hey, let's be careful out there

rapha seatpack

many too many will be too young to recall or even have heard of hill street blues, an american cop show that first aired on nbc in the states in 1981 and subsequently ran for 146 episodes until 1987 (co-incidentally, the year i moved to islay). created by steven bochco and michael kozoli, and like many a police drama, it concerned an unnamed police precinct in an unnamed american city, with many of those appearing frequently engendering calls of 'wasn't he in...? when watching subsequent american television programmes. such was its influence on the television viewing public, one episode listed 49th on tv guide's '100 greatest episodes of all time'. i could even hum the theme tune right now if you want?

for those with no idea whatsoever of which i speak, you might want to take a click over to amazon and lighten your wallets by ordering each season on dvd. though many a police and crime series has emulated certain aspects of the scene setting and antics of hill street blues, the series is particularly famous for one repetitive quote from sergeant phil esterhaus. in order to give viewers an indication of the episode's modus operandi, the station's detectives, sergeants and officers would be gathered together in the briefing room and given an overview of how they would be spending their immediate future. aside from frequent stops for donuts.

rapha seatpack

and just as a simple aside at this point, when in new york in 2002, i took the opportunity of a return ride on the staten island ferry, past the statue of liberty and across the water to, of all places, staten island. my delight in finding that the trip was entirely free was further bolstered by the discovery that donuts were sold on the boat. how could i resist? unfortunately, post first bite, i was wishing that i had resisted, for it was disgusting. while i wouldn't wish to condemn the american donut entirely on the basis of one purchased on the staten island ferry, i think that those built in the uk could easily show america a thing or two.

how could those american cops, fictional or otherwise, bring themselves to eat so many every day?

anyway, to return to the obscure thread of my opening narrative, after the briefing was concluded for the day, sergeant esterhause would sign off with an earnest "hey, let's be careful out there." considering the animosity shown towards these fine men in uniform by the residents and oft times visitors to the precinct, it was a watchword well made.

rapha seatpack

doubtless many a spouse ought to have their loved ones depart of a morning for the daily commute regaled by a similar espousement; the level of motorised traffic on the roads these days seems not to be diminishing. and it cannot have escaped you attention that many are driving in a little bubble that seems concerned only with their specific route to work, effectively discarding the needs of those round about them. however, that is a scene set regularly each day, and one that has doubtless been analysed to excess in places far more qualified to do so than by one whose irregular commute is likely only to be interspersed with stray sheep and cows.

there is a different level of 'let's be careful out there' in force around these here parts, it rests more heavily on being able to rescue a mechanical situation should one occur miles from anywhere. i am not ignorant of the same hurdles befalling those in a more urban cycle setting, but in such there is likely to be greater access to some form of public transport, nearby bike shop or perchance a cycling samaritan. i have, on more than one occasion, seen sight of a mobile cycle workshop travailing the streets of london, eager to assist the mechanically helpless. strange to relate, few sheep around the isle, or other rural parts, seem to have received training in bicycle maintenance, nor are possessed of a supply of inner tubes.

rapha seatpack

it therefore is incumbent on the velocipedinist to carry emergency supplies.

the rapha continental, despite their irritating good fortune to almost always have a minibus or sram support vehicle in the immediate vicinity, is composed of hardy gentlemen well-versed in the art of fixing a flat, replacing a cable and tightening recalcitrant allen bolts. it sort of goes with the territory. in order to aid and abet this self-sufficiency, each rider is supplied with a wrapover under saddle pack, cunningly designed by carey s-h, formerly of rapha usa, and now with james selman's weights and pulleys. i was most fortunate to have received one of these official issue items from slate olson a good few years ago, and it has been in constant service ever since.

this original version had a tough, black cordura outer and an identifiably rapha pink interior. opened on the floor it consisted of an oblong of the waterproof material that could be rolled over an inner tube, tyre lever and a crank bros. multi-tool, then secured in place with a leather toe-strap. as my bicycle collection increased, it became a bit of a footer to keep shifting it from one bicycle to another, and there has been more than one occasion on which i have left home without it, memory having deserted me at a point when i'd really rather it hadn't. so i wrote to mr olson to ask if he would be so good as to send another; unfortunately, at that point, supplies had been exhausted.

