a bike is not just for christmas

a bike for christmas

apart from the bah humbug portion of the season, where christmas starts earlier every year, and arrival at december 25th is even more of an anti-climax than it used to be, i really don't care for christmas too much at all. this has not too much to do with the lost meaning of christmas, though much like anyone, pangs of guilt last for a minute or two when watching a toy story dvd on christmas eve. what bothers me most about christmas is the increasing prevalence of contracting the principal word to that of xmas. because if disbelief is suspended long enough, that would make the expanded pronunciation 'cross-mas'. religiously speaking, that would be easter.

as a part of my daily grind involves the setting out of advertisements, often re-created from scribbles on the backs of envelopes, i tire greatly of this, something that offends my pedantic sensibilities. where at all possible, i ignore the scribbled instructions and substitute the full and correct spelling, meaning i can retire at the end of each day, as darkness falls, safe in the knowledge that i have done my bit for humanity and that by a small almost immeasurable margin, the world is a better place.

christmas has also this possibility, excluding but accepting the religious overtones, but only if the more traditional forms of present giving are adhered to. this is, in the current economic climate, sadly less likely than it used to be, for though we are all supposed to be observing a period of austerity, judging by the numbers trudging through snow and ice in suachiehall street on sunday past, austerity hasn't got a look in.

a bike for christmas

if it were possible, and perhaps it is, to classify the strata of annual present choosing and subsequent giving, this has to be the period of the gadget. nintendo wii, apple ipad and iphone, xbox with kinect, hd ready tvs with freeview; no doubt your world is filled with the same demoralising thoughts, and the credit card is being scared on a daily basis; oh for the days of train sets and scalextric.

however, the principal delight to wake up to on christmas morning was a rather ungainly wrapped present with a wheel sticking out each end; christmas was the ideal time to present your offspring with a bicycle, for the spending of such a large amount seemed easier to justify than at other times of the year. why christmas should be deigned a more appropriate occasion on which to present a bicycle than on an individual birthday, has always been somewhat of a mystery to me, but it seems that my parents, and subsequently mrs washingmachinepost and i have set our traditions by the same yardstick. and we are apparently not alone in this.

neither of my kids have any interest in bicycles, other than the knowledge that it keeps dad out the way for pleasantly lengthy periods of time at the weekends, and stuck behind a computer screen every evening, so there is no consternation over which flavour of carbon to wrap, but there are those who are deep in the throes of those can i have a bicycle for christmas please daddy?; or at least it would be nice to think that were the case. for the reasons outlined earlier, i fear that is decreasingly the case.

a bike for christmas

but the real bit that has me confused and a tad disappointed about the propensity for bike-giving at christmas is the fact that christmas is pretty darmed near the end of december. i can appreciate that this is stating the glaringly obvious, something for which i believe i have an unerring talent, but december 25th is not a day on which one would reach fro the ambre solaire, nor don a short sleeve jersey and bibshorts. it's often cold, even though flakes on the met office roof have often failed to materialise and upset the bookmakers. follow my train of logic for just a short distance, and a bicycle for christmas starts to seem a little out of place. of course, athletes such as those in the velo club have no truck with sub-zero temperatures and howling winds, so waking up to that new colnago would elicit the expected screams of joy in the far flung outposts of the mighty dave t's foot-soldiers (if you sort of see what i mean).

but what about the small people? gauging the size of velocipede for such small apprentice adults is an incredibly inexact science, more often led by price tag than by a comfortably athletic fit. thus a bicycle which fits sort of ok on december 25th is more often than not, going to be wildly out of scale when the weather warms up enough to allow for any extended period of pedalling. and that's why i think christmas is a daft time of year to buy someone (other than a grown adult) a bicycle.

a bike for christmas

thus, is it asking too much that we put our collective heads together and decide when the best time of year is to have christmas? because quite obviously december has had more than a fair chance to state its case for bike buying, and it's failing miserably.

mid-may's looking good to me.

meanwhile, take a look at this entirely gratuitous stop animation movie that bears every relevance to the foregoing. would i lie to you?


posted monday 6 december 2010

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rapha softshell trousers

rapha softshell trousers

students are getting a bad name these days for ransacking buildings and upsetting the government and police in the process of protesting against the future cost of attending university or college. it's easy to sit back and cirticise, since many of us probably had much of our further education paid for via a student grant; well, apart from rogan donald in my year at art college who promptly blew each successive grant cheque on a large number of albums (black vinyl in cardboard sleeves that preceded cds and mp3s). but it's a far different world nowadays than it was more years ago than i care to remember; nobody had ever heard of sub-prime mortgages in those days.

while i can remember having been on a pointless protest march round the more obscure parts of aberdeen (because the police didn't want us to get in the way of anything important), i can't remember what it was we were protesting about. most of us were there because we figured it was something that students ought to do. but by far the best part of being a student was charities week when all sorts of mayhem was gracefully accepted by a welcoming public, mayhem that would have been scorned as wasting government money had it taken place on an individual basis at any other time of year. the end result of a fundraising week was a parade on the back of flatbed trucks along union street, suitably attired in styles that would have had us thrown out of even the lowliest local hostelry.

