car parking

how would you turn your locale into a bike-friendly area? i don't mean encouraging folks to wave to you as you struggle against a headwind, bedecked with waterproofs against the inclement weather, but a community less reliant on the dreaded automobile. the startlingly frank answer is that you probably can't. to be seen riding a bicycle every day either to work, to play or to the supermarket runs the risk of identifying yourself as a bit different but if you own a bicycle and not a car, that's likely something that didn't bother you in the first place.

high profile cycling might just encourage others to cogitate upon their own transportational choices, but i think that a highly unlikely strategy. in most cases you will simply be seen as another obstacle on some motorist's route of no consequence. it seems that cyclists must be overtaken no matter the risks involved in doing so; i agree wholeheartedly with whoever suggested that a day spent on a bicycle ought to be compulsory for all those about to undertake their driving test. maybe, just maybe, the young licensed newbie might have a greater understanding of the cyclist's metier.

but i sort of doubt it.

portland, oregon seems, amongst others, to have all but conquered the problem. there will always be motorists who regard the motor car as their birthright, one that confers the ability to go wherever and whenever they wish, and at whatever speed, but faced with the thousands who cycle in cities such as portland, there has to be a general softening of this ideology; there's an evens chance that the cyclist in front on martin luther king boulevard is the chap that stays a couple of doors down. no longer are they necessarily anonymous cycle commuters.

altering an ingrained mindset is always likely to be an uphill struggle, particularly when the potential alterations are directed at the considerable majority. that's what we have governments and councils for; lobby them hard enough, sweetened with hard to refute economic arguments, and there's an outside chance that sense may prevail. those economic arguments will, however, have to be particularly convincing. you would figure that an endlessly increasing fuel price at the pumps would persuade more to leave the car at home and take to the bicycle, and i will confess that it is of great surprise that many are willing to complain bitterly about the cost, yet willing and able to dip into emptying pockets to sustain their need for personal motorised transport.

however, from the government's point of view, particularly in the light of their approaching bankruptcy, every increase in the pump price means more revenue for the exchequer, given that, in the uk at least, around 60% of the cost is government applied duty. it depends greatly on whether any sound argument for increased bicycle use can mitigate the comcomitant loss of revenue.

traffic jam

still, that's a poor excuse not to attack the problem head on.

according to an electric car supplement in the guardian newspaper last weekend, carbon emissions from transport have increased in the last twenty years. conversely power generation emissions have dropped, as have household emissions and those of the manufacturing industries (though the latter may have more to do with the fact that the united kingdom has precious few of those left).

i enquired of our local energy trust as to why, in the light of the above, they had singularly failed to address the subject of transport in their three-year lifespan. though a bit of a cop out (in my opinion), they claim to have as their remit only a reduction in household emissions through examining energy use and insulation. but as a government funded trust, it seems to me to be an avenue worth pursuing. and they didn't tell me to go away in unceremonious terms.

i have also sent e-mails to members of parliament for the area; they are conciliatory, but likely to toe the party line. however, at some time in the not too distant future, the party line may alter.

until that time, it seems prudent that we continue to point out the benefits. more bicycles means a fitter public; more bicycles means more bike shops, because even bicycles need repairs at some point. more bicycles means less of the local real estate need be turned over to car parking, meaning parts of the locale become less overrun by parked cars. the population of bowmore is around 1000, and there is nowhere in the village that cannot be walked or cycled to; it's only a couple of kilometres from end to end after all. yet many of the village streets feature nose to tail car parking, rendering them almost less than single track and not becoming of the rural idyll. the number of cars in such a small island village verges on the embarrassing.

it's a worry.

however, in the absence of a personal militant streak, feel free to make your point by riding a bicycle at every opportunity. it might not get the point across in a hurry, but it does no harm in the short term.

and osmosis is a process that need not be hurried.

posted monday 21st march 2011


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outlier merino tee

outlier ultrafine tee

take the humble neoprene overshoe. at this time of year it is an item of cycling gear that is well nigh necessary to comfortable, regular cycling. at least it is if you ride in the west of scotland, and no doubt the pacific northwest of the united states and canada. though most will rarely keep the shoes ensconced within completely dry, they do assist with cosy tootsies and the worst of road spray, should you be so fashion conscious as to not have fitted a decent set of mudguards/fenders. the predominant design features a zip at the rear allowing easy fit, though there are those constructed without, demanding a strong set of fingers to stretch over a pair of cycling shoes, particularly if the soles are fitted with the chunkiest of cleats.