rapha seatpack

thankfully, rapha uk have not remained oblivious to either the efficacy of carey's original invention nor to the latent demand for more of the same. as with many a good idea, time has allowed for a modicum of development, and perren street has recently released an updated version of the same, slightly more refined for the less adventurous, more conservative peletonese.

this new seat pack has turned the original through ninety degrees, still relying on a now rapha monogrammed toe strap to retain its integrity when secured to those saddle rails. instead of a simple shape of appropriate fabric, the production version is pre-folded offering a base on which to place the necessary tools with flaps on each side to keep the latter safe from the elements. the edges are now framed with leather edging. the white colouring of the toe strap matches well with the colour scheme applied to the rest of rapha's luggage range, ensuring a level of style even when splattered with mud (as mine was after a weekend of cyclocross-like activity).

the twist in the tail is the added extra, allowing for the carrying of an emergency fiver or tenner (or equivalent in dollars, euros etc.) inside a zipped inner pocket. damn clever. i cannot deny that i have a soft spot for the original continental seat pack that still inhabits the underside of the leather saddle on my cielo, but i am not without an appreciation of some of the finer things in life, such as this latest edifice which keeps me safe out there.

rapha's seat pack retails at £40 and arrives complete with rapha embossed white toe strap.

posted monday 24 october 2011

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one day soon, women will rule the road

filles a velo training camp

websites are damned clever bits of kit, or at least the technology behind which they hide is rather sophisticated. happily, the bits that many of us have to deal with (and in case it's not obvious, i'm talking about me here) is pretty darned simple. the technically named file transfer protocol (ftp) allows for a piece of software with two windows; my files and their files. after i have done my bit for the day, i simply drag my completed file into their window and all is well with the world. well, it is if i get it right. the trouble with stuff that is very easy to use is that it is almost always very easy to get wrong too.

having scribbled industriously, uploaded to the web server, software running on the server sits at the doorway to your browser and counts the audience; where you come from, how long you hang about, any other pages you may have deigned to look at, and who it was that told you i was here in the first place. fabulous stuff if you're into numbers which, after all the effort everyone has gone to, i disappointingly am not. though i have no wish to come across as arrogant or disinterested, but in which part of the world you live or what your internet protocol (ip) address is, i really don't care, because i'm going to write what i'm going to write, and i really hope that you enjoy it; but too many numbers just get in the way.

i like to think of myself as one of life's creatives. please don't e-mail and burst my bubble.

filles a velo training camp

however, one of the statistics that the very clever web server does not tell me, is which gender is applicable to each visitor. i have no way of knowing whether you look at rapha's menswear or womenswear. granted, if i can take my correspondents as representative of my readership, it's mostly blokes; not particularly unusual, given the preponderance of males on bicycles versus the number of females. however, i rather hope that some of the fairer sex enjoy the yellow and black pixels just as much and just as often. therefore, i do like to try and offer something of specific interest to what i believe to be a minority readership.

it is no secret that websites specifically for female cycling aficionados exist in hyperspace (do we still call it that?), one in particular with which i am currently concerned here and now, is leigh marshall's filles a velo which my rudimentary french translates as girls on bikes. the subtitle to this blog is sneakily displayed in small print at the top (for a change) women's scottish cycling blog, however, since it is written neither in broad scots (a la rabbie burns) nor in gaelic, i see no barrier to it being read by women of a differing nationality. while i would recommend it as an informative and entertaining corner relating to its subject of choice, it is a more specific aspect that i would like to relate at present.

a women only training camp.

filles a velo training camp

i have no wish to present myself as one well-versed in the thematic arts, having brought mention of the act of training in yesterday's post, but on a level far above my own pathetic attempts, leigh has a far more adventurous sort in mind, in conjunction with cycle cote d'azur. "We are trying to aim for it being, a sort of retreat, if that's possible on a training camp. Something along the lines of yoga retreats etc.; this experience will be a full and whole package.  It won't just be going out and riding your bike all day every day.  There will be a mechanic's course, yoga, massage (optional extra), a goody bag, a meal every night where everyone gets together, all set in a modern, cyclist-friendly hotel. We're aiming for a feeling of total inclusion; it's about every single woman enjoying the camp and hopefully gaining something from it, no matter their individual goals."