rapha softshell trousers

the finest, and most bizarre fundraising effort i can remember from four years of sitting on saturday night trucks was that enacted by aberdeen university mountaineering club, who elected to climb up the eastern sector of union street. roped together and dressed in mountaineering gear, complete with safety helmets, they lay down on the road near the pavement, and hauled each other along until they reached the top. it was an absurdity that would have done monty python proud. and while on the subject of monty python, it's interesting how real life imitates fiction.

last summer, while coercing local kids into racing each other around the campsite at port mor, we were able to witness at first hand, an example of health and safety gone mad. with several cliff faces around islay's coastline, it's necessary for the local coastguard to train for the possibility of having to abseil down one of these cliffs to effect a rescue, should the unthinkable happen. however, the islay coastguard consists of volunteers, so the health and safety executive have decreed that practising the art of abseiling must not take place while the possibility exists that someone might get hurt. (no, i'm not making this up).

therefore, in order to train in total safety, the coastguard volunteers were standing in the long grass on the shoreline side of the campsite, with ropes firmly tied to the coastguard pick-up. taking the strain on the rope, they then abseiled along the grass until reaching a pre-designated point. we have now realised that should anyone become lost in long grass anywhere around the island, the coastguard would be our first port of call.

rapha softshell trousers

i mention all this because both the above are examples of doing things the wrong way round, a technique i have, albeit inadvertantly, applied to my review of rapha's latest softshell trousers. these are a particularly stylish and cosy pair of leg coverings that are designed to offer sartorial elegance both on and off the bike at this, the coldest portion of the year. using the same softshell fabric as evinced in the classic jacket which perren street has offered for many a long year, they are lined with a soft fleece, and festooned with a number of pockets front and rear, including a zipped money pocket front right. while softshell as a fabric cannot be classed as waterproof, it does exhibit a high degree of water repellency while still retaining comfort for lengthy periods of sitting in an office after the daily commute in inclement weather has taken place.

the commute, of course, infers a bike ride of varying duration, perhaps a period of bum-scuffing that would wear out a softshell material far quicker than the price of these would make acceptable. this is why that important sector of the nether regions are encased in a hard-wearing canvas-like material that is likely to scoff at anything a saddle could aim in its direction. due to the plush, pink-lined interior, your bum will be completely unaware of this force-field, and decorum will be maintained. and just to aid the degree of water repellency of even the nookiest of crannies, the front zip is taped in the same fashion as that on the rainjacket or stowaway.

a formal approach to the art of reviewing would suggest that a bike ride of indeterminate length would take place straight off the bat, gaining knowledge and insight into how practical such a garment is for the task at hand. for if they fail the riding a bike scenario, then ultimately they are simply a comfortable but inordinately expensive pair of trousers. however, circumstances often dictate that a tautological means of testing may have to be cast to the wayside, and a period of improvisation substituted instead. as we all know, work invariably gets in the way of fun and cycling (not necessarily in that order). so, before a wheel had turned, i wore them to work.

rapha softshell trousers

these are a death-defyingly comfortable and warm pair of trousers, exhibiting a flexibility that on and off a computer chair several times a day will greatly appreciate. there is a slight danger that one could be arrested for impersonating the brown paper cowboy (incarcerated for rustling), but that is surely a small price to pay, particularly when it brings you to the attention of other office staff, defying insignificance. islay has escaped pretty much all the snow experienced by the remainder of great britain, but the temnperatures have been like-minded. the fleece lining of these and their inherent windproofing made the exit from a warm, cosy office into the teeth of winter for lunch and a newspaper a more rewarding experience than it had hitherto been.

having lived in them for a week's worth of daily grind, redressing the balance by clambering aboard the cielo for a hebridean commute would seal their fate as a pragmatic solution to the cycle to and from work, or perchance, some christmas shopping. i realise this may currently be beyond the scope of many across the country, and i admit i only added it for reasons of smugness. had their efficacy been well short of the mark, this review would have undoubtedly taken a different tone of voice; i like a happy ending.

you will infer from the preceding paragraph that comfort and joy were as prevalent in the saddle as they were in the computer chair. while that canvas rear end is as effective as the millennium falcon's force-field, it seems it has had no deleterious effect on either a brooks saddle or a leather swiveller in front of an imac. these fit particularly well when matched with a pair of rapha's merino boxers, completing the sartorial effect without lessening the commute by choosing a pair of dromarti brown leather shoes, a rapha track top, and a rapha bomber jacket. considering the ear-nipping freeze at present, a knitted hat doesn't go amiss either.

rapha softshell trousers

i am of slim build; all my below the waist cycle garments have small labels sewn into the lining, and i have been purchasing 30" waist trousers for as long as i can remember. the rapha softshell trousers as reviewed were 30" waist too, as requested, as are the pair of standard rapha trousers reviewed last year. however, these are slightly larger at the waist than everything else i own with the number 30 on the wasitband. not seriously so, since a belt has taken up the slack, so to speak, though i'd be concered that my chris hoy thighs would fit into a pair of 28" waist. but on this note, it is worth pointing out that the softshells are one of the very few that dip below the two score and ten for those who have been in serious training all year.