overshoes are not versatile. they really only accomplish one thing, though often remarkably well.

of late, more and more cycling apparel has acquired a degree of versatility hitherto unseen, perhaps following the epithet penned in the current issue of boneshaker magazine, calling not for more cyclists, but for more folks on bicycles. lord carlos is so hell-bent on not being called a cyclist, that he refuses all approaches of lycra, and currently rides to work wearing wellies (mind you, he does stop off en-route to feed a herd of highland cattle). though many of us are happy to unostentatiously advertise our affinity with the greater peloton, many a regular fellow-me-lad simply wishes to climb aboard a velocipede and travel from a to b, wearing the very clothes that would be worn on any other day.

outlier ultrafine tee

exposure to this form of cycling as opposed to that practiced by the pelotonese of a sunday morn, has distinct transportational benefits, but often leads to a quest for more practical versions of day to day clothing. i'm sure many of us remember those early days of riding in cotton t-shirts; when cotton gets swot and hetty, you know all about it. and so does everyone else within conversation distance. what is needed is something designed to take care of such situations that looks for all the world like a bog standard t-shirt, not too loose and baggy, but not exactly form fitting either. like a baselayer, but not a baselayer.

something versatile.

you and i probably own an entire drawerful of baselayers; if you've any real sense, those will be made from merino wool, because it's not itchy and has the lifesaving property of not getting smelly even after prolonged wear in cycling circumstances (i know, i have tried). several of the cycling specific, non-merino baselayers i have in my collection are remarkably close fitting; ideal beneath a polyester cycling top, but hardly the garment for casual wear about the coffee shop or an office with a relaxed dress-code.

outlier ultrafine tee

the tag line of outlier clothing, brooklyn, new york is tailored performance clothing for a life in motion, and bicycling is nothing if not a life in motion. but then does the degree of inherent versatility classify their ultrafine merino tee as a baselayer, or simply a tee-shirt? as the saying goes, one man's carbon fibre is another man's monocoque. truly the only way to investigate such a dichotomy is to wear it and see.

as mentioned above, cyclists have been indoctrinated to accept that any form of apparel that fails to cling to that honed, muscular form must be viewed as surplus to requirements. wearing a baggy(ish) baselayer under form-fitting polyester or sportwool is unlikely to gain too many brownie points when standing on the podium. but i hope i have indicated that we are inhabiting a world of versatility here, not as cyclists, but as people who ride bicycles. the ultimate ideal would be a tee-shirt worn alone on sunny, summery days, or perchance thrown on below an unbuttoned shirt. i'm sure the imagery is well-made. worn in such a fashion, outlier's ultrafine merino tee could not have been more appropriate for such a scenario.

outlier ultrafine tee

i have undertaken to wear my bravest blue tee for doing necessary things to wheels, for lounging ungraciously on the couch at debbie's with foam on the top lip, sitting in front of an imac for hours on end, and riding the cielo to and from itinerant work situations. and if you promise to keep quiet about it, i undertook all of the above during the same week.

no nasty niffs.

at least i am supposing not, as nobody shied away from sitting next to me, or engaging in deep and meaningful conversation. and always taking into consideration that sartorial elegance is not at the top of my priority list, outlier contrived to bestow a form of relaxed style that i found most becoming. whether anyone else did is open to debate, but i really don't want to be wearing something that adds to the scruff factor or, conversely, smartens me up beyond the point of recognition.

though you may come across as a fish out of water if worn while carving hairpin bends aboard the colnago, cielos, beloveds, pashleys and even bona-fide touring cycles are the ideal accompaniment to an outlier merino tee. a brooks saddle would be an added bonus, and perhaps even a single-speed freewheel (we all know that fixed is so last year).

nothing if not versatile.

outlier's ultrafine 17.5 micron merino tee can be purchased direct from outlier's web shop for $75, or from tokyo fixed in london at around £55. | tokyo fixed

posted sunday 20th march 2011


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the end of the world as we know it

old faithful

you have to still feel sorry for graeme obree. having built his hour record beating cycle, subsequently known as old faithful, the uci banned it from competition on the somewhat spurious excuse that his was proprietary technology, and in order for there to be a levelling across the boards (sorry), such technology was required to be available to all, thus not alienating any individuals or countries from competing on the same plane as mr obree. the reality is, of course, a lot different, but all in all, that's what they used as the reason for banning old faithful. this particular bicycle cost substantially less to build than the majority of the 'off-the-shelf models ridden by graeme's competitors at the time. take a look at the lotus ridden to a gold medal and the subsequent hour record by graeme's nemesis, chris boardman.

