i have never glid this way before (part two)

persabus pottery

i may have mentioned on occasion before, that i spent the latter years of the nineties and the early years of the noughties, playing drums in a blues band. one of the members of that band was not only a fine guitarist and bass player, but also a rather excellent craftsman. his speciality, as advertised by the name of his business (persabus pottery), was creating demonstrably admirable ceramics, which he did with the aid of two sizeable kilns occupying a corner of a barn on persabus farm.

aside from unique vases, pots and mugs, the underwriting of the venture came prinicpally from the distilleries, keen to acquire islay made water jugs and the like. however, distilleries do not settle for perhaps half a dozen of each item, but occasionally substantial amounts, turning what was initially an artisanal display of talent and craftsmanship, into something resembling a production line. this particular aspect of the trade held little interest for our guitar hero apart from the fact that it helped acquire another fender guitar now and again.

my erstwhile compatriot has now departed the island, has since married and now lives in an even more obscure part of the west coast of scotland. perhaps needless to say, he is no longer involved in baking and glazing items of pottery.

however, his brother and sister in law have continued the tradition to a certain degree by offering the opportunity to decorate your own ceramics, either with acrylics, in which case you can take the item with you, or by having it properly glazed and collected later. tea, coffee and cakes are also on offer as well as the possibility of holding children's parties on the premises. another facet of commercialism of which my guitarist colleague despaired.

ck ceramic bb

my first year at art college provided an introduction to pretty much every discipline that would be on offer over the four years of the course, one of which was scuplture, subdivided even further by separating ceramics as an individual regimen. my three dimensional abilities are legendary for their paucity, and at the end of my first year, i didn't so much drop scuplture, as it dropped me. for the remaining years of my college course and many a month afterwards, the word ceramics immediately entertained mental pictures of rustic looking coffee cups, and less than symmetrical vases.

the chris king building in nw nela, portland does not, as far as i'm aware, have a kiln of any description. the coffee cups and mugs available in the restaurant seem no different than those that can be purchased in any downtown store, and the plate on which a delectable vegetarian dish was served was, on the whole, unremarkable. yet during 2011, king's bolstered their range of bottom brackets and hubs by offering an alternative to their medical grade bearings in the form of ceramic bearings.

how confusing is that?

i am quite content in the knowledge that such fine distinctions between products bearing similar nomenclature are probably beyond me. i don't doubt that ceramic bearings have some familial similarity to that of kiln baked pottery, but i'm rather hoping that the similarity does not continue through the fragility that much of mrs washingmachinepost's crockery is apt to display when dropped on the floor. i think it simple enough to state that ceramic bearings are harder and more round than even the medical grade bearings found in standard chris king hubs and bottom brackets. they are also, by reputation, more evenly sized than the more common steel bearing thus alleviating one or two of a bearing set from shouldering most of the work.

ck ceramic bb

interpreting einstein's theory of relativity on a more macro level, it is easy to see why my cielo and i have major difficulties in achieving even warp factor one on our collective way to debbie's for a coffee. that headwind doesn't help, but in fact is one of the deciding factors that limits the speed of human powered travel. accept that i may manage a good 40kph along uiskentuie strand with a comparable tailwind. however, if i'm able to increase my speed to 45kph, i start to overtake the wind that has thus far propelled me between straggling sheep, at which point it starts to become a headwind (of sorts). the faster i go, the more resistance i create and the harder i need to pedal to overcome adversity. it's not rocket science to realise this is not an infinite process, and all will end in tears eventually.

to the above must be added the friction experienced by the various moving parts of the bicycle, one of only two factors over which i have any control. i can train like no man has ever trained before in order to beat that headwind into submission, or i can alleviate the strain on the mechanicals providing less resistance to my almost superhuman input. now that the laughing has subsided, let's get back to reality.

the problem with stuff like ceramic bearings in a chris king bottom bracket (for instance) is that it may just be possible that i could convince myself there is an infinitesimal difference ck ceramic bb between those and the perfectly adequate bearings that inhabited its predecessor. to add insult to injury, both bearing cups are anodised in identical blue, making any mental adjustment even harder to accomplish. secondly, as a fairly run-of-the-mill cyclist, would i actually be able to tell any difference at all, something that might have an acute bearing (pardon the pun) on my first notion stated above?

only pedalling can tell the difference.

it would not, i believe, be overstating the case were i to profess that the simple installation of a ceramic bearing chris king bottom bracket has provided the equivalent of an extra gear. i had prepared myself for the worst and just how i was going to either admonish those in nela street for an all but empty promise, or make excuses for my lack of pertinent discrimination when it came to being able to tell the difference. the original first ride of the chris king cielo over two years ago i described as being akin to gliding; the ceramic bearings have only multiplied this sensation.

i'm sure there will still remain the naysayers who will contend that stuffing some designer bearings between the cranks is the matter of which poseurs are made, and prior to this i may have been inclined to agree. whether you are willing to accept the ever diminishing bang for buck that such small changes engender is entirely between you and your bank balance, but when faced with perennial headwinds of more than 40kph, corresponding with ever decreasing fitness (it's an age thing), i am willing to accept any (legal) assistance available.

ck ceramic bb

i did figure that this sensation of achieving closer to the magcal warp speed might wear off after a day or two as i became used to my new found ease of pedalling, but after riding 74km mostly into a headwind to marshall a ten kilometre fun run yesterday, i can assure you that every revolution of those cranks was gratefully received.

chris king ceramic bottom brackets retail in the uk at a cost of £193 and in the usa at around $200. they are available for both shimano and sram cranks but only in english bottom bracket threading.

chris king | evolution imports

posted monday 26 march 2012.