Full-time coaches/ride guides, emma and claire will do their utmost to make sure everyone has a great time, as well as learning and improving over the week, setting practices in place that will allow those attending to continue in the same vein on returning home. "Nice has some of the most beautiful cycling in Europe. It's where the Alps dip their toes into the sea."

graeme freestone king

my long-time friend, graeme freestone king, easily one of the finest mechanics in europe and the brains and brawn behind velotech, will not only be providing mechanical assistance at the camp, but teaching the basics of bike wrenching to certificate level. according to leigh," I felt it was really important that we include that on the camp, as many ladies (myself most definitely included) feel very unsure about that area.  Many a lady's mantra is "I have a dad, brother, boyfriend or husband to fix my bike and if that fails, I have a local bike shop"  I wanted to remove the mystery or nervousness about fixing your own bike and thought perhaps an all women learning together environment might work well."

five days of slogging yourself silly in blazing sunshine up and over the mountains surrounding nice is bound to demand extra in the way of nutritional requirements. happily, attendees are well catered for in this specific department. "Bikefood will be supporting all our nutritional needs.  Emma, Claire and Cycle Cote d'Azur use Bikefood products for their rides and camps and I'm also a fan , so it seemed the obvious choice when we were looking for a nutritional sponsor. We'll be appealing to the idea that women are quite often more aware of what they're putting into their bodies. They are generally (but not exclusively) more likely to want to use natural products, the ingredients of which they can trace back to source."

so, assuming that thewashingmachinepost truly has a female readership, one that has a long weekend free this coming february (thursday 9th - monday 13th), this may be the ideal opportunity to assert that independence of spirit and begin the season the way you mean to continue. that includes those intending sportive participation as well as those with a more competitive streak. cost is £695 per person based on two sharing; more details can be found here.

of course, this means i'll now be stuck at the back of an even bigger peloton.

filles a velo

posted sunday 23 october 2011

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oops i did it again

bridgend woods

i trained today. i didn't mean to do it, and i am fully aware of the extent of my transgression, but it wasn't really my fault. well, not entirely.

when you get to a certain age, it is of pressing necessity to display a certain level of decorum. if i may paraphrase the lyrics of sting: "a scotsman walks, but never runs" an edict to which i have done my utmost to adhere, unless willie currie's truck foretells of impending doom by way of dangerous proximity. then's a good time to run. but since i have made it perfectly plain that any excessive exercise of a controlled and structured nature is not something i particularly want to have any truck with, why would i?

of course, i could be pulling the wool over your eyes, since no-one has ever seen me race; i might be a lot faster than you think. this would greatly enhance my standing in the cycling community as a possible threat, should a number and safety pins ever make itself known to the back of my jersey. but nonetheless, i appear to have trained anyway, and not just any old training, but that of a cyclocross nature.

the prompting for this was the arrival of a rather splendid 'cross bike which has sat in thewashingmachinepost bikeshed for more days than is embarrassingly admissable, replete with untrammeled tyres, transmission and frame. it almost seemed a travesty to get it dirty. but then, that's what the dear machine was designed for, and who am i to deny it it's destiny? the plan of attack, before bridgend woods was reached, was simply to roll through the main pathways, diverting only to circumnavigate the training globe via the waulkmill circular (we have very characterful names round these here parts).

in much the same way as i think it sensible to remain verbally dormant for the first couple of meetings, should one have had the misfortune to have joined a committee for something or other, i had not intended to trouble the bicycle any more than i had to. a quick survey of the estates seemed more than in order before heading south for the mandatory soya cappuccino and a healthy cheese and chutney sandwich (decorated with less than healthy potato crisps). but the bicycle made me do it.

in the perambulations of bridgend woods while coaching kids at port mor wheelers (yes that does sound like a geographical contradiction of terms), it has been possible to inadvertantly concoct a 'cross circuit of some merit, featuring long drags uphill, corners that you weren't expecting, squiffy bits, really narrow bits that caused a modicum of claustrophobia, and a lengthy climbing bit on which it is necessary to manhandle the bicycle. add my perennial desire to leap aboard like sven and it's diffcult to class this as anything but training, particularly when i completed the circuit three times in quick succession. now, when i say 'quick' i am not referring to the speed of accomplishment, but simply pointing out that there were no lengthy breaks in between to effect appropriate recovery.


