making an exhibition of himself

john dekenkolb

the art of blogging, should it be considered so, originated as a means of publishing one's thoughts on any given subject; aside from server space, cost was simply an equation between effort and time taken, for in many, if not all cases, no-one in traditional publishing would have given those words, sentences and paragraphs house room. thewashingmachinepost has been purveying such narrative for a lot more years than most, long before any web-based blogging software such as wordpress, blogger or posterous were even so much as a blip in anyone's dotcom bubble. this, sadly, gives me no great insight into the whole shebang, for i am scarily loathe to admit that for years i thought i was simply populating a website, and took the term blogger to be a slight on my manhood.

so caught up in my own verbosity was i, that it was many a year before i even realised that others were also occupying their every spare minute offloading cogitative thought upon an unsuspecting populace. i say unsuspecting because i know from experience that more than just the occasional browser thought they had found a source for that tumble dryer and twin-washer they'd always promised themselves. these days blogging seems to have metamorphosed into something less concerned with the pixelated word, and more a way of telling an elite circle of friends just what you found on the web when you probably should have been working. it's a genre i do not understand, for i am more in love with the written word and the act of committing same to html than acting as a hyperlink resource.

bernard eisel tour of california

however, i cannot deny that along with the words, some pictures help to alleviate the eye strain and generally brighten up my yellow and black pixels. but i would be, and have been, the first to admit that the images snapped by yours truly are highly unlikely to win any awards; they are merely of an illustrative nature. despite my offhand contempt for photography as an art student (i mean, how difficult can it be?), exposure (pardon the pun) to the work of such luminaries as ben ingham, timm kolln, scott mitchell, dan sharp, chris milliman, daniel wakefield pasley and camille mcmillan, have given plenty of reasons and cause to reconsider my uninformed opinion, and though i could photoshop a terraced cottage into st pauls cathedral, aperture settings and focal lengths are not factors that make much sense to me.

so while we have folks such as myself obsessing over sentence construction and grammatical certitude, and several who make do with the occasional caption under to die for photography, rare are the bloggers who are skilled in both. michael robertson of velodramatic is one.

perhaps most famous for his thirty days of rapha of a few years back, michael's growing skill behind the lens eventually persuaded him to leave behind his fast becoming unsatisfactory daily grind in a design studio of his own making, and make the leap to professional photographer. you have probably seen some of michael's images without realising it; he was engaged as official lensman for specialized bicycles at the launch of the much vaunted mclaren venge. last year he travelled with a group of dutch cyclists around the route of the tour de france as official image recorder, and he has combined this with several other commissions from specialized. and in may of this year he was an accredited photographer on the amgen tour of california, spending one stage on the back of a tour motorbike.

chris horner tour of california

but it's almost a condition of entry that to raise your profile in the world of photography, necessitates the requirement to display the resulting imagery in an accessible location. to a point, michael still has the pixels of velodramatic in which to portray the results of his shutter speed, but little compares with seeing them, large as life, behind glass in sympathetic surroundings.

the san francisco rapha cycle club perhaps.

open from july 2nd until the end of the month, you can see all of the images peppered hereabouts and more, large as life, in colour and black and white, always assuming the location is one you can easily find the time to visit. for the rest of us (until we can manage to import his works to europe) this is the best i can do meantime. i had the good fortune to spend a day with michael when visiting portland a couple of years ago (michael lives in san jose, california and flew up for the day), and it seemed a natural progression to ask how the career change had led ultimately to this, his first public exhibition.

would you attribute your move into the profession of cycle photographer to having started velodramatic in the first place?

certainly didn't imagine the career switch when I started the VeloDramatic blog, I simply wanted to write about my love affair with cycling. The bicycle truly saved me, distracting me from a design job that had me sandwiched between intransigent development and inept business teams. Most days my 25 commuting miles were the only reason to get up in the morning.

mark cavendish paris roubaix

would you agree that much happens based on who you know rather than what?

I'd definitely agree that personal relationships are key to making things happen, but I wouldn't discount the importance of knowledge and the ability to project it, as equally important. I think the last time we talked about these things I touched on my experience building a design studio from the ground up. That venture lasted thirteen years and gave me a business and creative foundation that has been directly transferable to my current endeavor. Having a good network is one thing, but ultimately you've got to deliver the goods or no one returns your calls.

how did the specialized gig arrive?