with regard to the subject almost under discussion (be patient), the appearance of both chris boardman and lotus are germain to the following. chris boardman is currently the man in charge of british cycling's secret squirrel cupboard at manchester velodrome, where all manner of trinketry is kept before being provided to the elite of the british track team to aid their destruction of all in their path. chainrings reputedly costing £10,000, carbon bicycles that apparently costs considerably more than the £32,000 offered by cofidis to have their then team leader, david millar, ride in time-trials. a strange method of levelling the playing field, if you catch my drift.

specialized venge

firstly, i find it rather beyond belief that british cycling contends that sir chris and lady victoria could not achieve what they have managed riding those off the shelf frames, though in the light of their successes, perhaps their point is felt to be well made. however, track conditions are far more predictable and controllable than those in the great outdoors, which is perhaps why british cycling have resisted the attempt to develop carbon machinery that could be used to similar effect by their road-going union jacks. but it was likely only a matter of time before someone tried just that.

and it was always going to be someone with deep pockets.

while cycle manufacturers would like to have you believe that their bicycles are so good, the teams that ride them at pro-tour level all but demanded them, on the basis that they demand the best. much like many of the myths surrounding single malt whiskies, this too is a well-known myth of which belief is knowingly suspended by followers of the sport. the reality is that bicycles are provided by the company that bid enough money to do so. fulfilling the position of cycle sponsor is an expensive business, given the vast number of frames that must be provided over the course of a full season. in order to sponsor three teams, the coffers need to be remarkably close to brimming.

specialized venge

specialized bicycles are likely one of the largest cycle companies in the world, and they supply frames and some components to htc high-road, saxo bank and astana; that's a lot of outlay. and if anyone has the financial wherewithal to knock on the door of one of the world's most successful formula one racing teams, specialized may well be them.

i have previously asked in my naive questioning way, why do bicycles spend so much time in the wind-tunnel pointing directly towards that enormous whirring propeller. for surely, in the real world, the wind rarely points directly towards the front wheel. yet after what seems like years and years of tracking smoke trails atop time-trial helmets running parallel to the direction of travel, specialized apparently inadvertantly pointed their new venge (how do you pronounce that?) at an angle towards the airflow, and realised that bits of the frame were anything but aerodynamic when hit by sidewinds. i claim no specialist knowledge in the area of fluid dynamics, but i could have told them that.

so, with the advanced techniques and facilities available at mclaren's formula one facility in england, they have spent the past couple of years developing a state of the art road bike, a machine revealed to the public only a few days ago, principally through the photography of velodramatic's michael robertson. a total of nine frames were supplied to specialized sponsored teams, three each, and it so happens that the winner of today's milan sanremo, matt goss, was aboard one of these machines. now i realise that the outcome of today's race was as much to do with a crash at 85km to go as it was to do with skillful cycling, but have we entered a period where money has more to do with victory than the man sitting in the saddle?

specialized venge

while none of the world's principal sprinters were in the lead group come the last 100 metres at sanremo, in second place was fabian cancellara. though i have no wish to demean matthew's victory in the race, few of us would have placed him in the same category as cancellara, yet he was able to outsprint for victory. specialized have much trumpeted that the venge is 8% faster (though i have seen little to say what it is 8% faster than; perhaps cancellara), so does this mean the beginning of the end for those without the cash to snuggle up to a formula one team? will it produce a two tier set of bicycles, and will future frames begin to differ as drastically from the bike in the shed, as a vauxhall astra differs from a formula one race car?

i'd like to have seen a frame at close enough quarters to check for a uci approved sticker.

it is hardly worth my stating that i have not ridden a specialized venge, though i did ask when one might be available for review. judging by the lack of a reply, i would imagine the answer in my case, to be a resounding 'never'. no real surprise there. so it is probably highly previous of me to start castigating the venge when only viewed from a distance. however i do find this development a bit worrying. it has oft been pointed out that one of the many attractions of professional cycling is the ability of those with reasonably deep pockets to purchase the very same machines as ridden by the stars and watercarriers. if more begin to associate themselves with formula one and eventually nasa, those pockets will have to become considerably deeper.