£180 is a big number to swallow for a pair of trousers, even for ones that may make the difference between commuting in comfort and simply commuting. but as discussed with bianchista earlier in the week, if cycle commuting is your world, dismissing the automobile for its enormous carbon footprint, then why does the spending of serious money on well-nigh necessitous clothing make for forum fodder? have any of you seen the cost of petrol/diesel/parking/insurance/servicing/depreciation/mot? whether such a sum is within your budget, or within your appreciative mindset is something only you will know, but from the outer edge of the inner hebrides (not known for its urban setting), it seems a particularly effective solution.

i believe they may also fulfil any requirement to abseil in long grass.


posted sunday 5 december 2010

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an introduction to mondiale

mondiale cyclocross bike

jez hastings has been a busy chap, what with being one half of the wiggle brothers, cyclocrossing, taking his kids cyclocrossing (quite successfully too) and being the mastermind behind the single malt tweed jacket, gilet and musette (speak to the guys at mosquito bikes). yet despite all this, and the fact that we hardly ever see him on islay these days, he's still got time to scrabble around on a new cyclocross bike and then write about it afterwards.

those of you who have ridden any of the hot chillee london - paris rides (hello sven) will perhaps have had call to invest in the services of graeme freestone king, probably one of the finest mechanics this side of easter island. graeme is a good friend of both mr hastings and myself, and a man who has the uncanny knack of fitting 34 hours into every nine day week. his latest, slow-burn venture is his own range of bicycles under the name of mondiale and he was foolish enough to offer to provide mr hastings with a custom cyclocross machine for the 2010/11 season.

a two part review of the machine will follow in the fullness of time, sooner rather than later, but in the meantime, jez hastings is happy to regale you with tales of steel tubes, disc brakes and derring do in squishy mud.

i am a fool, an old fool, and like many, i am on the constant look out for the perfect bike. The one that i will be able to pull out of the shed and ride off into the sunset. The bike for a great adventure, a fabulous race, a bike for life. graeme freestone king is a bit of a wizard as well as a campag maestro and he has considerable experience of design, riding, racing and mechanic-ing for pro teams. conversations are wonderful - especially if they lead to somewhere - although most come to nothing. a conversation somewhere in the north of france last summer, close enough to belgium to warrant discussing mud, sweat and beers, and of course the ever nearing cross season. one thing led to another and now i find myself riding a handbuilt steel (almost fully european) disc braked cross bike.

mondiale cyclocross bike

sometimes i just sit and think and sometimes i just sit. after a few words of excitement and ideas flying back and forth it all went quiet. time to sit patiently in both meanings of the word, as i was nursing a serious foot injury which had put me off games. i had planned to ride the three peaks cyclo cross race, for me, the height of the cross season, challenging, daft and painful all rolled into one. graeme said he would build a prototype to fit in with the new rules of crossdom being emitted by the UCI. the machine arrived and i could not conceal my delight; it was superb, featuring pearlescent white paint, curved seat stays and green vittoria fast'n'narrow cross tyres. beauty is in the eye of the beholder and this for me certainly was eye candy. but no racing for me. it was a bit like getting a lovely pot of mackies ice-cream and then being told to put it in the freezer. i put a pair of eggbeaters on and went for a ride. WOW. i just wanted to ride it fast fast fast. it brought back to me the wonderful reasons as to why i ride steel and why i love it.

thoughts of dario pegoretti immediately popped into my head, the smell of the steel, the feel and way it glides over the rough stuff, the way it is the way it is. in the early days i had had a sneak preview of the frame when it was nude and just born. it was as exciting then as it is still now. Mondiale: here are the techy bits for those who love that sort of thing...... graeme feels (and we chatted muchly) and believes that over the last few years, there has been more and more emphasis on frames and complete bicycles coming out of the far east. there is nothing wrong with the build quality of those frames, by and large, and the r and d dollars that go in are impressive, especially in the area of carbon and composite technology. however...

mondiale cyclocross bike

not everyone wants a production frame that is identical to the other nth-thousand of that model. some of us (admittedly a very small proportion) need or want custom sizes, or still more riders, though, would benefit from frame tubing and design tuned to their exact needs. a small, light rider will get a better ride from a more compliant frame than will a tall, heavy rider, for instance; and that is where Mondiale comes in.

in the event of damage or the desire for a repaint, or touch-up to an existing paint scheme, a far east produced frame might not be so easily dealt with. what is really important is that all Mondiales are built as one-offs. they have have standard sizes and geometries, and they use standard tube sets if required, but the frames are still built on demand. this way, they can accommodate small changes; if a rider wants a standard parallel top tube fillet-brazed 56 x 56 in columbus life for example, but wants a 1" head tube instead of 1 1/8", they can do it. maybe a rider might only want single bottle cage bosses, not double; again, no problem. alternative cable routes; no problem. we like to be fussy as a general rule and graeme is a man to accept that fussiness.