A number of folks at Specialized had been following VeloDramatic for some time before I got the call. Though I've yet to pen anything for them I think they enjoyed my writing as much as my photography. We continue to talk about projects where I might put my storytelling to work for them.

cheeky question, but are you currently self-sufficient as a photographer?

Yes, in spite of the economic downturn, business has steadily increased during this first year of full-time shooting. I'm not making the six-figure number I pulled down in the software space, but I'm infinitely happier being back in control of the creative work I choose to do.

sky rider

are you a camera geek or are all those lens millimetres and aperture stops simply a means to an end?

They are just tools but I'll admit to loving the tech a little more than I should. Going back to your "who you know" question, I wish I had a pipeline to the designers at Canon. I've got a long wish list for new glass and better camera ergonomics that needs to find its way to Canon's decision makers.

was it easy to choose the images for the rapha exhibition?

It wasn't particularly difficult to find images that fit the PRO genre the Rapha Cycle Club was looking for during Tour month yet I'll admit I'm definitely my own worst critic. I'm never satisfied with anything I shoot and that's compounded by the fact that cycling is the most difficult sport in the world to photograph. Sure you can produce technically sound, attractive images, you can also capture the set piece moments (the finish line etc.) but getting behind the veil, or more aptly the barriers the sport puts up to document something truly meaningful is very tough. I keep trying.

any preference between colour and black and white, or does each image suggest its own colourspace?

Given the choice it would be black and white every time.

toc sacramento

is there a master plan for the photography career, or are you taking this one success at a time?

Master plans are what got the Soviets in trouble... it's worthwhile looking ahead a bit and setting some achievable goals. Right now I'm hard at work on the RÍve Grand Tour project for 2012. We got off to a late start for this year and missed our cut off minimum by a few riders. We'll remedy that next year. I'm excited about getting back to France and another epic Tour with a level of access that'd just not possible with the pro peloton.

will you continue to feed text into velodramatic, or has that stage now passed?

No I'm not done with VeloDramatic. It's an integral part of the present and future but there are time and confidentiality constraints that limit what I can report on now. I'm privilege to a lot of information that's not for publication. I do hope to bring back the reviews that garnered the most interest from readers but for the reviews to be legit I need to get my mileage totals up again. The good news for riding is my aching back seems to have turned the corner.

jens voigt

how will you know when you've 'made it'?

There's no such thing as "making it" I just want to get better so when I finally decide to wrap things up I can count on a few truly special images in my portfolio. As far as I'm concerned I've not taken one of those images yet, I'm just getting to advanced base camp, the summit is completely shrouded in clouds at the moment.

will you still talk to me when you're a magnum photographer?

Sure thing, no matter how grand things get you'll always be able to reach one of my assistants and schedule an appointment ;-) Seriously, we Scots have to stick together, twmp will always have the inside track. thanks B.


all images copyright michael robertson. used with permission

posted monday 4 july 2011


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mavic neutral support

we are reasonably well into the 21st century, and the technology employed to produce pretty much everything has moved on in leaps and bounds from the dark ages of the 1990s. reminders are everywhere, but as the peloton returned to the safety of the patio at debbie's (yes, summer is upon us; sunshine pervades even the darkest of places) we passed a visiting car (no alarm had gone off that i noticed) with three bikes attached to its roof rack. the outer two were of standard mountain bike fare, but the central example was painted an impressive yellow, and was identifiable by its drop bars contrasting its compatriots flatties. written on both seat-tube and downtube was the word mavic.

should i have immediately telephoned the men in the yellow shirts? probably not, for judging by the tube diameter on this particular model, the frame was likely made of steel, putting it in at least the early part of the nineteen nineties. this is, of course, not to ascribe any sort of demerit on steel bicycles; i was riding one at the time, and there is another very fine portlandian example in the bike shed. but it would not be unfair to point out that steel is not the principal choice of the professional in this day and age. nor were the mavic wheels attached to my steel colnago (about which more later), preferring to utilise the phenomenal developments made in the field of carbon fibre. to think that such everyday machinery was considered cutting edge only as recently as fifteen years ago (doesn't time fly when your legs are filled with lactic acid?), and it is now highly conspicuous by its ubiquity.