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a 1957 flying scot

1957 flying scot

scotland has looked favourably on the world of cycling; kirkpatrick macmillan, robert millar, graeme obree, chris hoy, craig mclean, david millar (if you're not too pernickety about domicile) and one or two inventions that have helped enormously in the development of the bicycle.

scotland has also not given short shrift when it comes to languages. though tradition and the pockets of the scottish parliament would have it that our true heritage is wrapped up in the various dialects of gaelic, the truth is that much of the central belt heading towards the borders were never much involved in the language of the unpronounceable. throughout the west coast, stretching as far as glasgow, there are schools and colleges receiving heavy investment in the gaelic language, something of a departure from the years when schoolkids were punished for speaking it in the playground. probably too late in the day, possibly spurred on by the success of the welsh, resources are being thrown at the language in a forlorn attempt to once again make it the equal of english.

throughout this investment period, one that has lasted over twenty years, scotland's other language/dialect has been seemingly ignored and even shunned, despite its historical importance as allied to the national bard, robert burns. the poet, who spent most of his years in alloway, ayrshire wrote the bulk of his works in what has become subsequently known as auld scots, a dialect that has much in common with some of the early sketches and stand-up routine of billy connolly. or at least, that's the way it seems. to quote from one of the bard's best known works, tam o' shanter, referring to tam's wife 'she tauld thee weel thou was a skellum, a blethering, blustering, drunken blellum.. while the exact definition of one or two of the forgoing words may escape you, i think it possible that most will gain a rough idea of the direction in which burns was heading with this.

1957 flying scot

sadly, auld scots is seen (perhaps correctly) as simply a local distortion of the queen's english and thus unworthy of any investment, either by way of time or money. but as a major part of scottish history, if principally through association with robert burns, many see it as a travesty that it is often consigned to the extremities of eccentric society.

if i may return to the realm of the bicycle yet again, held in high esteem in almost comparable fashion to that of auld scots is the legendary flying scot bicycle. in 1928 a man by the name of david rattray along with his then business partner, jack smith became aware that there were few british frame builders producing frames with any appreciable input from scottish riders. rattray and smith began to manufacture their own lightwieght frames, principally only available to order for members of the local cycling clubs, and in 1935, they began in earnest producing bicycle frames, marketing them as 'the scot'. between 1935 and 1983, approximately 15,000 handbuilt frames were built and marketed to scottish cyclists. the war years restricted their output, as indeed was the case for the majority of other builders throughout great britain. though these material restrictions eased after the war finished in 1945, even by 1947, the delivery time for a 'scot' bicycle could be anything up to twelve weeks.

1957 flying scot

in the early 1950s, world professional sprint champion, reg harris, had a scot made for his wife, a fact that could have been something of a marketing coup for rattrays, were it not for the fact that harris was contracted to raleigh. such was the popularity of the marque, that rattrays saw little need to advertise their products outside scotland, nor did they attend the national cycle shows held south of the border.

rattray died in 1950 at the age of 72, leaving the company to be run by smith. rattrays had been ensconced in murray street, glasgow since 1913, but in the early 1950s, glasgow experienced a substantial amount of what was notionally referred to as redevelopment. one of the last areas to be redeveloped was that of townhead with murray street sited right slap, bang in the middle. a compulsory purchase order made a move unavoidable, a move that rather unfortunately coincided with the rise and rise of the motor car as a personal form of transport. the flying scot bicycle never really recovered from both sets of circumstances. jack smith died in 1973, and though the bicycles continued to be made and retain a special place in the hearts and minds of scotland's cyclists, rattrays eventually capitulated in 1983, with the names scot and flying scot being purchased by jim houston of dales cycles in glasgow.