while i figure it enough of an admission that training took place, the worrying part is the amount of enjoyment that was forthcoming after flaying myself into little pieces amongst the autumn leaves and mud. after claire beaumont's scary description of just what tabata consisted, i was even more resolved not to succumb to any form of cycling that could be misconstrued as having a specific aim. of course, there is still remarkably little point to my extertions, given that any added litheness, suppleness and apparent increase in speed will have worn away to nought after a few days in front of an imac this coming week. but perhaps had i created a mythical, yet perfectly feasible target to which i could pretend to be aiming, maybe i could have justified a concocted training regime earlier in the season.

always assuming that i admit to having a season in the first place. of course, it could be the bike's fault; the ideal object of blame, in my opinion.

the superb rider photography displayed above is courtesy balint hamvas and reproduced with permission. none of them are me.

posted saturday 22 october 2011

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condor cycles past present future

past present future: condor cycles

those involved in the process of capturing digital images have had their eyes opened this past week by the announcement of a new consumer camera called the lytro. looking disturbingly like a torch/flashlight, its claim to fame is the lack of any overwhelming necessity to consider the point of focus when pressing the shutter. i realise from many photographs i come across, that having a defined subject of focus seems something of an alien concept to many. despite the emergence of so-called auto-focus digital cameras, in which you would think it all but impossible to snap a blurred image, many of the latter abound in serious quantities. it seems that the more idiot-proof cameras become, the better class of idiot emerges.

adobe have been previewing sneak-peeks this past week or so, of future photoshop technology that will render the days of out of focus photographs a thing of the past, but that's probably quite some distance in the future. the lytro camera, however, allows the subject of focus to be chosen after the fact, when the photo is sitting comfortably on a computer screen. remarkably clever technology when you think about it, but something that will undoubtedly lead to procrastination over the final choice, and perhaps a novelty that will wear off more quickly than the makers would like.

but aside from the end results, photographers being anoraks just as much as cyclists, are keen to find out more about the technology behind the vari-focus imagery, something that is conspicuous by its absence on the lytro website. if you're at all interested in how things work, there's nothing worse than an apparent attempt to keep all behind firewalls or even brick walls. the latter is something of past days, when so-called bricks and mortar were all that any retailer had to hide behind. someone like condor cycles, now that you come to mention it.

past present future: condor cycles

condor cycles first opened its doors at 90 grays inn road, london in 1948, a few years after the end of the second world war, as london continued to rebuild after the destruction rained on many of its landmarks during the conflict. the first condor frames emerged in the early 1950s, built by founder monty young, a trained cabinet maker who thought it a simple shift of abilities to working in steel tubing. around 1972, when grant young started working in the business, they bought the premises next door as the first stage in condor's expansion, later moving across the road to their current position at 49-53 grays inn road.

undoubtedly due to their longevity, not only in the capital city but as an integrated part of british cycling culture and the ascendant racing scene, this became as popular a choice of frame as one of the lusted after italian names, yet in the process, condor impressed a level of mystique amongst the cycling cognoscenti. as one who hails from considerably further north, i must admit to being less than au fait with the brand until they joined forces with rapha to enhance the british racing scene, something they continue to do as one third of rapha condor sharp. in 2005, peter whitfield published the condor years. a panorama of british cycling a book which admirably dealt with condor's involvement in british cycle racing, but without dealing at length with the growth of the shop itself. nor did it spend too many pages on the work that went on behind the window in grays inn road. the mystique continued.

past present future: condor cycles

grant young is still in charge of the day to day running of the condor business and surrounded by a crew of younger aides, he is spreading the word a great deal wider than the pavements and trees of grays inn road. condor frames are now available to a less metropolitan audience, the most recent being ronde in edinburgh who will host their official launch as a condor stockist next friday (28th october). this new open policy has resulted in the traditional condor frames receiving a graphical makeover from ben spurrier, while the brand offensive is headed up by claire boom beaumont, who is responsible for the publication of past, present, future.

the bookazine as i rather unfairly named it, is produced by philip and andrew diprose, the men behind the ride journal, packaged in a similar format to the latter. the smell of ink on paper is worth the price of admission alone. the contents lay bare much of the history and philosophy behind the condor brand, while providing detailing of one or two of the more prestigious frames within the current range. the history of harry rensch's paris is one that i have been eager to read, having espied one of the famous galibier frames on the grays inn wall during a visit to the metropolis a few years ago.