but while we have our gaze averted by the sheen of shiny carbon, lovingly integrated into as many frames and components as will bear the brunt, turn your thoughts, if you will, to the humble tyre, an endless length of rubber and silicon to which we, perhaps, give scant regard. given the state of many a british road surface, and particularly evident over here, it's a wonder that tyres, particularly those of narrow cross section, survive their daily treadmill of potholes, gravel, debris and downright abrasive surfaces. though it is perhaps tempting fate to put in pixels, despite such a daily battering, i and my fellow peletonese suffer remarkably few punctures, and though we perhaps do not reach the upper limits of the manufacturer's suggested mileage allowance, the technology of the modern tyre has seemingly, subtly kept pace with its surrounding development.

vittoria corsa cx

it therefore beggars the question, why would anyone of sound mind and body wish to swap all this to ride around on tubulars?

the much vaunted tubeless tyre has been in existence for a number of years, and though many modern factory built wheels have eliminated the spoke hole through the rim, allowing for an airtight seal between tyre and sidewall, the tubeless tyre seems still conspicuous by its absence from the marketplace in substantial numbers. meanwhile, so-called clinchers have improved in leaps and bounds, replacing the wired bead for that of kevlar to allow for a folding version, losing weight in the process, while combining rubber, silicon and vectran to allow outstanding grip, excellent wear and a degree of puncture resistance that our forebears would scarcely believe. lest you underestimate the space age technology involved, it is worth noting that nasa's mars lander spacecraft was cushioned from its gravitational fall onto the planet's surface by a bubble constructed from vectran.

impressive stuff.

bearing all the above in mind, as well as the convenience of either patching a tube or simply replacing it (obviously at the furthest point from home), how on earth has the tubular survived? surely bicycle darwinism should have decreed its demise over ten years ago? the argument for continuance in the velodrome is an easy one to make; any egress of air from a blown tub can, at best, be only a few hundred metres from mechanical support, and the very nature of an oval wooden track surely makes it safe from destruction by argyll and bute roads department. but the faff of having to carry a glued spare rolled up under the saddle, and the even greater faff of attempting to repair a punctured example in this day and age of instant gratification, is surely only justifiable by those lucky enough to have a mavic neutral support car only a few metres behind.

though i am willing to concede all of the foregoing points, my 75km ride yesterday aboard a bicycle yet to have its review in pixel format, but shod with vittoria corsa cx tubs was little short of luxurious. and considering the condition of the aforementioned roads, the comfort afforded by these was markedly better than any of the clinchers ridden over the past few years. surefooted would be a particularly apt adjective. i'll be the first to put my hand up and point out that i do not, in fact, possess a spare tub, so cycling in this fashion is a akin to high-wire walking without a safety net; i am relying on the island practice of it being relatively easy to get a lift home should the worst happen. and having never entered the world of several layers of glue in all the wrong places, i am ill-equipped to be the keeper of the tubular quaich, proselytising their worth to all and sundry.

tubular cement

but there is little doubt that a considerable degree of satisfaction can be gained from riding tubular tyres, a satisfaction that seems akin to a reward for all those clinchered kilometres i've put in over the last dozen or so years. i have even considered myself the equal of those who ply the roads of the continent for a living, despite the average speed on the cycle computer determinedly claiming otherwise. the feeling that one has arrived is a hard one to dispel, one made even loftier by having returned to a particularly fine pair of mavic clinchers for the sunday ride.

there will be many who still swear by the sew-up, who will perhaps agree with my appreciation, but consider my application to join their hallowed ranks one that will require careful deliberation. those who have just laid out a not inconsiderable sum for the latest in clincherware may ascribe luddite status in my direction. but working on the notion of don't-knock-it-till-you've-tried-it, i would respectfully suggest that you dispel the attendant faff from your mind, take a trip to the nearest race-ready independent bicycle store, and leverage them into allowing you a luxurious half-hour on a tubular equipped bicycle, or perhaps even lend you a pair of wheels to affix to your own cycle of choice.

i'm not saying that a eureka moment will occur, resulting in considerable numbers of clincher wheels making their way to the oxfam shop, but it should provide a measuring stick by which future cycle trips of whatever length can be compared. and even if you then fail to see what all the fuss is about, you'll at least be appreciating this from your own point of view rather than from my own privileged position.

thewashingmachinepost bikeshed is currently home to a rather fine pair of mavic sprint rims, and i am about to refurbish a very nice pair of chris king pink hubs. it should not be too far in the future when hubs, rims and lashings of glue invade the shed's inner sanctum.

there is of course a danger that, by the end of all that, perhaps my viewpoint will have been headed off at the pass.