specialized venge

contemporary development of the carbon bicycle has long been the preserve of those designing for the top riders, men and women for whom stiffness of frame is a mere feed station on the way to the flamme rouge. but in order to offset the considrable financial outlay, the very same technology has to be sold to the rest of us, perceivably a limiting factor in how far it's all ultimately willing to go. specialized's mixing with mclaren may be the boundary transgressed, leading to bicycles that need no commercial justification whatsoever.

as i said, perhaps the end of the world as we know it.

photographs of the specialized venge are copyright michael robertson of velodramatic.

posted saturday 19th march 2011


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tomorrow is saturday 19th of march, and at 10am i am due to join with mr hastings to entertain and hopefully educate those attending port mor wheelers. i assume that i have no real need to point out that port more centre, situated a few hundred metres outside port charlotte village is not within shouting distance of either milan or sanremo. and given all that information, it is easy to see that i will not be joining michael robertson of velodramatic in following the longest of the season's classic from start to finish. if i were, i can assure you i would not be sitting in my living room typing this (no offence intended).

it's really not fair that those iconic routes in central europe have all the fun. why is it that riding from paris to roubaix velodrome is renowned as a classic? are those not roads well trammeled over the years, or perhaps even centuries by vehicles and persons other than bicycles? i think you know i'm right, yet we insist on referring to most of the forthcoming rides as the spring classics. why has someone else got the classics? why can't we all have classics? for after all, the word is so subjective; one man's classic is another man's commute. granted, perhaps not many italians drive or take the bus from milan to sanremo, or perhaps even in the opposite direction, but is it right and proper that when a bunch of cyclists decide to ride that very route, it becomes a classic?

hell of hunterdon

why don't we, for instance, take a look about our locality to see if there are some suitable roads that could be peletonised and ridden either as fast as humanly possible, or attacked in similar manner to those cobbles that inconveniently lie between paris and roubaix. maybe rapha have the right idea by scattering sections of gravé in between rideable sections of road. we've all got bits of muddy farm track here and thereabouts that aren't doing much else.

i know you think that i'm heading down the long unpaved road to dementia, but if that is indeed true, then i am in good company. brian ignatin for one. he has appeared within these pixels on more than one occasion before, but persistent devil that he is, i receive timely reminders of his attempts to hijack the notion of european spring classics and import them to portions of pennsylvania. after all, he's only doing what most of us were thinking in the first place. after all, a road is a road, so who's to say that the experience, atmosphere and yellow and black lion of flanders flags cannot be brought to an alternative location. the first of the transplants takes place on saturday march 26th in lambertville, hunterdon county new jersey.

l'enfer d'hunterdon.

hell of hunterdon

this, the third annual running of a 76 mile (122km) belgian themed ride features 18 sections of gravé winding through scenic farmland and country towns in new jersey's sourlands. though you can wimp out and attempt the distance on a cyclocross bike, anything with tyres wider than 23mm should be just fine. and in the true spirit of european racing, where the professionals ride one race in preparation for the ride they truly want to capture, the hell of the hunterdon is excellent preparation for the tour of the battenkill on april 9th.

l'enfer d'hunterdon offers a subtle clue as to the less than serious intent of this series of three rides organised by kermesse sport, but its cohort in a triumvirate of american classics leaves little to the imagination. running the day before the ronde van vlaanderen, the aptly named fools classic is another 72 mile ride held in bucks county, pennsylvania which the website describes thus: "lends perfectly to a tribute to the ronde van vlaanderen". while led zeppelin assured us that the song remains the same, in the case of the fools classic, the route doesn't necessarily remain so, though the concept does. yet again, perfect training for those considering the tour of the battenkill on the following weekend.

fools classic

in previous years, that's where the east coast classics would have ended for the season, leaving the hardy in the peak of physical degradation for the battenkill, but now, as of 2011, there is a sting in the tail, allowing a week or two of recuperation before the mashing of pedals begins again on saturday april 23 in new hope, pennsylvania in the fleche buffoon (named courtesy of whit yost), a tribute to the ardennes classics. this particular course distinguishes itself from its predecessors by virtue of being entirely on paved roads with ten steep climbs across its length.