a breathtaking alternative to today's ubiquitous carbon.

fronted by one of the head tube badges of yesteryear, the contents of its 143 pages are peppered with stories from several of condor's more high profile customers, including sometime contributor to the post, bianchista gem atkinson. grant and monty young lay bare the shop's history, ben spurrier relates the design challenges that have changed the face of condor cycles, and the shop's wheelbuilding specialist, martin muller absorbs my attention by talking shop.

past present future: condor cycles

£14.99 could conceivably be seen as a substantial amount to pay for what is, at its most basic, a product catalogue for the brand, but that would be to misunderstand the concept. there is much to be learned and appreciated here no matter your level of interest in owning a condor frame. as is expected of output from the diprose brothers, the design and layout is impressive, never descending into humdrum, and to all intents and purposes, avoiding any real-life comparison with the catalogues more often arriving in the mail, or sitting at the end of the shop counter.

the writing is a bit patchy in places, and several articles appear to end rather abruptly, but the real interest is in both the photographs from the archive and an opening into the secret world of condor cycles. hopefully, in the tradition of the ride journal, there might be at least a volume two, for only a select few frames are detailed within, and i'd so like several others (the 'cross variants at least) to be given the same treatment. with rapha ,condor and sharp continuing their association with currently britain's most successful cycle team into 2012, there is more to come from the modern outlook inhabiting grays inn road.

past, present, future is available from condor cycles and stockists for the princely sum of £14.99.

condor cycles

posted friday 21 october 2011

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soft and fluffy

prendas meraklon armwarmers

as the nights draw in, the sun loses any semblance of heat that it may have owned (pretty much gone un-noticed up here), and the rain starts to alter its trajectory from straight up and down towards a more horizontal stance, egged on by amber weather warnings (a feature that seems to have emerged from nowhere), a cyclist's thoughts turn to soft and fluffy. externally, of course, there is face to be saved, hardness to be portrayed and flandrian character to be impressed upon any innocent bystander that can be found close at hand. it's a period of transition that need result in a re-filing of one's cycling wardrobe. for those short sleeve jerseys are no longer man enough for the task, even though they have seldom been removed from the hangers during so-called summertime. now it is surely time for the long sleeved jersey, perhaps even concealed beneath a weatherproof outer shell.

that will likely be our metier for the coming six months, but during this transition period, weather forecasts can go horribly awry, leading to moments of serious indecision and a delay in approaching the bikeshed. the ambient conditions can often be six of one and half a dozen of another, which is sort of where the ever faithful armwarmer has found its niche. where would we be without them?

prendas meraklon armwarmers

there is a surprising variation in the efficacy of the humble armwarmer, through each iteration of its varying fabric construction, length from upper arm to wrist and the tenacity with which the hapless garment clings to those upper limbs. i cannot be the only one who has suffered from the ignominious strains of sniggering at the rear of the peleton when that embarrasing portion of white skin shows between jersey sleeve and ruffled armwarmer top? it is of great consequence that any superlative effort need be restrained lest this humiliation be made plain in that final sprint. thus, that simple tube of logo'd fabric has appearances to maintain, gaining a degree of importance perhaps not suggested by its price on the website.

prendas ciclismo have long been the kings of maintaining the honed athlete's sense of decorum, leaning heavily on no-frills practicality at a price that has me wondering if andy's keyboard is malfunctioning. in order to be something of a devil's advocate towards the review item, and much to the amusement of passing motorists, i was wont to flail my arms in a verisimiltude of beckoning the team car from the next village while scratching the back of my head. however, eccentric such behaviour may have seemed from behind the triplex windscreen, i was manfully attempting to dislodge either armwarmer from its tenacious grip. it is of great comfort and style that i failed miserably.

prendas meraklon oversocks

but practicality need not be gained at the expense of rudimentary appearance, and keen to maintain not only my hard-won sense of style, but to extend those feelings of soft and fluffy, a pair of oversocks seemed the ideal accomplice for that belgian persona. if life were so basic, it would surely be a simple matter of purchasing extra large socks and cutting out a couple of well-placed holes in the bottom. but of course, well intentioned plans have a tendency to remain in the realm of the well-intentioned, rarely seeing the light of day. aside from that, unless you ride in a peloton of one and your coffee stop is a phone box, you will likely wish to affirm a more refined sense of style and pragmatism. it is therefore surely a deal more considerate to ensconce those leather shod feet inside oversocks that are form-fitting and show immediate sense of purpose.