posted sunday 3 july 2011


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a clockwise ride around london

ride around london

i've not noticed this before, and at point of realisation it was something of a disappointment that such was the case. you think you know these things inside out after twenty four years, but i must just have been otherwise occupied and let it slip by. i have made mention previously of what some of us locally refer to the belgian road, so called because it has grass growing along the centre, the surface condition makes the moon's surface look smooth, and there's a ninety percent chance of a raging headwind. it's a flandrian thing. this belgian tarmac forms a part of the road circumnavigating loch gorm on islay's atlantic coast and can be approached from two directions (a bit obvious i admit).

what only became glaringly obvious today, as i rode round clockwise, was that it really only inhabits flandrianism when ridden in the opposite direction. for though i hunkered down and gave it some serious welly this afternoon, the pizzaz just wasn't there. don't ask me why that's the case, because i have no logical explanation; that's just the way that it is.

very disconcerting.

i'm now wondering whether there is an office in the roads planning department that conducts feasibility studies into which way roads work (everything is decided by feasibility studies these days; keeps a team of consultants employed, and means that if all goes pear-shaped, no-one is to blame). for now that the notion has taken root, it may be that every road is directional. i may have opened a can of worms here.

ride around london

this september's (sunday 25th) ride around london heads in a clockwise direction, leaving from herne hill stadium, up box hill, along the north downs, through windsor park, eton dorney and the chilterns, finishing next to the shiny new lee valley white water centre. you have to figure that this may be the better of the two options (the other one being anti-clockwise); if we factor in a south westerly prevailing wind, with just a smidgeon of luck that should result in a modicum of assistance to the finish. on 25th september, if it were a ride around islay, i could almost guarantee several horsepower of tailwind assistance.

i'm happy to vouch for one of those gentlemen in the photographs, as he was kind enough not to win the sprint at bruichladdich several years back. he even joined us for a coffee afterwards. mark hardie is the tall bloke on the left in the top image. you'd cheerfully buy a second-hand bicycle from this man.

september isn't exactly tomorrow, and i can hear murmurs of exactly why anyone would want to deliberately ride 115 miles around london unless attempting to get to a place of employ, or negotiate the back roads looking for look mum no hands. there are sportives-a-plenty all across the world with exotic backdrops that require pedalling on the wrong side of the road. bearing all this in mind, the reasons for confining oneself to london start to wear a bit thin. or perhaps not.

the event is organised by access sport, ride around london the ambassadors of which are james cracknell and rebecca romero. access sport use sporting activities to engage with youngsters, providing mentors and hopefully developing life skills through interaction with various sports that will benefit both mental attitude and good health. doing so almost inevitably requires money, so the ride around london is an excellent opportunity to enjoy a lengthy and perhaps eccentric cycle route while raising funds to deliver quality sport, including cycling, to children in the most deprived areas of london.

"Ride Around London is a cycling event with a difference. It's an exciting challenge that allows you to be part of creating a sporting and cycling legacy as funds raised go to build better access to sport for kids in disadvantaged areas in our capital city. I can't wait for it to kick off.". the words are those of james cracknell, who also advised early sign-up for this year's event, as places are limited. the intention is for this to become an annual event, and though a clash of dates means i'm unable to participate this year, i'm not ruling out 2012.

if you're likely to be in the neighbourhood, or better still, live in the capital, click through the web address below and sign-up. what else is september for?

ride-around london | the route

posted saturday 2 july 2011


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on tour

rapha tour de france cd

if i'm as skillful as i hope i am, this will be the last post to mention the tour de france until it's all over in a few week's time. oh, i'll be glued to the telly like the rest of you, but all and sundry will be covering the minutiae of each wheel and pedal turn, and as last year, i hope to provide a refuge for those who would like a brief respite each day. and me too.

stop me if i've mentioned this before, but there is an apocryphal story concerning the rolling stones recording one of their more memorable hits; it is so memorable, i cannot remember the title. no matter. though production terminology has perhaps moved on somewhat, mick jagger is reputed to have stopped rehearsal mid-tempo and asked drummer charlie watts if he could make things a bit less jam and a bit more marmalade. i can testify that this is not normal drumming banter; if i was told the same, i'd have no idea what to do. so when i tell you that rapha's latest compact disc released for the tour de france is very dirk hofman motor homes, i'm rather hoping you'll know what i mean.