this is the way the classics of the future should develop. mainland europe has held on guardedly to its classic races, but as we are constantly reminded, the world is getting ever smaller, while intercontinental demarcation is also on the wane. if you're in the neighbourhood, or could make the effort to do so, grab your bike, take a look at the future and indulge in some pennsylvanian buffoonery.

hell of hunterdon | fools classic | fleche buffoon

posted friday 18th march 2011


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rides for tohoku

tohoku rides

the phrase shit happens would normally apply to a happening of unfortunate circumstances. a scale nine earthquake, a ten metre tsunami and a four core reactor perilously close to meltdown, sounds like the sort of movie script that we'd all describe as a tad far fetched. shit happens seems a throwaway phrase when applied to such disastrous circumstances. add freezing temperatures and snow to the equation and it almost makes me feel guilty that i moaned about frozen hands on my solo sunday ride. at least i could return to a cosy house a hot shower and a cooked meal. for millions of japanese, shit happened.

big time.

though we have never met in person, i have remained in occasional contact with daisuke yano, rapha and indyfab's agent in japan, and given my complete lack of geographical knowledge of the british isles, let alone that of an oriental island several thousand miles distant, i had no idea if daisuke had been caught up in the embroilment currently afflicting the japanese nation. so i e-mailed not long after the disaster was reported by the world's media to ask if he was ok.

"things are ok here. shook for a long time, but no major damages, no big avalanche. the quake is moving towards nagano, but in the northern region and we're ok.
"i was just leaving to do the rapha yonretto, but the freeway was closed down before i left. a few guys were already in chiba which is pretty close, but they are ok, though without power, gas stations, or freeway access."

yonretto rides

since that e-mail, the gravity of the situation has revealed its ugly extent, not alleviated in any way by the continually worsening situation at the fukushima reactor. we're pretty much isolated from such environmental aggravation here in the uk; there are apparently thousands of mini-earthquakes taking place across the british isles every year, but none are substantially high enough on the richter scale to cause undue hardship, and certainly not on the scale of those that hit new zealand or japan. it is something for which we should remain truly thankful; the knowledge that the worst islay will experience is horizontal rain and the occasionally unpleasant gust of wind might be an irritant, but it's certainly far from a life threatening worry.

for what the heck would we do? no home, no belongings, no place of work, no access to money and nothing on which to spend it even if we had. it seems trivial to even mention it, but if at least one of our bicycles had survived, where would we ride? most of the roads are blocked with debris, and suddenly popping out for a bike ride seems well down on the list of life's necessities. i reiterate, what on earth would we do?

yonretto rides

i have no answer to that question, and i'd imagine there are several thousand japanese who are in the same position right now. what we can do, is what we likely do best; ride our bicycles and in so doing, aid those currently in dire need of help. japan may be one of the richest nations in the world, but that doesn't mean that modest outside financial assistance is not necessary or welcome. riding your bike does not make money in and of itself, but it does if you charge people. thus, with very little delay and an obvious personal connection, rapha has arranged the rides for tohoku. these are not confined to japan; the uk connection kicks in this sunday, 20th march, starting from barnet cinema in london. the rides for tohoku are not races, but social rides in support of the worst disaster to affect japan since the second world war.

daisuke yano told me "the ride was actually mentioned by a rapha customer from, fittingly, hiroshima. i put his words into a plan and proposed it to simon (mottram) who immediately agreed to support the project.
"we then expanded the idea that cities outside of japan could join in, taking advantage of our tight global network. some will be tough, some super easy, city, river bank, etc."

yonretto rides

all monies - riders are asked to donate a minimum of £10 - will go to the japanese red cross, all matched by rapha, meaning that your ten pounds will become twenty just by riding your bicycle. there is currently a list of twenty one international rides ranging from japan, united states, london (see above) and copenhagen, many taking place this coming saturday, with others planned and searchable via rapha's rendezvous iphone app. just type in tohoku. with several of the rides taking place this saturday and sunday, please make the effort to join and donate to any that may be in your neck of the woods.