1957 flying scot

i did, at one time, see a modern flying scot just inside the entry door of dales cycles, but so far as i know, little more has been done to revive the scot's fame and fortune; a strange situation given the current resurgence in handbuilt steel frames.

i never had any time for poetry at school and to this day would rather put newspapers in the recycle bin than sit down to read any. this is mostly, i believe, due to my primary and secondary years in the education system insisting on meticulous examination of every word, every line and every rhyme in those poems designated for educational purposes. as a result, the legacy of this has me spurn any immediate interest in this literary genre. rather embarrassingly, i have even little affection for the works of the scottish bard. however, i recently became aware, through a mutual friend, of the works of rab wilson, described as 'one of the best poest currently working in scotland. the writer of poetry to rival the best publshed in scotland, or written by a scot on the past thirty years.'

rab wilson has, along with saxophonist, ben bryden written performed and produced a sonnet redouble dedicated to a 1957 flying scot, though in this case, not written in auld scots. the sonnet redouble is not only a stunningly clever style in which to work, it is of very rare existence in the world of poetry. its modus operandi rests upon the final line of each verse providing the first line of the subsequent verse. in wilson's 1957 flying scot, the first fourteen verses follow this pattern with commendable ease and skill, but the coup de grace arrives in verse fifteen when each of those last/first lines of poetry are combined to constitute the final epithet.

1957 flying scot

the poem itself forms a part of wilson's latest published works 'a map for the blind' published by luath press consisting principally of verse written in auld scots of which i print a brief example below.

Frae the Zen o Mut Li
'Ae solitary snawflake
Oan the ruif o the Met Oaffice -
Nae schuil the day!

however, to gain the full experience of the flying scot poem's quality and true essence, it is necessary to acquire the two cd set, consisting of rab reading 1957 flying scot while the other disc consists ben bryden's fifteen matching jazz compositions. the booklet in which they are encased, printed in a limited edition, is illustrated by a series of related linocuts by hugh bryden. as a desirable collection, it is close to unsurpassed.

garageband is a piece of music editing software that arrives on every applemac computer whether you actually have a use for it or not. it allows the placing of audio or music tracks in non-linear fashion to provide the basically adept with the wherewithal to compose or mix sounds to their hearts content within the digital realm. the two cd set described above keeps poem and jazz as two distinct entities; though they have been composed to accompany each other on the live stage, unless ben and rab happen to be in your neighbourhood coincidentally, it is not an experience available to the majority. to circumvent this difficulty, i placed the music on one track and the poems on another before mixing down into apple's itunes. it was then a simple case of playback and the appreciation of a truly masterful work.

if you happen to be in the vicinity of red lantern bicycles, brooklyn, new york next sunday evening, you can dispense with garageband entirely, for rab wilson, ben bryden and accompanying musicians will be performing 1957 flying scot, live and in its entirety. for those miles away from brooklyn, copies of the work can be acquired from

rab wilson's a map for the blind can be purchased via luath press

(the brief history of rattray's and the flying scot bicycle owe everything to bob reid's website at if you need to know more (and you do), a visit is well worth the clickthrough.

posted sunday 25 march 2012.


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keeping tabs on the changes

colnago dropout

i know not whether the following story is apocryphal or otherwise, but given the supporting evidence on most of our bicycles, there has to be more than just a grain of truth attached. it seems that, many, many years ago, in a country far, far away (ok, it was america in the early nineties), a teenager of indeterminate age attempted to bunny hop his bicycle over a kerb; it's the sort of thing that teenagers do. unfortunately, either remissively (is that a word?) or carelessly, he had neglected to properly tighten the quick release lever on the front wheel and in the process of lifting the bars, the bicycle moved upwards, while gravity kept the wheel on the ground.

the resulting circumstances cause wincing even when disconnected by so many years, but that, as they say, was only the beginning. considering the litigious state that america finds itself in, it was but a short step to engage legal counsel to sue the bicycle manufacturer for failing to point out that, if the quick release lever were not correctly closed, the wheel may fall from the dropouts. for most of us, this is common sense, though i do still come across folks who close them incorrectly, but the legal challenge was not only successful to the tune of thousands of american dollars, but led to decals under the clearcoat on the top tube exhorting new owners to consult the manual prior to riding.

it has also caused the affixation of removable labels to the q/r lever explaining how the lever is to be correctly used and also the addition of lawyer's tabs to the fork dropouts that will retain the front wheel even in the face of incompetence. this latter affectation has been one to cause untold faff; it has converted a device invented as long ago colnago fork as 1927 by tullio campagnolo into one that now struggles to live up to its name. yet, try as i might, and enquire as i have, i can find no legislation either in europe or america that legally compels bicycle manufacturers to add these tabs to their front fork dropouts. it seems that these can be included or avoided according to each firm's legal department recommendation (i'd be happy to be proved wrong on this latter point).

my ibis hakkalugi has these tabs in position; my colnago precisa steel fork does not. nor, indeed, do the dropouts on the cielo's fork. since both the latter cycles are contemporary to within a couple of years, that would rather indict the notion that the tabs are compulsory. however, virtually every review model that has passed this way in recent years has been tabbed.

i had always thought that the bicycles supplied to professional teams would be equipped with un-tabbed forks, for how else would their mechanics effect appropriately speedy wheel changes during the season's races?. it turns out, however, that the teams receive the same stuff that you and i can purchase from our friendly local bike store, and in the name of efficiency, the mechanics file the tabs off. though this voids the warranty (i checked), i should imagine there are hundreds of other professional infractions that would cause the same. it's unlikely any pro team mechanic is concerned about warranty problems.