in essence, some of the material that comprises the playlist is so dreadful, it's absolutely brilliant. the lack of any specific musical direction or, in some cases, quality, is hardly rapha's fault or concern, for the album is intended to represent the typical musical fare of our gallic cousins, there to emphasise a portion of the french culture during the tour de france. though issued on cd at present, there will doubtless be an itunes download in the fullness of time; sooner rather than later one would hope. however, meantime, i have transferred the 27 tracks to my ipod, for i am accustomed to playing this through a sharp sound system while washing the dishes after tea. you may all have your own ideas about when is the most appropriate time to listen, but dish-washing does it for me everytime.

i have never heard of the majority of artists on the cd, and i'd reckon most of you will be in the same cross-channel ferry. serge gainsbourg and jean luc ponty are readily identifiable, and if i had to pick out one track that does it for me it would have to be jean luc. many of the others are sub-eurovision tat interspersed with bland electronica, but none is particularly objectionable; in fact some of it's pretty cool in a nonsensical sort of way. on the selection of the track listing i have absolutely no inside information, but i can't help thinking that perren street has a far more acute sense of humour than they are often credited with.

many of the tracks are interspersed with french narrative, which the titles associate with le tour. as a total non-french speaker, the speech could easily be someone's shopping list; but no matter, it is the je ne sais quoi that completes the value add.

the packaging design is faultless, as one has come to expect from the inimitable mr coyle, with suitably oblique photographs on unfeasibly glossy paper, with the disc enclosed in a slip case attached to the board cover. surely an item of desire in and of itself?

look mum no hands

a bit like all those this is what i call christmas music 372, there is a definite sell-by date for an album that has thrown in its lot with the tour de france; after the third week of july, people will just laugh if you play it in polite company. but who's to know what's thrumming through those white earphones, while sat on the citylink bus to glasgow? if you need music to impress, this is certainly not it, but as an atmospheric accoutrement to the circus that is le tour, you'd be hard pushed to to find a more apt collection of french music (disappointingly, i heard no accordion music). if i'd had the wherewithal, the visual accompaniment to this article would have shown yours truly sat on a deckchair on the grass verge, with rapha silk scarf knotted on head, rapha jeans rolled to the knee and an assortment of baguettes, brie and espresso ranged on the (white) foldaway table. there would, of course, be a dirk hofman motor homes banner stuck into the grass at my feet.

the rapha le tour album retails at £12 direct from rapha's website.

also sited on this mythical table would be a range of mugs appropriate for the occasion. well, at least one of them would be; their alternatives would be in a cupboard in the dirk hofman motor home parked alongside. appropriate for the occasion allows for three variations: if it's a flat stage and mark cavendish has his race face on, one needs to be supping froth from a green mug. should the road be less than flat and the peloton experiencing gravitational pull, then the obvious decor would be red dots on a white background, and as the deckchair and table are moved to the champs elysees, a yellow drinking receptacle would seem the only correct choice.

question is, where on earth are we ever going to find a set of three such as the above?

yet again, those excellent chaps at look mum no hands are one step ahead, proffering these very items in dishwasher safe format, with a big chunky handle for lengthy grasping. the set of three retails direct from the lmnh website for a mere £15, around the cost of seven soya cappuccinos, and there's every likelihood that a few more than that will be consumed across all three weeks.

i love the tour, i'm just not going to mention it again.

rapha tour album | look mum no hands tour mugs

posted friday 1 july 2011


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getting in the way


we reckon you can always tell when it's summertime on islay, because you can hear the shrill sound of car alarms going off almost all day down bowmore main street. visitors in quantity arrive on the islands shores, eager to remove themselves, albeit temporarily, from the rat race and enjoy some relatively idyllic down-time. aside from the observation (yet to be confirmed for 2011) that the current trend is to arrive in an estate car or four-wheel drive festooned with bicycles which never leave the safety of their bike racks, locking the vehicle is something that singles you out as distinctly mainland. local car owners rarely, if ever, lock their vehicles, hence the startling comparison when visiting vehicles let fly with all four indicators and the horn.

though not specifically concerned with the narrative below, it has never ceased to amaze me, and this applies to the mainland too, why nobody pays any heed to car alarms anyway. i have yet to see a fully armed swat team arrive with squealing brakes and riot shields, ready to apprehend whomsoever may have interfered with the hypothetical vehicle. everyone seems to simply walk on by, which makes you wonder why motor manufacturers bother fitting them in the first place.

local motorists are not the only ones to dismiss security considerations, for those of us in the velo club think little of leaving several thousand pounds worth of carbon sitting outside debbie's, knowing full well that it will still be there after an session of froth supping has concluded. i am not poo-pooing the notion of locking either motor vehicle or bicycle while visiting, for it is surely better to retain a habit of great necessity on the mainland. but if you're over at anytime this summer (well, what we like to call summer anyway), you should try leaving the bicycle unlocked at least once, just for the sheer hell of it.