interestingly though this means that they prefer to get to know even more about the rider and the intended use of the frame/bicycle, and maybe even a little about what wheelsets are likely to be used in the frame, what tyres, bars and stem, and the rider's riding style, their likes and dislikes. from that, they can make design decisions and tubing choices that suit the individual, then make each frame truly unique. this is really interesting as usually a custom frame meant choosing a particular tube set.

mondiale cyclocross bike

of course, this means that each frame is individually priced, so when i asked graeme for a definitive price he tended to say things like "from about £995.00". i now understand why. although tubing sets and fittings don't vary enormously in price, labour is still by far the biggest component in the price of a frame, and this cost does vary depending on requirements, and in extreme cases might raise or lower the cost of a frame by a couple of hundred pounds; not a lot in the custom world of perfect fit

all the frames are built by small european besboke builders. graeme has spent a huge amount of time at international, national and regional shows across Europe looking at frames, talking to builders, visiting them at their workshops and finally selecting three builders to work with him and his designs. however graeme does add that if you want your Mondiale built in the UK, he can do this. of course all these builders invest in steel.

using the european built frames, one builder looks after all of his TIG welded steel; that's their speciality, and recently they have started to work in alloy. the second looks after the fillet-brazed and lugged steel frames, and a third looks after the remainder of the alloy frames, and even some european formed carbon frames. all are family-owned businesses, building less than 2000 frames a year. he does offer steel-carbon and alloy-carbon frames too, but in general i prefer single material frames (all carbon like my C40; all steel like my fixed pegoretti). if the design is right, including the tubing selection, there is a reduced need to mix materials to get the required characteristics. the tubes are from Columbus, Reynolds, Dedaccai, Tange, Easton and Amadeus, plus aerospace-grade seamless steel tubes if he can't get the characteristics needed from a cycle tubing manufacturer. basically, whatever one wants, graeme will try to accommodate. if you must use carbon forks then they will be Amadeus or Columbus, although pretty much anything else that is in production can be sourced. quite why you would want to do, goodness knows!

mondiale cyclocross bike

like all custom items it is difficult to guarantee delivery times. if you are mr. sachs then it is around seven years or mr pegoretti it could be anything from two to five. delivery times for a Mondiale are generally quoted from first contact to delivery as eight weeks, so long as the design is finalised reasonably swiftly after the first contact is made with the customer. graeme does his own quality control and allows the frame some storage time allowing the paint to harden still further before facing and chasing the bottom bracket, reaming and facing the head tube and finally chasing all of the remaining threads on the frame.

if you want a build-up service, graeme can offers an appropriate service, sourcing whatever you want, but as campagnolo's main man in the UK he has a strong preference for the italian flavour! it really seems that mr freestone-king is quite a frame tailor.


posted saturday 4 december 2010

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as a concerted and discrete group of people, though perhaps only a minority within the grand scheme of things, we have a certain degree of clout (to use a technical term), based almost entirely on our seemingly freely given disposable income. for in modern day economics, spending power commands an impressive degree of respect if pointed in the right direction, something that, applied to the world of the bicycle, has become at least partly responsible for the rise of the mamil (middle-aged men in lycra). the mighty dave-t is keen to point out that there are also a sizeable number of 'pils'; pensioners in lycra, expanding the economy even further. the laws of economics have no real option but to follow slavishly, providing ever-widening methods of separating us from our hard-earned cash (there is no other kind, apart from ill-gotten gains).

fortunately for those of us obsessed with two wheels and a saddle, there are few unscrupulous vendors lurking in the undergrowth, intent on flogging useless or high-priced but vacuous additions to our iconic little worlds. this may be something of a godsend for many of us, since the restraining force is weak in this one obi-wan. but while there is little doubt that endeavours continue unabated year upon year to satisfy demands we have yet to recognise, this has parallels with the 'push' technology that has thrown e-mail and alerts upon unsuspecting early-adopters for more years than they may care to remember. it has seemingly never occurred to the technorati to perhaps 'push' back.


perhaps we should stand up and be counted? or at least emit the occasional whimper now and again.

at variably frequent parts of the here and now, the monoliths and their kid brothers/sisters show or announce just what we'll be wearing, riding, or using in the months leading up to the year that has yet to become january 1. if you're media, you've already been told, provided or shown; the great unwashed read our reactions, reviews or regurgitated press releases, perhaps even stretching as far as attending a show where hands on is discretely allowed.

websites, brochures or hi-res pics encourage fawning and an obsessive checking of the 'view balance' section of the nearest 'hole in the wall', eager for a release date to separate incumbent from wherewithal. this is all accompanied by a metaphorical 'whooshing' sound, as we are carried along in the shiny excitement, shouting out 'i'm not listening' if someone has the temerity to mention the emperor's new clothes.


were any of us asked?