if it bothers you that this seems to be treating a very serious situation with some levity, don't think you're the first. daisuke continued "rapha rides for tohoku simply provided a place to do something for those who ride bicycles. if you don't agree, then you should not come. those who came should never feel guilty of riding. bigger companies are donating millions, we will most likely collect in order of several thousand; a petty amount perhaps but each yen counts, and we will have brought a lot of cyclists together; their spirits will be that much higher, and i'll feel proud to have contributed to that.
we all know that bicycling is a powerful social activity. having folks around to talk about anything is good at times like this. crazy to be riding in tokyo and a little east of what's in the air? i think you need to stop listening to the tv newscasters.
  "soon enough, press and most of us, except for those who directly suffered, will forget about tohoku and other devastated areas, while they are still far from recovered. something to remind us that the fight to recover is still taking place, we have designed a ribbon (see below; click for full size version to download) and hand it out. put it up by the desk, bike rack, put it on every ride, throw it away? it's up to you. while on their way to recovery, they will need plenty of support from anybody. visit, say hi, shake hands (hugs are not so customary...), eat in their restaurants, stay at their ryokan (japanese style bed & breakfast), fill up the car there."

there is no template for the rides, and any others who wish to organise a ride are free to use the 'ride for tohoku' epithet; you can even use the rapha design and simply remove the word rapha

yonretto rides

thanks for thinking about us"

rapha rides for tohoku | donate here

posted thursday 17th march 2011


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bicycles: vintage people on photo postcards. tom phillips. foreword by william fotheringham. bodleian library. hardback 112pp illus. £15 ($25)

vintage people on bicycles

'you could now go to one of the studios springing up all over the country, pose for your picture, examine the result after a short interval and, approving it, have it replicated for not much more than a penny a card.'

we are, i believe, becoming obsessed with the photograph. i make the distinction between the end result and the art or process of achieving it, for not only do i believe there to be a distinction, but many contemporary photographs rather underline my being correct in this assumption. i refer not to the consummate output of the professional, but the scatter-gun approach of those armed either with a cheap digital camera or, more likely, the same device embedded in what started life as a mobile phone. it is of little wonder that such is the case; a currently airing advert from nokia makes it plain just how much import is being placed on this aspect of the smartphone. so much so, that the advertisement fails to mention that it is possible to make phone calls with the device.

in the late nineties i read widely of the necessity in producing websites that adhered, if only loosely, to some sort of useability guidelines. the principal progenitor of such guidelines was one jakob neilsen, through the auspices of his website, a site he still occupies to this day, though by contemporary comparison it appears to be still stuck in the late nineties. however, bearing in mind all that i think i learned from these studies, facebook to me seems like a complete mess; i cannot understand why anyone is remotely interested in having a facebook page, nor do i understand why it has to look like a dog's dinner. however, i am willing to admit that this likely says more about me than about facebook or those who inhabit such a world. however, what cannot be denied is that facebook has almost singlehandedly popularised the notion of photographically recording every triviality of millions of lives, predominantly via the ubiquitous mobile phone. why anyone thinks that pictures of how drunk they were last weekend is of interest to normal citizens is undoubtedly one of those answers on a postcard type questions.

vintage people on bicycles

the editor of our local newspaper works on the theory that photographs are often of more efficacy than the written word, adhering to the premise that a picture is worth a thousand words. we do slightly differ over this interpretation, but mostly because i favour the written word, and cheerfully read many a text devoid of illustration. however, given the apparent lessening of attention span in this internet information age, perhaps he has a point. therefore it is hard to argue against his interpretation of modern media.

in the latter part of the 19th century and up till the late 1950s, photography remained the province of either the professional or the serious amateur, if for no other reason than cameras were considered too expensive for the proletariat. this meant that the majority of photographs from both centuries had a formality and skill that is all too evidently missing from the facebook generation. interestingly, photos posted on flickr tend to be of higher quality, but that perhaps has much to do with the difference in intent. it is possible that the iphone crowd are inadvertantly documenting the 21st century, but almost definitely not intentionally. however it is also true that the majority of photographers from the early to mid 20th century were not necessarily conscious of fulfilling the same function; it is simply with hindsight that we have imposed this upon them. either way, we have cause to be thankful that so many offered their photographic services to a by and large, accepting public.

vintage people on bicycles

the second point for which we must be thankful is that a substantial percentage of the cycling public, or perhaps simply those who were proud of their velocipedes, indulged in mass narcissism, visiting many a professional studio photographer to have them portray self and bicycle in front of an array of the most improbable backgrounds ever assembled. one chap is even seen standing in front of incoming tidal waves. the fact that so many were pre-disposed to pose in their sunday best, apparently using the bicycle as little more than a prop, is perhaps worthy of investigation in and of itself. surely a major social phenomenon?