once again, prendas ciclismo are two steps ahead (pun intended), offering all but matching accoutrements for those hardened armwarmers. in similar manner to their upper limb compatriots, meraklon is the primary constituent, ensuring an incredible degree of form hugging along with a high degree of wear resistance. they're also remarkably soft to the touch; us hardened cyclists are prone to the occasional cossetting. well, quite a lot of cossetting actually. the soles are already cut to clear both roadgoing triangular cleats and those tiny little slivers of metal that keep feet on cyclocross pedals. if it rains, they'll get wet, but notably retain their shape throughout any level of soaking you may wish to throw at them.

the importance of this in the coffee stop cannot be overestimated. people will notice.

prendas meraklon oversocks

i doubt too many of you will rail against the thought of a sandwich, a state of being conditioned over hundreds of years. surely the ultimate degree of layering. but if i may, for a moment, sway you away from that peanut butter and jelly, consider a sandwich that has more to do with the topic of conversation than bread and filling. if you accept that the cosiness of my toes is all but ensured against the elements by those prendas oversocks, with appropriate footwear below, placing a pair of thermo cool socks as the ground on which stability is based cannot be seen as other than a good idea. purporting to incorporate strands of carbon, these are surely the ideal footwear for the perennial cyclist. this resistex incorporation has, of course, purpose other than to satisfy the ego of the average modern cyclist. hard worn socks have a tendency to feature gaps in the firmament, if you gather my meaning; the carbon resistex fends well for itself, while the coolmax regulates temperature within the 0-12 degree range.

for only a few pence short of £24, all three items can be yours, and possibly for even less if you mix and match with one of prendas' special offers. the cost of each, and in varying colours for the oversocks and armwarmers, is an impressive £7.95 buy yours now before andy really does discover there's a key stuck on his computer.

prendas ciclismo

posted thursday 20 october 2011

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bicycle travel journal illustrated by nigel peake. laurence king publishing, softback 128pp illus. £12.95

bicycle travel journal

as a colleague left work the other day, she made mention of having tidied her desk prior to leaving. since the desk in question is of minimalist coverings even when busy, i pointed out that it would be difficult to tell the difference between her desk when tidy or untidy, to which she replied that even if the former state, her desk would be considerably tidier than mine. unlike my usual quick-witted self (a guy can dream), i had no ready reply to this accusation, for the basis of it was entirely true.

my usual defence of this somewhat obvious state of affairs has been to cite my artistic disposition. in years gone by, when life was less corporate, macwarehouse used to send in a monthly sales magazine, the inside cover of which regularly featured their more spendworthy clients, almost invariably involved in the graphic design and publishing environment. and they are almost always untidy. that is, however, a statement which requires qualification; untidy is not only a state of mind, it's an entirely subjective description, aimed at the less than organised by those obsessively so. the latter description fits my colleague to a tee.

bicycle travel journal

how many of us, about to leave home for an event, a race, a cycle show or any number of other reasons to travel, play mental games for days in advance trying desperately to ensure that all necessary precautions have been taken to enable safe passage all the way to our ultimate destination? and it's not only travel arrangements that need looking after. though not quite related to cycling, in my early years of inveterate gigging as a session drummer, i arrived at the appointed venue, set up drums and cymbals only to realise that the evening may be quieter than usual due to a complete lack of drum sticks. since that memorable time, i have always carried an extra pair of sticks in my trap (stands and pedals) case.

some things you hopefully only do once.

when it comes to cycling, there are more intricacies to be negotiated, for it is rare that the accoutrements of modern pedalling reside neatly in a set of custom cases. all has to be accounted for individually: helmet, shoes, shorts, jerseys etc., many of which are often spread geographically around one's abode. and there is rarely any filing system keeping track.

bicycle travel journal

assuming all the above to be in place and in order, with destination successfully achieved devoid of any hitches, that's often where the bulk of the trip (should it be such) begins. cyclists have had it bred into them from the days when stabilisers still occupied pride of place on the rear wheels, to keep extensive and meticulous diaries of training regimes, weekly kilometreage and modern intrusions such as heart-rate numbers and watts. no bike ride can be considered complete without pencilled statistics retained in a back pocket, or perhaps brought to the table at day's end.

