta by lucy fallon and adrian bell. a download version is promised sooner rather than later,while the initial offering for the giro can be purchased on itunes here.

perhaps issuing music cds is hardly the core activity of a cycling apparel company, but it seems that re-defining the boundaries is something endemic to the residents of perren street, and for this they are to be congratulated. sure, none of the tracks on this disc have any natural affinity with cycling, but then take my breath away doesn't mention fighter pilots, but one need only hear the opening bars to immediately think of top gun. it's a re-defining with which my ipod is happy to live.

if you see roberto or xavier, be sure to let them know.

the vuelta - music inspired by the vuelta a espana can be purchased from rapha's website for £12 ($15.50)



posted sunday 5 september 2010

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embracing the routine

cable ferrule

if we're brutally honest, and that's a situation one should avoid unless all escape routes have been exhausted, it is always all about the bike. saturday morning shopping is not something to be undertaken with any real sense of joy; it's simply an unavoidable task that must be endured gracefully, all the while figuring which bicycle to use later that morning, and should it be bibshorts, or has the temperature dropped sufficiently to employ those bib threequarters? because that honesty referred to as my opening gambit surely runs to the effect that we think about cycling when we're cycling, and we think about cycling when we're not cycling. or am i in a subset of one?

i very much doubt it.

work is that necessary something that allows purchasing of more bicycles or more bits for bicycles, and also something that gets in the way of riding. thursday afternoon of this past week was warm, windless and cloudless; the office was immediately history, as the colnago beckoned from the bikeshed. such careless abandon was justifiable on the basis that no-one on their deathbed ever said "i wish i'd spent more time at work." if the opportunity presents itself, i'm definitely taking it, and as i have mentioned just a sentence or two ago, i don't think i'm alone in this.

but bicycles are machines with moving parts and stationary bits, expected to carry out their functions uncomplainingly, because that's what we want them to do. if you are a computer user, and that includes everybody who's reading, it will come not as new advice that it is good practice to back-up your data regularly. but how many of us do it? i confess that it took a hard disk failure several years ago to goad me into doing so, and though quite a lot of stuff resides as copies on an external drive, my schedule for doing so is, to put it mildly, a bit lax.

gear cable stop

there's nothing on a bicycle that needs backing up as such, but a combination of wear and tear, weather and depreciation means that stuff either breaks, slows up or gets stuck. the latter effect is mostly discovered at the most inappropriate point, reminding that while there is likely no appropriate point to discover stuckness, there was undoubtedly a time when a little prevention would have been a good idea. if any of those machines enclosed within the shed are of steel or aluminium construction, i'd recommend that the seatbolt be loosened at least every two weeks to check that the seatpost hasn't welded itself to the tube in which it resides.

you may think me over cautious in this respect, but how hard is it to do, and how much anguish will it save? i have two very fine and highly appreciated steel frames in thewashingmachinepost bikeshed, and i can assure you that the period of mourning would be long and grief-ridden were either to emerge at the far side of the winter with seatposts that no longer moved up or down. i appreciate that not everyone suffers from the salt-laden atmosphere that surrounds my abode, but that, quite frankly, is no excuse.

this born-again mechanic outburst was brought on by the opportunity to apply a new groupset to the cielo, the purpose of which will be a back to back review of one against t'other. all this will be revealed at a future date, but for now, i'm concerned with what i discovered when removing the old, and fitting the new. the offending items were the ferrules.

cable stop

the word ferrules is easily good enough to be used in any appropriate manner, no matter the subject matter under discussion; in fact, i think i may now be in line for some sort of publishing award, having found the opporchancity to use the word twice in one article. in case there are those who know not of which i speak, ferrules (award now all but guaranteed) are the plastic or metal end-caps fitted to both brake or gear cables where they fit into the slotted cable stops on the frame. the idea is that these mini devices prevent any stripping or fraying of the cable ends under the duress of gear changing and frequent braking.

they are intended to be a reasonably neat fit in the stops to maximise efficiency, and can be a bit of a footer to assemble, but there can be little doubt as to their efficacy. otherwise, why would they be in one of those little plastic packets in the box of cables? however, their efficacy is likely called into question using rather suspect language when it comes time to remove them. it's not inexplicable that this should happen, since under braking or gear-changing pressure they are constantly pressed hard into their frame receptacles. while corrosion of one sort or another is apt to affect removal, it is not an unknown situation to have exactly the same problem in carbon frames.

since this new groupset was complete in every way except that of the bottom bracket (the cielo wears a blue chris king bottom bracket, and that wasn't going to be swapped for anything), a new chainset accompanied the gears and levers, necessitating removal of the previous incumbent. gone are the days when one held one's breath tightening the crank remover and hoping the crank slid off the spindle with ease. today's cranksets have the remover built-in, making the process a simple case of turning an eight or ten millimetre allen key. bearing in mind that word prevention, i removed both outboard bearing cups, lubricated the threads with ant-seize compound, and replaced. if you haven't done that on your bicycle for more than six months, put the computer down and rush out and check now. if you can't do it yourself, book the bike into your local bike shop immediately and ask them to check.

i am nothing if not your friend.