author tom phillips, of whom i know precious little, has acquired a comprehensive collection of these black and white postcards and is thus finely placed to elucidate further on this phenomenon. 'to have a portrait made and to possess your own likeness was, for centuries, a luxury that only landed gentry or the mercantile rich could afford. photography changed all that. yet a a radical democratisation of portraiture had to wait until 1902 when the post office finally allowed messages as well as addresses to appear on the backs of the regulation-sized cards that cost only a halfpenny to post.'

the book is part of a series of books published by the bodleian library, portraying readers, women and hats and weddings and is a fascinating insight not only into the recent past, but a bit of an eye-opener as to the bicycles that form a major part of each postcard. nowadays the sort of bicycle owned by the average civilian would be perceived as something of an embarrassment by most readers of the post; surely no-one with less than the highest tech carbon fibre would dare to be photographed with said machine, personally bedecked in their sunday ride finery? yet with one or two exceptions, the machines pictured with their riders would not disgrace a modern day pashley cycles catalogue, looking far more substantial and regal than anything sterling house could offer.

vintage people on bicycles

it is a sign of the times that the age of the personalised postcard has pretty much disappeared from view, leaving future historians to leaf through an archive of facebook pages, wondering how it was that a digital, auto-focus camera could produce pictures of such dubious quality. i would imagine that far more contemporary photographs remain as a series of zeros and ones than make it to printed matter. as phillips recalls "early in the century, the hobby of collecting commercial picture postcards was already well established. every household boasted an album full of views of places visited, celebrities admired etc. exchange of such cards became a social ritual."

he is also aware of the modern pixelated phenomenon to which i have already referred; "photographic portraiture has come full circle: a formal studio portrait is once more a luxury item. now that our phone, or even toothbrush, can record a more than passable image, we are refracted in a kaleidoscope of likenesses."

the fascination of any image is the story that brought it to our attention, but unlike moving pictures, the photograph is a moment frozen in time. some advertise the circumstances that led to that moment in time, and even presage the events that followed. to an extent, that is the premise of the news photo editor, choosing an image that might reduce the number of words required to accompany.

vintage people on bicycles

however, leaving aside for a moment, the studio photos illustrated in the book's 112 pages, those featuring riders in more humble settings invite inquisitiveness. who are the occupants; where were they from; where were they going; whatever happened to them; what brought them to the bicycle? one particular photo of a young couple on a tandem, both in white shirts and black shorts, he with straight face, long socks and serious haircut, she with cheery smile, ankle socks and hairband, made a lasting impression for no perceivable reason. there is no information as to the date or the location, but i really want to know who they were. there's a large saddlebag behind the stoker, so perhaps they were off for some light touring. perhaps they intended simply a day in the saddles, taking provisions enough for lunch in the countryside. i'll likely never know, and to be honest, that's probably what drew me back to this image several times.

call me nostalgic if you wish; i am happy with the description, and feel a similar premise inhabits the forthcoming tweed run for the very same reasons. with the endless supply of taiwanese carbon fibre continuously on offer and the less than endearing ubiquity of the motor car in this so-called modern world, it is unmitigated joy to leaf through the pages of vintage people on bicycles, an experience that i'm sure would prove as endearing to you as it was to me. it is an education to see from whence we came and where, if there is any justice in the world (doubtful) we might return.

in defence of the written word and the grammatical punctuation of same, it gave great pleasure to read tom phillips' few words of enjoining text, for he employs punctuation in the same manner taught in my english class. it's all different nowadays, and rarely the better for it.

all illustrations copyright tom phillips collection

bodleian bookshop

posted wednesday 16th march 2011


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international clubbing

rain over bowmore

my mate ron lives in holland, but given the right opportunity, he'd be living on islay instead. i know he's not alone in the desire to make his home on the inner hebrides, but meantime he has sated his geographical desires by hosting one of the most comprehensive websites about the island anywhere in the known universe. ron embarrassingly knows more about this place than i do (apart from the exact location of every pothole between here and bruichladdich). knowing that much takes up a lot of pixels, so there are pages and pages of the most obscure stuff that i'd no doubt be surprised anyone wanted to know. i think we're all man (and woman) enough over here to fess up that islay's principal attraction is not the round church in bowmore, not the endless unoccupied beaches, not neccesarily the ancient seat of the lords of the isles, nor the coffee at debbie's. it's the fact that we have eight malt whisky distilleries on an island of 3,450 people, making it the highest density of malt whisky distilleries per head of population in the world apart from jura (which has a population of only 250-ish and one distillery).