the shortcoming that you can see heading in our direction is the apparent lack of a suitable bible in which to record and organise even the most anodyne of cycling excursions. but i might just have a solution to that.

the bicycle travel journal recently published by laurence king publishing, containing unique and eclectic illustrations by architect and keen cyclist nigel peake, is something of a godsend. arriving at washingmachinepost cottage just prior to my trip south for the rapha supercross event, i eagerly flicked its pages and secreted brown envelopes to aid organisation of boats, buses and trains. those little brown envelopes, popping up just when you least expect, proved ideal as an organised method of filing tickets that i usually contrive to lose. thus as the conductor/steward aboard the virgin pendolino heading ultimately to london euston, ambled between coach seats imploring us all to "have your tickets ready", rather than my usual frantic searching through every pocket in every garment i am wearing, i simply pulled the necessary from their little brown resting place.

bicycle travel journal

add to that, along each step of the route, i was immersed in reading the book finally reviewed yesterday, and finding it necessary to make notes along the way. as indeed was the case after the windermere 'cross race. the bicycle travel journal made for the ideal method of recording choice aspects of my weekend trip. i was even moved to make some rather rudimentary pencil drawings as i went over the rest and be thankful, and that's something that hasn't happened for many a long year.

its 128 pages encased in a faux leather cover featuring an inscribed bicycle wheel are blank, lined, half blank, half lined and bookmarked by the aforementioned brown envelopes (removable via a tear-off perforation), brown pages and interspersed with charts to allow detailing of punctures, cake stops, kilometres ridden, altitude gained and many other notes of cycling ephemera. how i have ever managed to get from one week's end to the next without one of these, or something very similar, is something my office colleague would find nigh on impossible to comprehend.

if you're an organised cyclist with little in the way of artistic tendencies, this is the journal for you. however, if numbers and statistics fail to hold any interest, but inscrutable sketches of obscure subjects could inform and entertain in equal measure for hours on end, this is also the journal for you.

as necessitous as a presta valve on a 700c inner tube.

laurence king

posted wednesday 19 october 2011

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the belgian hammer - daniel lee. foreword by george hincapie. breakaway books paperback 208pp illus. £9.59 ($15)

the belgian hammer

now that i've put myself on the spot, i can't actually think of a film that fits the bill. you know the sort of movie i mean; one that starts on the movie channel late on friday or saturday, meaning you already know bedtime will be after midnight. there's a mug of drinking chocolate and a couple of digestive biscuits and a packet of crisps on the coffee table, and just like a nest, the sofa or armchair has been suitably contorted for the duration. the movie starts slowly but dramatically, then pretty much fails to do anything else for the next hour and a half. by about two thirds of the way through, the realisation that it's probably not going to be getting any better has been physically underlined. but so much time has already been invested in watching, that you're darned if you're going to give up now.

and true to form, nothing much else happens.

don't tell me you've never experienced that kind of film? there's sort of an embarrassment that the trailer shown earlier in the week suckered you in, but at least you can pretend it to have been deep and meaningful, with a level of insight only apparent to those of appropriate intellect. sometimes it works.

the belgian hammer by daniel lee is sort of the book version of the hypothetical movie i have just attempted to describe. but like any work of interest, there is sort of a twist in its having been brought to the table in the first place. firstly, i blame for leaving me wide open to having my wrist slapped in the first place. george hincapie has favoured this volume with a foreword, something that the bookish website has managed to misinterpret as co-authorship. while this error is unlikely to damage the book's potential sales, it could be seen in certain quarters as a disappointing state of affairs.

in my latter years of primary school, i contrived to be naturally rather good at drawing and painting, something that had an unwarranted effect on several of my classmates. when it came to many of the annual art competitions, some of my peers would cry off participation because in certain quarters it was seen that i would simply walk off with the prize. sometimes that's exactly what happened, but as far as i was concerned, i was simply doing my job.

on going to secondary school, suddenly i was only one amongst a group of semi-accomplished artists, most of whom were considerably better than i. follow this to its logical conclusion, and on reaching the lofty heights of art college, it would be straining credibility to suggest i was anything other than a journeyman; i survived, but only just.