remember, as i pointed out at the top of the page, we're the ones with the purchasing power, but often the ones being asked to make others richer by divesting ourselves of at least a portion of that power on someone else's idea of what we might conceivably need.

unless you work in the industry, it is unlikely your computer is home to any form of cad/cam software, and most of us wouldn't know finite element analysis if it popped out of waterstones and offered to buy us an orange juice. so therefore, the power of persuasion and means to satisfy successful application of the latter, lies elsewhere other than the bikeshed. shiny carbon has aphrodisiac properties.

now it ill behoves me to poke more holes in our particular scenery, because like everyone else, i'm invariably impressed, besotted or, heaven forbid, obsessed by the goodies in the shop window. it does seem slightly eccentric to question the validity of the scenery when its attractions are manifold. but every now and again, getting off at an unannounced bus stop seems worthwhile, if only to put the rest in some sort of perspective. i should rack my collective memories to see if it was me that specifically asked for high modulus carbon fibre. it's always possible that that is the case (metaphorically speaking), but it's a question worth asking.


nothing ever exists in isolation (though i'm willing to except the big bang); one thing often leads to a logical other, but that depends on who's frame of logic we're considering; getting carried away isn't yet, in the current topic of consideration, a capital offence. you wouldn't need to have reached 'tales from topographic oceans' to notice the 'cul de sac' sign further down the prog rock street. so are the current crop of bicycles, wheels, tyres, components etc the very nirvana we have craved since changing from wing-nuts to quick release skewers?

the counter argument would run that, as the industry expands exponentially, entirely dependent on the mamil dollar/euro/sterling, it's a bit weird to query the contents of the shelves. but many of us are eager to quench a self-inflicted thirst, barely stopping to question the flavour, happy to fill the bike-rack with any shiny carbon that photographs well from the front or back. taken at face value by our beloved providers, satisfaction must be guaranteed, for why else would the coffers be expanding?


i am aware that focus groups exist; i am aware that many own research and development departments, some of which outnumber those employed in production, but i have yet to come across or meet anyone who has partaken of a focus session to determine the very modulus of carbon that will shape next year's downtube. and the same goes with regard to anyone being asked independently whether the current shine features enough gloss. thankfully the range of goods on offer is considerable, perhaps obviating much of my preceding argument but, on the basis that we are likely being led to water, have we abrogated our 'clout' lest the supply of annual trinkets be curtailed?

it would be churlish to suggest that we vote with our paypal accounts, for man cannot live by last year's winter bike alone; carbon is simply a legalised drug for many. but perhaps it wouldn't go amiss to drop the odd folded paper in the suggestion box, or chug along to any public display of affection and have a kindly word with the man from del monte. maybe he'll say yes. it is in the interests, would that they knew it, of each and every one to pay heed to their actual and potential customers. it's always just remotely possible that enough of the many would have been happy to pay for italian carbon or steel, halting, or at least slowing, the wholesale move to the chinese republic. there are enough naysayers on the fora to suggest this is a not entirely unfounded proposition.

thus instead of being mere consumers, we might just participate in ways that do not depend entirely on simply turning the pedals. or is that a euphemism too far?


posted friday 3 december 2010

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things we might have overlooked

rouleur calendar

think back a number of years, specifically to a time when buying a cycling magazine was somewhat on the predictable side. you could be pretty sure there would be graham watson photos in there somewhere, particularly if sunflowers and tour de france could be linked. there'd be stuff about contemporary cycling stuff, a necessity that cannot be dismissed, given the need to be conversational on the sunday ride. sure, disillusionment could set in, reviving fond memories of the 'well phil' fanzine of forgotten years. this is a blanket approach to cycle magazines throughout the world, varying on a cyclical basis (no pun intended), as to whether there was anything of note to absorb an hour or two, or a minute or two.

then rouleur happened, and i'm pretty sure none of us saw that coming.

i have no grudge to bear against those writing for the regulars, but i do have a particularly voracious need to read more than most, and i'm willing to bear the arrows of discontent by affecting an elitist stance in my choice of reading material. suffice it to say that i do not have a copy of the daily record on order at my newsagent. rouleur fulfilled this aggrandised literary need in its choice of writers; matt seaton, bill strickland, rohan dubash, and editor guy andrews himself, to name only a few. their words were greatly enhanced by the accompanying, often black and white photography by folks none of us had ever heard of before. i doubt it would be too much of an overstatement to portend that rouleur and many of its attendant publications changed cycling from what it was to what it is.

gerard brown

that, actually, is a false statement, for cycling is as it has always been, allowing for the onset of contemporaneity; what rouleur did was change our focus and appreciation. many were the tweets on twitter anticipating the satisfying thud on the welcome mat as the latest issue dropped through the letterbox (or at least it would do if the letterbox were not blocked against the wind by a pair of ageing waterproof trousers. strange but true). having started as a quarterly, rouleur is now bi-monthly, augmented each year by an anthology of some of that gratifyingly fine photography i referred to earlier; the rouleur photo annual. this increase in publication frequency, particularly noting the increased pagination must surely have been brought on by greater and wider appreciation of its content each issue.