however, the difference between those of us bearing an indigenous disposition, and those keen to spend their leisure time wandering the lesser known bye-ways was brought home by the visitation of an almost irate woman to the office this morning.

on the west coast of islay, overlooking the atlantic ocean, is kilchiaran farm. it sits in the shelter of a tall outcrop of rock known locally as granny's rock. there is a farm track leading from kilchiaran bay up and over granny's rock continuing down the other side to the southern end of machir bay, offering a continuing walk to kilchoman. though a designated public right of way, it is a part of the farm, almost bisecting the land as it ascends. the route historically offered a quicker means of getting from the rhinns of islay to the north than the road. the latter would add around a dozen miles to the trip.


this woman, holidaying in port charlotte, had decided that she and her family would enjoy the walk as described and set off so to do. it seems, however, that kilchiaran farm had had the temerity to leave their livestock, in this case "two bulls" wandering their ground. rightly uncertain of the reaction said beasts may have when confronted by holidaying perambulators, she and her entourage elected not to continue, but she now felt a compulsion to venture to the newspaper office to complain that her idyllic coastal walk had been prevented by the farmer grazing cattle on his own land. this is pretty much the highland equivalent of complaining to the kenya tribune that there was a pride of lions in the way when attempting to traverse the serengeti on foot.

though scotland has never had any criminal law of trespass, the so-called right to roam has convinced many that they have a god given right to go wherever and whenever they like, irrespective of any legitimate work that may be taking place at the time. much of islay's landscape is occupied by farmland, and while farmers are not as destitute as they may have you believe, they do have a job to do that rarely consists of catering for itinerant holidaymakers out on a morning walk. though the above mentioned route is a right of way, the farmer still has the right to graze animals if it's on his land.

you may well be wondering what the heck this has to do with cycling, particularly that of the road borne type which we all know and love. well, aside from the fact that the foregoing could just as easily have applied to mountain bikers as opposed to walkers, you may well find out when cycling in the principality, that there is no compulsion for farmers on islay to fence in their livestock. you would be correct in assuming that this results in the unfortunate deaths of several animals every year, particularly at lambing time, due to visiting motorists who, supposedly having made their way across the water to enjoy a relaxing few days in isolation, seem hell-bent on emulating sebastian vettel. sheep are quick, but not that quick.

while traversing a portion of islay's backroads last weekend, i was surprised (to say the least) by a completely unseen lamb running across the road mere inches from my front wheel, having appeared from a bush on the roaside verge. usikentuie strand is often infested with both cows and sheep, meandering aimlessly with scant regard for unbelievably fast (would i admit to less?) cyclists intent on coffee at deb's.

the scottish schools broke for summer as from today, and holiday season is undoubtedly upon us. we are girding our loins for incessant car alarms, and i'd humbly suggest that whether riding or walking on islay, or even any of our neighbouring isles further north, you allow for the fact that livestock belong to someone, and are a part of their livelihood. please do not be so crass as to advertise any ignorance of these facts, but neither let it spoil your holiday.

i'm preaching to the converted, right?

posted thursday 30 june 2011


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case history

luggage advert

we are often thought of, even within our own circle or community of cyclists, as individuals with less than sophisticated tastes. this is probably less than totally true, if only because every iota of discernment is pointed towards bits of carbon, wheels, sportwool; i feel i need say no more. our only concerns with regard to travel, so legend would have it, are to do with kilometres, miles, power output and possibly a modicum of heart-rate. in short, how fast it's possible to get from point a to an ever-shifting point b. the difficulty with this stance is made all too obvious when it becomes necessary to transport one's entire being, cycle and attendant kit over distances that hardly fit the description of a commute.

long gone are the days when those clothed in black alpaca would stick a pair of race wheels onto carriers mounted on the front forks, and ride to the start of a time trial. and back again afterwards. stalwartism is consipcuous by its absence. travel plans encompass oh so much more in these modern times, necessitating a change of perspective. a journey to portland a couple of years back offered no alternative but to carry appropriate clothing, footwear and helmet as well as sartorial elegance (after a fashion) that would not disgrace the average civilian. this latter aspect has been all but appropriately addressed by more than one cycle clothier, offering ranges of clothing that cater for both on and off-bike with practicality and style.