why, you might ask, would a dutchman still living in hollandshire spend his every spare waking moment by way of a pixelated homage to the most southerly of the inner hebrides? i visited portland, oregon around two years ago, yet on arriving home, i singularly failed to set up a portland website of my own to prove how much i enjoyed my visit. that's sort of how ron got started, but i think he just got carried away with html, php and mysql if you ask me.

rain over loch indaal

but, of course, he has every right to be obsessed with such a marvellous place to live. mrs washingmachinepost and i have been here for over 24 years and we just love it to bits; even the howling gales, horizontal rain and the sheep in the field behind us. islay is situated on the gulfstream, meaning that generally frost and snow are unknown bedfellows (well, apart from christmas past). even the chap who lives opposite washingmachinepost cottage has a palm tree growing in his garden, one that has remained upright (more or less) despite substantial winter winds. rainfall over the course of a year levels out at around 48.5 inches, and the average temperature hovers around the mid-teens (centigrade) or mid-forties (fahrenheit)

and those distilleries; come end may, the island's population at least doubles during feis ile, the islay whisky festival, when several hundred of ron's countrymen join several hundred others from each of the northern european states, north america and japan to fight their way through the massing throngs in the hope of seeing or acquiring mementos of the island's single malts that they failed to garner over the last ten years that they visited. with a population density of 5.6 persons per square kilometre (we take it in turns to be that 0.6 of a person), even with several of those owning more than one car, and accepting that the island's many summer visitors also arrive by car, what remains of our roads are not nose to tail with internal combustion engines. much aplenty space for cycling.

phone box

with so much going for it by way of unbrideld character, access around four times a day in the summer season by calmac ferry or twice by airplane from glasgow, you really have to wonder what the heck rapha were thinking when allocating the first of this year's cycle clubs to mallorca.

it's an island we used to refer to in my days of youth as majorca, with the 'j' being annunciated in the same way as in jura. presumably the variation to mallorca (pronunced ma-yorka) was simply to raise its perceived esteem for the likes of uneducated oiks like yours truly. the largest of the balearic islands and second most populated spanish island after tenerife. the average annual temperature is in the low 20s (celcius) or upper sixties (fahrenheit). total annual expected precipitation is around 17 inches. yes i know the numbers don't stack up against those of islay above, but those only prove that it's drier and warmer in mallorca than it is on islay. mere bagatelle. in fact, by direct comparison, the island's capital of palma is currently about double the temperature of bowmore.

what a bunch of softies.


but as cyclists are not swayed by such trivialities, for where is the character building incentive to ride around in short sleeves and bibshorts developing a tan line atop carved muscles?

i did contact simon mottram last year when it was announced that rapha would be varying the location of their pop-up cycle clubs, to offer my personal assistance in setting up an islay version, possibly in the phone box at carnduncan. then out of the blue, a press release arrived unsentimentally brandishing sunny photographs of palm trees of pretty darned near the same variety as seen in my neighbour's garden. ok so they're a bit bigger, but i feel the principal remains the same.

constant coverage of the spring classics, regular rides exploring the island, a weekly hill climb competition, evening movie screenings and the legendary fastest mechanic competition; all this is intended to be a convincing alternative to rain, wind, potholes and soya cappuccino. and rather than a red phone box, the mallorca offering is situated within the hotel sis pins in puerta pollenca. i remain thoroughly unconvinced, though i hear tell (because i would never be so crass as to look it up myself) flights to mallorca are one heck of a lot cheaper than a return flight from islay to glasgow.

just saying.

coffee cup

rapha have almost a rolling roll out of clubs worldwide this summer: mallorca from march to may, tokyo from april to july, san francisco may to july and, believe it or not, a mobile cycle club appearing from april to october at various events and races in the uk and europe. additionally, they have just announced rapha rides for tohoku a series of bike rides in japan to raise funds to aid vistims of the recent earthquake. though many of us are a long way from japan, we can still assist by donating £10, £50 or £100 via rapha's website, and rapha will match the amount.

rapha cycle club | rapha rides for tohoku | islayinfo

posted tuesday 15th march 2011


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