but now, i fear, rouleur is in danger of becoming a comforting part of the cycling firmament, being taken for granted, if you will. this must not be allowed to happen, for pushing at the other end of the tunnel is an ever increasing array of high modulus carbon fibre, intent not only on separating us from our hard-earned, but blanding the peloton with its conformity.

taz darling

i confess that in the early years, i had concerns over just how long even such a talented chap as mr andrews could continue to celebrate a mixture of contemporary and historical cycle racing, without descending into parody. that it is about to reach issue twenty-one without signs of that happening rather underlines the point of why i simply write a daily blog and don't edit a substantial amount of ink and paper.

i do miss the smell of the ink, however.

perhaps it is right and proper that rouleur becomes part of cycling's wallpaper, a bit like having a merino or sportwool arm around your shoulder for comfort in those less than inspired moments. if that is indeed the case, then that arm is about to extend the elbow of friendship once again in three directions (if elbows can manage those sort of acrobatics). it is now december, and despite that being tautologically a month away from the beginning of next year, this is traditionally the time of year when, apart from figuring out if you bought enough christmas cards, calendars have a marked tendency to flaunt themselves in front of your credit card. december 2010 is no different in this respect. the 2011 rouleur calendar hides behind a cover by arch illustrator, richard mitchelson taken from his inspirational one day in july, first viewed in rouleur 18. all the major race dates are listed, each month attended by the photography of gerard brown, taz darling, marthein smit, dan sharp, yazuka wada and guy andrews.

rouleur annual cover

if that were not enough to justify the postage, more photography in a rather more sedate format, ideal for putting those slippered feet on the bassett hound over christmas, the rouleur photo annual has just been released; all 320 pages of it featuring works from the usual suspects. if you've nabbed one of the previous editions, you'll know who, and how good that'll be.

and there's another issue of rouleur due this month too.

if rouleur has become part of our cycling environment, perhaps that's all to the good; maybe it means that we have had our collective consciousness elevated on the fly, meaning altogether more interesting and intriguing conversations amongst the pelotonese. one can but hope.

the rouler 2011 calendar costs £15, the rouleur 2010 photo annual costs just a bit more at £37, and the forthcoming issue twenty-one will add another £12 to the occasion.



posted thursday 2 december 2010

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rapha ladies softshell and threequarter bibs

rapha ladies softshell

men are from mars and women are from venus; we all know that to be true from whichever direction the parlez is coming. therefore the possibility exists that that which us blokes find obsessively cool and functional, might not float the boat of the fairer sex. this presumably has given great cause for thought and concern for clothing designers up and down the land; while one would hope to retain a degree of integrity in one's product range, there would surely be little point in churning a series of slightly smaller and petite garmentry and flavouring it ladylike by the addition of a few flowers and perhaps a choice of pastel colours.

i say this, safe in the knowledge that a goodly number of female bike riders are tougher and faster than i'll ever be, and wouldn't be seen dead wearing aqua or flamingo pink. why should they be spared the agony of making their own clothing decisions of a sunday morning?

rapha seem hell-bent on expanding their women's range, and should, i believe, be roundly congratulated for so doing. however, as i have not omitted to point out on previous occasions, i am not suitably equipped to review or test products designed for tougher and faster members of the opposite sex, so once again, the task falls at the feet and pedals of gem atkinson.

ladies, start taking notes.

The origins of the 'Little Black Dress', more affectionately known as the LBD, apparently lie right back in the 1920s, when fashion designer Coco Chanel produced the iconic garment that was supposed to be a staple of every lady's wardrobe, with the emphasis on extreme versatility. A dress to be worn on a variety of social occasions, a basic and neutral piece; a blank canvas if you will. Fashion historians have chronicled the LBD throughout our recent past, and the theory behind the dress still holds firm in today's eclectic and post-modern world of fashion. There's something inherently stylish about the colour black. With its suggestion of sophistication, an LBD or even the classic tux provides a stark, sharp silhouette.

I've spent the last few weeks riding in two garments from Rapha's latest female-specific offerings for the cooler seasons: the 'Classic Softshell' and the 'Ladies three-quarter bibshorts', both received in Henry Ford Black. Vogue would call it 'Rapha's Ford' I imagine.

First up, let's tackle the thorny issue of the softshell jacket's price. I'm sure many will concur that £240 is not an insignificant amount to drop on a cycling jacket. It's here where I kind of pull in my earlier theory; the way to justify this substantial outlay a rider is to look at the considerable number of scenarios in which it can be worn.

The jacket is crafted from a heavyweight softshell material, and its tags inform me it is coated in a rather technical sounding 'Hytel membrane'. The jacket bears not a single exterior deviation from our monochrome friend, a natty leather shoulder sits on one side, and even the branded armband is in deepest darkest... black.