why am i telling you all this? well, the ever vigilant unione cycliste international, always with our best interests at heart, have a happy list of details that they'd just love to enforce during the current racing season, one of which (i kid you not) concerns the length of socks. however, more pressingly, the 61 page document states that a slap on the wrist will be handed out to those who modify any component utilised in competition. filing those lawyer tabs is considered just such a misdemeanour.

wheel change

i am not one who cannot see the perceived need for those tabs on bikes offered for commercial sale, though i do draw the line at unfeasibly expensive slivers of high modulus carbon fibre. surely if you have the gumption to consider yourself suitably qualified to ride just such a vehicle, you're also possessed of enough grey matter to know how a quick-release works? however, professional mechanics, and particularly those employed by professional race teams are well aware of the implications of their mechanical actions. there is surely no situation where a lack of those tabs is ever likely to endanger the wellbeing of a racing cyclist. i am currently unaware of any racing accident caused in this fashion.

so why don't the uci take a huge bite of reality and spend a few more swiss francs on the drugs problem that, though diminished of late, seems still to exist within the professional peloton? i realise that i may be judging unfairly, for though the rule exists for the current season, at present, this particular paragraph seems not to have been enforced, and perhaps sense will prevail and it will remain undisturbed. for the consequences that may conceivably affect the speed of wheel changes during a race seem destined to upset an apple cart that has chuntered along quite happily since the early nineteen thirties.

enforcement means we may just need another tullio campagnolo to happen along, bringing a suitably lateral form of thinking to get round this one. next thing you know, the uci will want teams to go race in china.

posted saturday 24 march 2012.


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rohan cycle clothing

rohan rider clothing

cycling past kilchoman distillery this afternoon i was enveloped in the distinct aroma of scotch single malt being produced, and though the distillery is a fair distance off the loch gorm road, the prevailing wind had that unmistakeable bouquet follow me for at least a kilometre past the access road towards machir bay. kilchoman is unique on three notional counts: it's the most westerly of islay's eight (possibly the most westerly in scotland), it's the smallest of them all - humorous asides woulld describe a tour as standing in one place and simply turning through 360 degrees - and it is the most recently opened, having a few years to go yet before the almost magical ten are reached.

one of the biggest differences between my home and the big cities is the manifest existence of acres and acres of sky. riding past kilchoman and turning head and eyes upward is to view more sky than anyone in glasgow, edinburgh or london will ever see. the horizon is untroubled by buildings that might interrupt all the clouds and blue sky (a little scottish humour there). it is, as described, the great outdoors.

rohan rider clothing

in contemporary times of urban sprawl, wide open spaces gain premium exposure in both senses of the word, and should you decide to explore the great outdoors, there is a clothing industry ready and waiting to ensure that you do so in comfort, style and appropriately chosen colour schemes. there is little point in quietly making your way through the undergrowth in the hope of espying indigenous deer, all the while looking like a paramedic on weekend leave. there is little by way of shelter too in the great outdoors, as you traverse the open spaces above sea cliffs and between farmland scrub. my perspective is coloured by a plethora of horizontal rain filling our reservoirs sufficiently to avoid any hosepipe bans this far west.

therefore, to ameliorate any discomfort in the process of losing that townie mantle, many of the garments on offer are not only waterproof to several fathoms, but as breathable as a string vest. allegedly. one of the premier providers of a wide range of such clothing, not only for the great outdoors but for comfortable travel is rohan.

rohan rider clothing

levis 501s are not the most forgiving of legwear for scrabbling about on cliffs, hillsides and fields. the natural cotton coloured (white) even less so. on moving here many years ago, to facilitate my roaming tendencies in the pursuit of artistic excellence in the landscape, i purchased a pair of rohan bags, the original rohan garment for which they are still rightly famous. this was augmented by one or two other items from the range of the day, including a very practical item known as an olfio, an airlite fabric with fleece type lining and a large zipped pocket across the front which i wore until it wore out. sadly, rohan dropped the olfio from the catalogue and it has not been seen since.

with mountain biking in its ascendancy in the late eighties and early nineties, rohan produced a bijou range of clothing that could be worn while shredding some trails. sadly, it never really caught on and, if memory serves, only lasted a couple of seasons. however, many a commuting and leisure cyclist has continued to purchase from rohan due to the propensity for many items to be remarkably quick drying and eminently packable. perhaps sensing that cycling is yet again on the rise, particularly those with a need to look normal at point of arrival, rohan have once again popped a toe in the cycling water with a modest range of cycle-specific clothing for 2012 referred to as the rider range.

rohan rider clothing

initially, there are five items that comprise this series: the elite stormer waterproof jacket, a windrider jacket, a cadence short sleeve polo shirt, a pair of threequarter outrider shorts and a very practical shorts liner to save the nether regions from saddle chafing. there's nothing worse than spending several hours in the boardroom with undercarriage discomfort (so i'm told). for the purposes of checking how the cycle enthusiasts in milton keynes see their future on two wheels, rohan sent a windrider jacket and a cadence polo that i might disperse my more usual designer scruff and appear like a human being while inhabiting my secret identity.