chris king bottom bracket

it's all downhill towards winter from here on in, and a maintained bicycle is a happy bicycle. think how even more dreadful that saturday morning shopping, grass-cutting or fence painting will be if all you have to look forward to is riding a machine that you know is deficient in some way. for though the bicycle may continue to function correctly for months, or even years to come, the day of reckoning will arrive sooner rather than later; and that moment is not going to be fun.

if you can't adjust the gears, don't know how to fit a set of cables, or are bereft of the wherewithal to remove a bottom bracket, look it up on the web or, better still, get hold of a book that shows you how. it's not hard (if i can do it, you can do it). however, if this really doesn't appeal, do as you would with the motor car (assuming you own one) and book it into the local bike shop for regular services, and make sure you tell them what it is you want checked or replaced at each.

remember, it really is all about the bike.


posted saturday 4 september 2010

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we make these. buy one.

we make these. buy one.

i have railed against the poor state of bicycle advertising in these pixels before, probably around a year or so ago, and in conversation this morning, the subject came up once again, particularly in relation to the new colnago c59. this is colnago's flagship frame, and thus one could expect they would be more than keen to advertise its exciting properties, undoubtedly in more enterprising fashion than has been the case up till now. but aside from guaranteeing maximum views by taking the two opening pages of the current issue of procycling magazine, this has then been squandered by the advert itself. there can be few of us who would be greatly enthused by a profile shot of a c59 suspended on a workstand.

that'll sell them.

in this particular case, it is fortuitous that the selfsame issue contains a highly commendable review of said bicycle by the pulitzer prize-winning (a little inside joke there) marcel wust. while the c59 debuted in this year's giro d'italia, bbox bouygues telecom gave it not only its first stage win, but the opportunity to paint it white with red polka dots. either of those might have been a good starting point.

i was tempted to give them the benefit of the doubt in the latter respect, by the proximity of the the race to the possible ad deadline, but that avenue of escape has been completely removed by those specialized adverts featuring andy and bertie who participated in the same race. that, to me, seems productive use of the sponsorship dollar; if you're going to pay untold amounts to have stars of that calibre riding your bicycles to the top two spots on the podium, it does them proud to have used the fact to help sell the bicycles. strangely, this seems almost as rare as team sky stage wins, as the majority of manufacturers are still presenting us with profile or rear shots of their cycles intimating the slogan, if not actually printing it 'we make these. buy one.'. i'm inclined to adopt the mindset of if you can't be bothered, neither can i.

incidentally, team sky have found themselves the subject of pinarello's advert for the blue and black dogma 60.1, using the tagline 'they wanted only one bike.' this, you would think, would gain my utmost approval, were it not for the fact that most of us are comfortably aware that professional cycle teams ride bicycles supplied by the manufacturer who offers the largest financial package, as well as the bicycles. thus advertising such as this is somewhat disingenuous, and not astoundingly honest.

advertising is a specialist science/art that becomes ever more sophisticated as society progresses, almost paralleling they way in which certain recuperative drugs operate; continued exposure to the same cure eventually results in ever-increasing immunity to same. thus, if we continue to be forced to look at pictures of bicycles in cycle magazines, we'll eventually lose the will to live and start buying golf magazines instead. many other product lines have either moved with the times or pushed the boundaries a bit; nike and reebok spring to mind, and it seems either quaint or downright blinkered that our masters refuse to be dragged into the 21st century marketing that we (and they) all know exists.

it is unfair, in a widely ranging activity, to point the finger solely at the bicycle manufacturers, for the great unwashed have needs other than merely the velocipede. campagnolo have already come in for criticism via the embrocation blog in the usa, criticism which holds good for europe too, and i'm not sure that shimano or sram have fared too much better, or indeed, those with similar interests in bicycle trinketry. i'd find it hard to provide an example of any cycle related advertisement that has stuck in the mind longer than the time it takes to turn a magazine page, and many are still smarting from that appalling showing by wiggle during eurosport's coverage of this year's tour.

however, all is not lost. in this day of flickr, twitter, vimeo and youtube, there are endless opportunities to move away from the expected. using any of the above indicates a smidgeon of savvy on behalf of either the ad agency or perhaps a bright spark in the office. but the medium is not the message, and there are many capable of throwing it all away in the mistaken impression that because it is not ink and paper, it is cutting edge. the moving image allows for a touch of intrigue, mystery or perhaps best of all, humour, and the clip below displays excellent use of the latter.

come october 1, rapha will restate their partnership with sir paul smith via the release of a number of appropriately designed, fabricated and priced items of apparel, a partnership that some consider verges on the pretentious, and one in danger of taking itself way too seriously. if that concurs with your own viewpoint, take a look at the video clip below, and perhaps take the time to think again.

and while we're on the subject of rapha and films, in a thinking out loud moment during the review of rapha's recent movie exploration in co-operation with ridley scott associates, i wondered whatever would happen to the three movies that were only to be shown for one friday each. it seemed a shame that such effort should disappear into a vault somewhere in perren street never to be seen again. thankfully, 300 lucky people will receive a dvd of one of the movies, rather attractively packaged, along with their order for one of the current club jerseys. the three club jerseys retail at £95 each, and rapha have recently added a neat feature on their website advising of stock levels related to each product. a welcome addition.

rapha + paul smith


posted friday 3 september 2010

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