that leaves only moving it all about.

race bag

the word luggage originates from the large caskets and portmanteaux of the edwardian era that formed the backbone of the travel arrangements of the time. the first transatlantic passenger flight took place on 4th june 1927; travel to the americas prior to this required to be undertaken aboard passenger liners, a mode of transport that rarely suffered from space restrictions. thus such cumbersome trunks were 'lugged' to the holds of such vessels by the minions employed for the purpose. when air travel took off ('scuse the pun), luggage needed to become more compact and bijou, but altogether lighter. much of the early examples were manufactured using the same technology as the aircraft themselves; light-weight, non-rusting aero-alloy.

with the advent of the motor car as a more personal form of transport, and thus travel that eschewed the servitude that accompanied such as exotic rail travel (to carry your own luggage would have been murder on the orient express), luggage had little option, but a much larger target market, to adapt to new demands. it would now most likely be packed and carried to the motor car by the persons to whom the luggage belonged. and overhead lockers on aircraft notwithstanding, it had to comprise a set of dimensions altogether smaller than had historically been the case.


up till now, cyclists (doubtless in tandem with other social strata), at best, had been on the periphery of luggage considerations. the offroad community has had many a rucksack looking like a rucksack pointed in their direction, occasionally incorporating a camelback type water bladder, but not all of these were specifically the preserve of the cyclist.

in this light, a number of recent offerings from rapha could perhaps have been viewed as not only an augmentation of their quality cycle clothing range, but as a possible metamorphosis to more of a brand capable of turning its hand to a variety of accessorising as whim decreed. having recently introduced a select range of rapha luggage, was this one of perren street's first moves in this direction? ceo simon mottram; "Not really. All the new luggage products are linked to cycling in some way, even the wash bag! We are not in the clothing business, but rather want to surround the customer with products and services that connect him or her to the sport. Carrying stuff is something all cyclists do and we saw an opportunity to produce nicer products than existed."

in case it has by-passed your radar while you were out getting the miles in, rapha's luggage range incoroprates an update of the erstwhile 'fixed' backpack (an item i have used to great effect for several years), a race bag, a large shoulder bag, small shoulder bag (a very stylish update of the rapha musette, my example of which is still in active service after a number of years), wash bag, tote bag and a fluorescent pink backpack raincover for those scottish summer moments. the purposes of the above mentioned items are somewhat self-evident, so i do not propose to provide a blow-by-blow account, but the one item that may elicit more interest from the pelotonese than its siblings, is the appropriately named race bag. in common with much of the range, this is built from water-resistant cordura with compartments for shoes and pedals, a detachable shoulder strap, a multitude of internal zipped pockets, and as the perfect advert for its progenitor, an inner lining featuring a sprocket print. bearing in mind some of our earlier conversation, it meets all those millimetre perfect airline restrictions for carry-on luggage.

shoulder bag

rapha's main expertise lies in producing highly desirable, yet practical cycling apparel; when it came to producing a range of luggage, specialist designer james holliday was approached, a man associated with other high-quality brands. yet, did we know we wanted or even needed such items? is this one of those situations where rapha have proved themselves to be one step ahead of their customer base? "Can I say 'perceived latent demand'? Few people have asked us to do this, but we do see it fitting with our customers' lives." the functionality of the race bag has all too obvious connections with the land of shiny carbon, so aside from this item, what type of rider did rapha have in mind when designing the rest of the range? "A core Rapha customer. Someone who rides a lot in the city and wants functional gear, but wants a certain quality and style."

as i have pointed out on all too many occasions, i don't get out much. oh, there have been those forays to glasgow, edinburgh, london and portland, but i consider those minor, yet highly pleasurable adventures. travelling anywhere seems to involve lengthy periods of sitting around doing nothing, or wandering aimlessly around central station or the litter bin free environment of euston. and what seems commonplace to regular travellers as to be totally unremarkable, is the number of commuters criss crossing concourse towing tiny boxes on wheels, dragged by means of a substantially long handle. surely many of those tiny (brief) cases could be more readily carried than wheeled; i cannot be the only victim who has all but had both feet whipped from under them in several, sequential shoe/wheel interfaces?