i should probably have checked rohan's sizing chart before the samples were sent, as i fear i may have erred on the large side somewhat. pretty much every upper body cycle garment i own has a medium tag affixed inside the collar, and there seemed little need to alter this trend with rohan. i can't help feeling that small may have fitted me just a tad better. however, as far as wearing and reviewing both items is/was concerned, i can't honestly say this proved prejudicial one way or the other.

rohan rider clothing

islay is the wind capital of the western world; i will accept no substitutes. therefore a rather aptly named windrider jacket seems the very item to shoehorn into cycling on the outer edge. and shoehorn in it certainly did. though the weather varies widely from one day to the next around these here parts, the one feature that is more or less guaranteed is the existence of wind in at least one direction and quite possibly in a few others as well. in fending off the perennial zephyr, rohan's windrider jacket was utterly brilliant. i have, in my years, come across clothing that professes quality windproofing but fails to tick the appropriate boxes, but the windrider is not amongst them.

the jacket has two enormous zipped front pockets, along with another cavernous example at the rear. this latter item is referred to by rohan as a packpocket containing a logo'd velcro strap that allows the jacket to be eaten by its own pocket for stuffing in a cycle jersey pocket when the sun comes out and the rain goes off. according to rohan, the windrider features durable water repellency; without any taped seams it cannot be described as waterproof, but in the short sharp showers i experienced, none of the formidable precipitation made it rhough the fabric. the high collar is adjustable to keep draughts at bay, as is the hem, allowing wearing as desired.

rohan rider clothing

worn under the windrider, and over a long-sleeve baselayer due to a distinct lack of warm air in proximity to either kilchoman distillery or machir bay, the cadence polo is sheer, unadorned luxury. from the fleece lined collar, to the front quarter length zip to the dropped tail, the fabric employed allows it to be both formal and relaxed at the same time. rohan describe this as a technical bike jersey disguised as an everyday polo. and i'd be inclined to agree. there's a zipped rear pocket to put stuff in; i actually managed to get the windrider jacket stowed in this pocket, though i'd be the first to agree that it's not the most stylish of looks, engendering one or two "does my bum look big in this" questions. however, as far as i'm concerned, pragmatism outweighs style when miles from home.

the practicality of the garment has a few surprises, particularly embodied by a small button allowing the collar to be turned up and fastened to further squeeze out unwanted draughts. as a garment likely to be worn to the office, coffee shop or conceivably an emporium of entertainment, remaining niff free is not of insignificant consideration. to effect this in such an unassuming garment, rohan have blended silver into the fabric to keep odour and bacteria at bay. we need this sort of forethought, believe me.

rohan rider clothing

rohan are to be welcomed in their return to the cycle market. little of what is on offer will likely attract the speeding pelotonese, but that's hardly the point. more and more folks who take to cycling these days desire it for little more than transportational needs. as such, it's a boon to purchase purpose-built clothing from a respected high street retailer that may join more from the same hanging in the wardrobe. either way, dressed in the windrider jacket, polo shirt and those threequarter shorts would make for stylish and comfortable riding kit. taking into account rohan's well-respected attire for the inveterate continental traveller, their cycling range has adopted everything learned over the years. highly packable, it would be of little hardship to stow these items in a travel bag in case cycling is a part of the joy at the other end of the trip.

the rohan windrider jacket is available in titanium or blaze (as reviewed) in sizes small to extra large at a retail cost of a reasonable £115. the cadence polo can be had in rapid red or highway grey in the same range of sizes, costing £55. more details at

posted friday 23 march 2012.


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how stoepid can you get?

stoepid week

milan san remo heralded the start of the spring classics, even though the official first day of spring did not transpire until tuesday of this past week. technically, therefore, the e3 scheldeprijs was truly the first of the genre. but there again, sanremo is unavoidably in italy, and i think we more readily ally the springtime races with the more northern climes of belgium and the top end of france. hands up all those who eagerly await the arrival of gent wevelgem this coming weekend, followed by flanders on april fools day and the crowning monument that is paris-roubaix at easter weekend.

these are races that surely fill the gap left by the fall of the roman empire and thus the gladiatorial spectacles that amused the masses congregating in the coliseum. disagree all you wish, but it is hard to reconcile the act of slouching on the sofa, watching grown men do battle with some less that forgiving road surfaces, either disguised by a thick coating of mud, or caked in dust and sweat. 'tis the stuff of which legends are made, and that which has been oft castigated by the gladiators we would wish to have seen involved in the battle.