This 'blank' black jacket allows it to be worn with a variety of accompanying attire, be it matching black lycra bibtights, jeans or riding trousers of all colours and materials; even those garish euro-pro team bibshorts you have lying at the back of the wardrobe as a guilty pleasure. I loved the look of the jacket equally well when slinging one leg over my fixed gear town bike, pootling up to the shops, as I did on my carbon race bike, hammering out on a cold Surrey morning run. So I hark back to the theory of versatility in wearing the softshell; while the initial outlay is massive for most cyclists' pockets, it's one that can be worn on many an occasion, even looking natty off the bike and heading for a few local jars (well... it is the offseason right?)

rapha ladies softshell

Inspecting the interior, many small features are revealed. Pink headphone loops provide a secure and unrestrictive route for those obliged to train to the soundtrack of the modern mp3 player. I often like to get lost on those midweek solo ventures accompanied by a playlist that allows a wandering mind (not too much you understand. Eyes on the road always!)

A cunningly hidden rain flap is tucked up by a small velcro flap on the rear of the interior. Once the rain and drizzle appears, the flap can be unceremoniously deployed for an instantly protected rear. However I found myself pulling it down on the go; the nights have drawn in worryingly early by now, and a large reflective logo sits on the storm flap.

The cut of the piece is figure hugging but not restrictive. Think sleek racer cut but not constricting, with the arms reassuringly long to accommodate a stretched riding position. Each cuff has an added elastic mini-cuff, with a thumb hole. Ideal for when the elements are against you, not a whisper of wintery air will invade the interior of these sleeves, no siree.

The rear pockets comfortably hold all manner of mini-pumps and snacks securely, with the usual zipped valuables pocket sitting on the right hand pouch.

The matching black threequarter bibtights provide ample coverage over the front, with a high front panel providing enough coverage to fully unzip with confidence during those warmer moments, safe in the knowledge you won't be cautioned under any public indecency act. The panel is insulated with a super-soft fleece lining, much softer than any previous lining I have found on Rapha products. The mens' counterpart is Roubaix fleece-lined also, but this new material seems just that little bit more 'delicate' and plush. Never a bad thing when it comes to riding in single digit temperatures. In my humble opinion, and unlike the classic softshell, these bibs could be comfortably worn up to around 16 degrees or so without undue cooking. While the former is perfect for low temperature riding, once the temperature rises into double figures, you'll find it a little too overbearing for substantial rides over 30 mins or so. (I'd found on a recent 120k ride along cold country lanes, that the temperature was a chilly 3 degress yet a softshell and short sleeve merino baselayer were all I needed to keep comfortably toasty.)

The women's threequarters feature an open back, similar to the men's version, to help regulate temperature and ensure you remain free of sweaty-back syndrome. A neat stash pocket sits on the back panel for secret items. With a slightly shorter leg cut, the hem sits just below the knee, providing some Belgian-inspired warmth to delicate, cold tendons.

The bibs are plain black, matching any top you can throw at themä. And when I say plain, I really mean plain. A small reflective tab sits on the back of the knee area, although be under no illusions this will be highly visible, it may catch a little headlight glare but its very small indeed. That something is, however, better than nothing I guess.

rapha ladies softshell

The seatpad is again a top of the range from Cytech, the same as the summer half shorts offered. Did I notice my chamois? Not at all. Just how the Lord-of-all-padding intended, one would assume. The pad was great over long distance rides from 60-80 miles, and I would heartily recommend these shorts for any lady looking to get some serious winter training in. On the coldest of days I wore long socks underneath (what can I say? I've lived away from the north for too long; perhaps I'm going soft?) and found them to perform well, but I think for those sub-zero temperatures you may wish to select a dedicated pair of wind-block bibtights from your riding wardrobe. That's not to discredit the threequarters any, I think these will make a great versatile three-season addition to your arsenal of lycra, just don't be under the illusion they yield adequate insulation in arctic conditions.

There's no escaping that some will see the price of the jacket as stratospheric, and yes it's certainly no insignificant throwaway amount, especially in this climate of supposed austerity. However if you find yourself, like me, spending a hearty chunk of time on the bike, seven days a week, be it training, racing, commuting or a combination of all three, the initially gawp-inducing pricetag becomes evidently more digestible, given the hours spent wearing it. Any darned near perfect jacket, both in styling and function, will arrive with a pricetag to match (and it's a shock of an amount cheaper than anything associated with a car; twmp) It's a personal decision to weigh up whether the outlay is worth it. I can't help feeling pleased everytime I throw my arms into it.

So it would seem dear readers, that classic black is the new black this winter.