daniel lee's forging young americans into professional cyclists has uncanny parallels to my art career, and many other walks of contemporary life. there is a huge difference between not only the indigenous style of cycle racing in north america, but in the speed changes inherent in this form of competition. however, as with most forms of competitive endeavour, reach close to the top of the tree, and it is not at all unusual to look up at the next tree. such has been often the case with north american cyclists. we have already been regaled by the excellent a dog in a hat by joe parkin, the recently reviewed book describing the entry of the 7-eleven team into european stage racing, and the evidence of success evinced by greg lemond, lance armstrong, steve bauer and recently one or two others.

almost to a man, they will admit that european racing was a bit of a wake-up call. to put not too fine a point on it, most of them got a kicking. this, however, is hardly front page news. between the aforementioned books and various magazine articles over the years, i think we've all grasped the notion that american bike riders (and often british, if we're totally honest) are initially out of their depth after setting cleats on belgian soil. some of them remain out of that same depth until returning across the atlantic.

so why write another book about it?

the existence of a dollar price tag on the book's back cover would suggest that it is aimed at the (american) home market, and not necessarily expected to be read by many across the pond. i'm forever wondering what the belgians think about such endless adulation directed at their cycling prowess. what do they write books about? however, for any aspiring american bicycle rider, a few pages of directly witnessed forewarning might just prepare them for a world of highly contrasting black and white.

however, at long last to return to my opening gambit relating to the endless movie that is seemingly going nowhere, i read all 208 pages in one day, fully expecting the preamble of the first thirteen chapters to be resolved in the fourteenth and final one. you can imagine my disappointment when this turned out not to be the case; this essentially seemed to be a book with no discernible point to its lengthy narrative. not an entirely unheard of situation, but one that i'd always hoped would body-swerve my bookcase.

but surely it bears some redeeming features? well, that's sort of the twist to which i referred in my second paragraph. for starters, i read the entire book in one day. not quite in one sitting you understand, lunch has to be grabbed at some point or other, but certainly between waking and sleeping. as one who reads a lot of books over the course of a year, this is an almost unheard of state of affairs; this is, bizarrely, a rather good book.

it has it's disappointing quirks, such as a seeming necessity to credit the author's photographs along with each caption; totally unnecessary. and it has been a long held tenet that any author should refrain from referring to his/her book in the course of the narrative; the book itself should be transparent, and should not become the subject of itself. i quote: "as (jackson) stewart and i finished our conversation, i told him that he had been helpful... i told him i planned on using those things in my book. 'i'm glad to be part of a book,' stewart responded." daniel lee is also noticeably in awe of some of his interviewees. this is likely not particularly unusual, but i think it better not to bring it to the notice of the reader.

a reviewer's hatchet job? not really, for i would maintain there is still much to be admired in the hammer. lee's writing style is impeccably smooth, with an uncanny ability to draw this reader into his ostensibly vacant parking lot. for despite my contention that this is a book devoid of a tangible point, i actually enjoyed reading pretty much every page. there are nuggets of joy, such as the blatant observation by american rider ian boswell that "cobbles are stupid" or that colorado rider peter horn revitalised himself after a belgian kermis by devouring a goat's cheese and jelly sandwich. it was difficult eating lunch after that culinary indiscretion.

wisdom, however contorted or dubious, is also existent midst the belgian hammer's pages. on acting like a professional, on and off the bike:"the way you talk, the way you are dressed, the way you eat, the way you are organised, how clean your bike and clothing is, all this and more is part of your personal communication package. people will perceive all this a certain way, and this way you create an image... becoming a professional cyclist is a public job, your sponsors will pay you partly because your behaviour, your image will help to enforce their company or product or service." richard sachs would be proud.

there are, of course, words to enter the annals of cycling rules: "don't shave your legs the day before a race because the process of the hairs growing back and poking through the skin wastes energy. don't shower before a race because your legs will fill with water. don't eat warm bread because it's still baking and expanding. don't have plants in your room because they will take your oxygen."

but perhaps if there is one salient point brought across by the defiant attitude adopted by some american riders to integrate themselves into the heart of belgian racing, is evinced by the tattoo sported by addison bain's forearm "let them hate so long as they fear".

i still find there to be little or no point to daniel lee's the belgian hammer and that may, in fact, be the point. a confusingly excellent book.

breakaway books

posted tuesday 18 october 2011

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................