eddy merckx was fearless in his attack on virtually all the classics, but then, as descrivbed in will fotheringham's half man, half bike eddy took personal interest in pretty much everything that involved racing a bicycle. i do not, however, recall that greg, miguel or lance thought paris-roubiax to be the pinnacle of their season, and bernard hinault was hardly the race's finest evangelist. though we may take exception that certain heroes of each stoepid week generation saw fit to watch from afar, we are surely hypocritical in our admiration. i can recall watching one of these fine events several years ago and bemoaning the fact that, in pouring rain and freezing temperatures, several of the leading lights were wont to ride in the smoother gutters rather than across the less than billiard table-like cobbles that constituted the bulk of the roadway. how dare they prove less than stalwart in the face of adversity.

the hypocrisy was realised when i spent the remaining days of the week not only complaining about the weather, but about the decrepit nature of the roads traversed in the course of a leisurely bike ride. it is the armchair critic's way, practised by better men than i.

at least a part of the attraction is the extreme unlikelihood of most of us ever setting clipless pedal and pave rubber over the very same roads and cobbles we delight in watching. yes, there are the annual or bi-annual sportives that encourage more than the population of islay to line up on an imagined startline and take twice as long as the pros do to reach their stoepid week hotel, but aside from the early onset of exhaustion before the second feed stop and the notion that the integrated headset has devoured itself, the experience doesn't quite compare with the real thing. not to decry those who participate in such ventures, for all are likely hardier individuals than my west of scotland hard man stance professes.

there are, as exists in many a sporting realm, some who are well past saving. bike riders who have plainly eaten one too many haribo sweets and may have been dropped on their heads at birth. six of the aforementioned rose from the peloton this past week to demonstrate that they but laugh in the face of demonstrable folly, intent on proving that grey matter is not all it's craked up to be by participating in what was rather appropriately named stoepidest week, not a little of which has to do with stoemper bicycles. while i can easily become breathless on a fast run to deb's for a coffee, the insane who will remain nameless until the next paragraph undertook the following in five days

gent-wevelgem (235km), tour of flanders (254.4km) paris-roubaix (258km), amstel gold (260.4km) and finally liege-bastogne-liege (255.5km) tell me that's sane?

stoepid week

those having their dental feelings shaken loose, their breakfast severely disrupted and legs pummeled to porage included two guys i had thought were old enough to know better: bicycling magazine's bill strickland, and photographer par excellence, chris milliman, though admittedly the latter may have been more concerned with bearing witness to gathered stoepidity. composing the rest of this mad peloton were david alvarez, ben berden, jeff lockwood and mark taylor.

it would be pointless my narrating every one of those cobble-filled kilometres; if they're stoepid enough to do it, they can darned well speak for themselves. any more from me would be tantamount to encouragement, and i'm not sure i wish to be responsible for that. the videos by chris milliman appended below might give some indication of their undoubted insanity, but just in case you need more evidence, have a look at the website.

ruddy stoepid if you ask me.

stoepid week

posted thursday 22 march 2012.


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pedal on (scottish) parliament

pedal on parliament

a friend of mine recently mailed a link to a video of a lunchtime talk given by brian eno at the independent architectural association school of architecture, one which, as talks tend to do, went on just a tad longer than had been originally intended and yet missed out what may have been a substantial part of the written edifice. while most of us would have speeches written on several sheets of paper, brian eno displayed, at one point, a single sheet of paper covered with graphical reminders of the links between topics resembling something akin to a family tree on steroids.

for those who are rubbing furrowed brow, wondering who the heck brian eno is, i may either confuse or enlighten the issue by informing that he was a founding member of roxy music the members of whom, including brian ferry, had evidently artistic backgrounds. eno, though likely the only member of the band who could not actually play an instrument (he spent most of his on-stage moments tweaking knobs and dials on a vcs3 synthesiser, a box of electronics bereft of a keyboard) is the only member to have achieved a high profile in the area of intellectualism. in the years since roxy music, he has produced and recorded some landmark albums, including being the progenitor of so-called ambient music.

though his architectural association lunchtime talk covered many arguably underthought aspects of contemporary art, one of his contentions regarding the way in which government funds aspects of society, including the arts, struck me as not only pertinent but remarkably astute. this assertion theorised that so many of the things that we all find important in life, are left untouched by government because we take up the slack on their behalf. the example used by brian eno was that school teachers were now almost obligated to spend extra hours marking and preparing because they care about what it is they are doing. thus if this work is being completed, albeit perhaps grudgingly, without government intervention by way of remuneration, they are then given free reign to spend that money on areas where nobody will ever take up the slack. like defence spending, for example.

it cannot have escaped your attention, by daily perusing of the media or watching the news on television, that almost anything that is perceived as unfair by members of the general public, is laid squarely at the doorstep of government. do not misunderstand my conjecture, for the obligation of any government is, ideally, to take care of the public that voted it into power, and all complaining aside, it would be a grizzly misanthrope who argued that the current and recent governments were entirely derelict in that duty. i'd prefer not to delve too deeply into the realm of party politics, for it is a subject on which i am grossly underinformed, and i'd really rather it stayed that way.