small shoulder bag

but for weighty transportational needs, a t-handle and a pair of wheels could be the ideal way to move that cycling kit, leaving the other hand free to pull the bike box. will the range ever incorporate such a practical item? "Yes. There is a larger 90 litre kit bag with wheels in development for next spring. Perfect for the week away (on a randonnee!)". see that? attempt one 200km ride and they have you pegged as a mile-eater. this stuff is good, it's designed with careful consideration, and its persona doesn't immediately proclaim weekend sports person. in fact, the stylish exteriors would suggest a career that need not necessarily include cycling in any shape or form. do rapha intend to market the range outside the world of cycling? "We hope they will be picked up by style and fashion press, but aren't banking on it! They will also take pride of place in the Rapha cycle clubs."

i would generally regard myself as someone not too swayed by acquisitiveness for the sake of acquisitiveness; if i have a purpose for which an item seems ideally suited, and the bank balance is willing, then i have little problem. but i have little account to answer to by way of pointless excess. however, despite my incredibly limited need to travel, and the fact that i already possess a rapha backpack that serves the bulk of my requirements, i don't half fancy a race bag. how on earth does this happen? simon mottram:"I have a degree in 'hankering creation'!"

rapha luggage

posted wednesday 29 june 2011


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i think you mistake me for someone who cares

tour de france 2011

this saturday sees the start of the 2011 tour de france, not as usual, with a prologue time trial but a thumping great 190km run from passage du gois to mont des alouettes. it will surprise no-one that, with my complete lack of geographical knowledge, i only know that those two towns are somewhere in france. on the west coast i believe.

i can only assume that the cycling monthlies work on the assumption that theirs is the only magazine any self-respecting cycle fan purchases, otherwise why do they all insist on either accompanying the july issue with a blow by blow account of the forthcoming extravaganza in a magazine all of its own, or filling the gap between the contents page and the wiggle advert at the back?

year on year, they follow the same formula, detailing each stage profile, often with added prognostications from well-known and preferably not-riding-the-tour personalities. i believe such can be comfortably referred to as pundits without receiving a campagnolo crank spanner in the face. there will also be a list of participating teams, though since the magazines are generally printed well in advance of the tour start, it is rare that any of the foregoing will have chosen their nine riders at this point.

to an extent, all this has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

year on year any criticism levelled at the tour often takes the form of accusing it of having become a bit too big for its boots, being more circus-like than race-like, and effectively all-consuming. for though paris-roubaix is the undoubted queen of the classics, it is still ostensibly all about the riders and their battle with the terrain, distance and cobbles. le tour is arguably all about the tour. though eurosport and itv4 gave highly worthwhile coverage of the giro d'italia, they go almost apeshit when it comes to the tour. this is grand for those of us who cannot sit in front of the flat-screen with coffee and brie baguette to hand, lost in that fabulous french countryside, for edited highlights fill every other spare televisual minute.

for those who were adherents of eurosport before british eurosport, watching le tour was the obsessives dream; simple, straightforward coverage with accompanying commentary from mr duffield. now, as i have moaned on several previous occasions, they have turned it into football, with pre and post race analysis, and a few intervening moments in between, where at least two pundits and a television person will discuss at length why someone did or did not do what they had earlier said he would. thus, we have six people involved in the race: the three in the studio, david and sean out in the field, and some poor unfortunate (probably carlton kirby) stuck in a darkened room in the basement of eurosport's offices in paris.

itv fare little better, with phil and paul at the business end, ably assisted by ned boulting, matt rendell and gary imlach. do not misunderstand me, all of the above are generally particularly good at their jobs, for ned's 'how i won the yellow jumper' notwithstanding, they are all pretty well informed, and adept at passing on this information to those of us with coffee and brie baguettes.

but do we really need it all?

i have already received three e-mails in the past week, asking for my personal prediction with regard to top step of the podium in paris. now i do find this rather flattering, for it pre-supposes that i either have insight into the machinations of the french circus, or the ear of those better qualified in such minutiae. brian smith for instance. in fact, not only are neither of the foregoing correct, but in point of fact, i really don't care. lest you think ill of me for apparently disregarding what is generally regarded as the world's greatest bicycle race, let me say in my defence that it is not the race about which i do not care, but all the palaver that seems intent on accompanying every kilometre of every stage.

the tour de france is a three week, twenty-one stage race; nobody actually knows who is going to win, so why can't we all agree to just sit back and watch it unfold before our very commentators? surely it's far more exciting to watch it day by day than to be told on stage three that a particular rider is merely waiting until stage twelve to unleash a killer attack, nab the yellow jumper (sorry ned) and retain it until the champs elysees hoves into sight?

if not, just don't ask me.

posted tuesday 28 june 2011


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