The Rapha Classis Ladies Softshell and the ladies threequarter bibshorts are available in the usual sizes, with the beady-eyed amongst you noticing the introduction of a smaller xxs size to the range, for those petite riders seeking a UK 6 fitting.


posted wednesday 1 december 2010

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on tour by bradley wiggins. photography by scott mitchell. orion books 192pp illus. softback £14.99

on tour

there used to be a postscript laser printer in the office that featured a sort of auto resolution on the print output that i could find no practical way to switch off. and neither could epson's technical support. the offset printer on which local publications, including the newspaper are printed, had two shortcomings; one inherent and one inflicted. the inherent shortcoming was built around the amount of ink that could be practically or mechanically applied to the image plate and subsequently, the transfer roller.

allow me to explain.

all output for printing is originated on computer, printed to paper and finally processed as what's known as a silver master plate. for those not familiar with the litho process, the silver patches on the plate allowed the ink to remain, while the black areas rejected it. thus, by a complex series of rollers, ink iss applied very thinly to the plate strapped to a large roller, before being transferred to sheets of paper being continuously passed through the press.

and that's where the inflicted shortcoming revealed itself.

on tour

while text is simply black or white, monochrome photographs are rendered by the computer as 256 discrete levels of grey. these are translated in the laser printer by varying the density of minute black dots on the paper, fooling the eye into thinking it sees those 256 different greys. however, since our press was, for economic reasons, printing onto photocopying paper, there arose a problem; photocopying paper expects dry toner, so no surface coating is generally necessary. however, plop thousands of little ink dots on the paper, and it behaves, not unnaturally, like blotting paper; while the laser print controls the size of each dot, ink on uncoated paper leads to what is technically known as dot gain; and then some.

to decrease this, it is necessary to lower the line screen. as a general rule of thumb, the line screen applied to photographic output, should be about half the number of pixels/dots per inch of resolution. since we needed only 150ppi/dpi, the line screen ought to be about 75 lines per inch. this latter measurement controls the space between each row of dots; the lower the number, the less likelihood there is of the dots banging into each other when they blot on the photocopying paper.

on tour

the problem with this epson laser was that the default factory setting had apparently no way of being switched off, so instead of being able to set the line-screen in the low 60s, we were lumbered with 126lpi. the result, when printed on the litho, looked like a bad photocopy; no levels of grey at all.

i have previously criticised the monthlies for their necessity of reprising the tour in the issue following their tour coverage, following the issue that previewed the tour. there's only so much that an obsessive can take; even those riders' tour diaries... so to hold in my hands a stage by stage book, only a few months after the race, written by a man who failed miserably to achieve all that those selfsame monthlies promised he would, is hardly a promise fulfilled.

or is it? oh yes it ruddy is.

on tour

bradley wiggins is not only a particularly good writer, but a disturbingly honest one at that. not even past the first paragraph; "to my mind, july 2010 was the first really big public failure of my career, when i performed well below what i had expected and hoped." what follows in the next 190 or so pages, is a stage by stage account of the 2010 tour de france, just the very scary scenario i was hoping to avoid. yet this is embarrassingly compelling; not for bradley, but for me, because i couldn't put it down. that's not a euphemism, but a truism; it really is that good, and i'm only talking about the words.

bradley has wide-ranging and acute observations that extend beyond the daily travail during twenty-one days in july. these extend to his team-mates, lance, the sadly departed txema gonzalez, unsung heroes of the peloton, home alone for three weeks, and even a chapter allowing mrs wiggins to tell of her husband. however, mr wiggins' recollections of one of the iconic moments in cycling history, that of the unfortunate incident that befell eugene christophe in 1913, is slightly skew wiff. brad contends that christophe broke his handlebars and was then fined for allowing a young girl to operate the blacksmith's bellows while he carried out the repair. close, but no cigar. christophe broke his forks, and it was a seven-year boy who operated the bellows, resulting in a fine for outside assistance. the little girl was the one who led eugene to the blacksmith in the first place.

just saying.

but what makes 'on tour' even more compelling are scott mitchell's black and white photos. i was on the verge of using the term 'accompanying', but the images are so much a part of the book, that i might just as well apply the same adjective to the text. scott is not specifically a cycle photographer, but a friend of brad's who was asked to accompany the 2010 tour and provide a monochrome record of the french trials and tribulations. i'm no photographer, but would adhere to the view that someone who is, should be as good at one subject as another. scott mitchell has proved me right.

on tour

it's hard to imagine bradley's words divorced from scott's photos, in much the same manner as the highly successful 'le metier' collaboration between michael barry and camille mcmillan. mitchell has perhaps a keener eye than those of us conditioned by years of cycling obsessiveness, seeing the very bits that we'd all miss because of the chainset on that cervelo, or the prototype carbon on so and so's pinarello. it's at least one of the reasons why bradley didn't ask us.

however, and this is no reflection whatsoever on scott mitchell's imagery, the reproduction could have been better. i will admit to a smidgeon of confusion over the problem, because it is not consistent, but it does look suspiciously like a variance over line-screen and image resolution. this has not 'ruined' the images, but has pretty much robbed them of their ultimate contrast; having seen some of these online, the printed works are often too grey. a quick run through the levels command in photoshop would likely have remedied the problem.

hence my pre-press primer in the opening paragraphs.

if you're one of those whose world fell apart with bradley's lesser placing on reaching paris, buy, read and observe 'on tour', for it is a grand chunk of reality in black and white that will restore faith to the faithful.


posted tuesday 30 november 2010

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