however it cannot be denied that, if something substantial requires to be accomplished on a national scale, the most direct way to do so would be to approach government with a plan of action symbolised by a petition of many signatures, or on one or two occasions, by more direct and higher profile action. the latter is the mode preferred by next month's pedal on parliament taking place in edinburgh on 28th april. in one fell swoop i cannot disagree that i have perhaps alienated a substantial portion of readers, because the parliament of which i speak is that ensconced in holyrood, edinburgh and likely only concerns cycling residents of scotland. however, as the principles of the protest cannot be said to concern purely the scottish pedallist, there may be nuggets of their wisdom that could be transplanted elsewhere.

in a continuation of the political theme, pedal on parliament has itself a manifesto, laying bare the claims and proposals it intends to impress upon mr salmond and his political peers. these include: proper funding for cycling; design cycling into scotland's roads; safer speeds where people live, work and play; integrate cycling into local transport strategies; sensible road traffic law and enforcement; reduce the risk of heavy goods vehicles to cyclists and pedestrians; a strategic and joined-up programme of road user training; solid research on cycling to support policy-making

it would be hard to argue that any of the above are new and innovative. they may not have been previously presented in such a coherent fashion, but i have come across at least a few of these before, more often levelled at local government than that of national level. that, however, is no good reason to leave them sitting rusting on a bike shop shelf somewhere. on reading through the eight points constituted above, i don't believe that much has been done with respect to any, though i'm willing to be proved wrong.

coinciding with a follow-up ride in london, the organisers of pedal on parliament are thus inviting everyone who cycles in scotland, or even those who would like to do so but have safety concerns, to join them at the meadows in edinburgh at 1pm on saturday 28th april to cycle in as large a peloton as possible to holyrood. if this is a concern with which you have sympathies but are unable to join in the event, the least you can achieve is to e-mail your msp. should you need mountains more information than i have provided here, click the link below to encounter information overload from which you can excerpt that which you feel pertinent to your missive in your msp's direction.

pedal on parliament | brian eno lecture

posted wednesday 21 march 2012.


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pictures at an exhibition

brooks saddle

if you had attended the north american handmade bicycle show as did i, you would perhaps have experienced the same rabbit in the headlights reaction that befell me. unfortunately i have misplaced the list of exhibitors that would have me able to recount the precise numbers, but believe me, there were lots. and being a particular niche within a larger niche, those exhibitors err slightly towards the eccentric end of the spectrum, meaning an interesting degree of creativity with regard to more than just a few of the exhibitors' booths.

attend any of the more trade oriented cycle shows that inhabit the autumnal months in europe and north america and the emphasis is more on the corporate side of the fence. yes, there will be stands that slap you in the face as you attempt to pass by, but rarely are there any resembling someone's kitchen or a decorative beer tent. neither are there likely to be any featuring a delorean motor car in the centre of a range of handmade bicycles. in fact, there's every possibility you won't come across a handmade bicycle in the first place.


however, midst all the hustle and bustle, in the bottom right hand corner, positioned on a simple booth close to the pretzel stand was a selection of pen drawings by illustrator jon grant. resident in austin, texas, jon plies his daily trade as a strikingly versatile illustrator and graphic artist, a skill that may well be in demand somewhere like nahbs, but in this instance, he was there with his bicycle hat on.

as jon told the many visitors to his booth "these are just some of the many bicycle components that have helped carry me over the years. they represent some of the best from england, italy, france, spain and japan." there is, in the execution of his artworks, no sense of artifice; these are not committed to paper with a symbolic flourish, with pretence or indeed with any trace of ego. if you spend long enough talking to jon, aside from a wickedly droll sense of humour, the fact that he rarely brings up the subject of his pen and ink gives a clue to a total lack of pretentiousness, an area often frequented by others.

the subjects of his observations are not searched out from obscure locations in order to ally himself to the oft mentioned daniel rebour, but componentry that has indeed zeus brake caliper formed a part of bicycles jon has ridden. though the comparison with rebour was mentioned more than once over the course of the two days i spent in the sacramento convention center, even a quick comparison will realise that the only thing the two have in common is their subject matter; rebour's style was far more calculating and technically precise in its execution. jon grant's is, if i may be so bold, more artistic.

however, something that jon is currently accomplishing by means of his bicycle illustrations, and one that he was at pains to protest was not ever in his mind, is a recording and cataloguing of the bicycle's past. i have no doubt that jon could set his skill to the depiction of a campagnolo eps carbon rear derailleur, but his cycling metier does not incorporate such stuff of modernity, so in his words, "why would i?" but it cannot be ignore that most, if not all jon's drawings have preserved small pieces of our heritage, whether he meant to or not. and in the context of a handmade bicycle show, this is something that may have occurred to more souls than just mine, judging by the queues all but obliterating the booth on saturday morning.

sugino crank

whatever reasons may bring you to appreciate the skill of a man who not only has the ability to capture images of the stuff that dreams are often made of, whether artistic, nostalgic or a sense of heritage, they are of a quality that will enhance any sitting room wall within shouting distance of a cyclist. while we're all looking to the latest and greatest technology that we can ill-afford, let alone do justice too, it's nice to know that a guy with a small booth in the corner of sacramento has our cultural past under control.

even if that's not quite what he intended to do.

i enjoyed a mexican meal at an unpronouncable restaurant in sacramento with jon and synaptic cycles' joe bartoe on the show's friday evening. the two gentlemen are long time friends (the repartee was comical to say the least), and joe has placed a selection of jon's drawings and t-shirts bearing same on his cycle hire website. if you'd care to acquire any of his works, take a look at synaptic cycles. if you'd like to view the breadth of his versatility, take a peek at papagrant.

posted tuesday 20 march 2012.


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bike tribes: a field guide to north american cyclists by mike magnuson. rodale books hardcover. 224pp illus. $18.99 (£12.13).

bike tribes

it's hard to know whether modern society lives in praise of the individual or would, more conveniently, wish them part of the crowd. it is surely a truism that a crowd is simply a large collection of individuals, but having banded together under that banner, the collective mind invariably takes over and the crowd behaves as one. we've all seen it happen with the borg in star trek: the new generation.

that makes it all undoubtedly true.

i have little recollection as a child, both before and during my school years, of feeling any overwhelming need to do as others did. i'm none too sure that my peers felt any differently. yet i can't help but observe that the current crop of young people (oh how i hate that phrase) seem intent on following whatever is the order of the day; haircuts, mode of dress, trainers, computer games and an inability to spell correctly when sending text messages. this is of course, to return to my diatribe of yesterday, a subjective perception, one that i would likely be loathe to apply to myself and immediate peer group.

thankfully, life is healthy enough that i have communicants who have no earthly idea what it is i see in riding a bicycle, particularly given the weather and distances this often encapsulates. these civilians, as it seems only fair to refer, are ameliorated by my extended cycling family (this is beginning to come across as an episode of the waltons) with whom i can relax and feel not out of sorts should i wish to discuss the merits and demerits of hydraulic disc brakes on your above average road bike. as such, this family inhabits the world of bendy bars, skinny wheels and a latent attraction to the spring classics.

if i was domiciled in a country other than great britain, this would surely be classified as tribal behaviour, evidenced by a plethora of similar yet different individuals agglomorated together as a crowd. or tribe.

the dawning realisation that, swimming against the tide of personal opinon, as a confirmed cyclist of whichever hue, i and my cohorts could conceivably be seen to exhibit such behaviour is not a new one, but under examination, does come as a bit of a surprise. it would paste me safely into the category of acute observants had i come to this notion all on my own, but i must devolve this intelligence in the direction of bicycling magazine columnist, mike magnuson. in the manner of the very best description of the blatantly obvious, such a situation is only seen as such after it has been pointed out.

think in terms of the purple harry pipecleaners; stunningly obvious, but it took the two harrys to forcibly bring it to our attention.

mike magnuson, however, has gone at least one stage further, by very cleverly pointing out the direct association between each of these cycling tribes who, left to their own devices, would likely be oblivious of the thread running through their adopted activity/mode of transport. i can perhaps explain myself (and mr magnuson) a tad more explicitly if i described the genres incoprporated in the book's narrative. however, in the cause of retaining a sense of obscurity that may entice you to enquire further on the book's eventual publication (22 may), i provide for your delectation, one or two of the chapter titles...

the wrench who keeps us rolling; the occasionally dirty; the legend of rando; what vintage do you prefer. you either catch my drift or you don't.

it perhaps goes without saying that a list of cryptic titles do not necessarily make for a satisfactory reading experience, and had mr magnuson simply related his observations in this manner, my enthusiasm and yours would likely remain dormant. however, there are two strategies at play in the book's 224 pages (appropriately illustrated by danica novgorodoff) adding up to a whole that is possibly greater than the sum of its parts. magnuson has subtly, but cleverly, used at least one character in each chapter to all but seamlessly segue into the subsequent tribe. the clever bit sprang to life when i was comfortably half way through the book before i realised.

each tribe is concluded by a concise precis of the bicycle affiliation to which the preceding characters belong, lest the story has left you floundering in the bike shed. as such, bike tribes is a satisfying experience for any level of cyclist or non-cyclist to read. there are conceivably some tribes previously un-met, but i defy anyone to reach the last page without having found much to agree with, or left blushing at the accuracy of mike magnuson's perceptions.

though all is portrayed without any discernible prejudice towards one or other tribal affiliation, magnuson cannot restrain from getting a smidgeon over-excited at his own cycling predilection. and i quote "in this sense, you must take it with a proverbial swig of belgian chimay when i say that cyclocross is the most totally awesome, most totally inclusive, most fun, most kick-ass, most a-1 wonderful form of bike racing on the face of god's green earth. for real! this is my considered opinion, and how the heck could i disagree with myself?" i can think of a few who would concur.

as stated above, pretty much all this is glaringly obvious, but it takes a writer and observer of magnuson's calibre to not only discern the differences and relate the commonalities, but to characterise each in such an acute and entertaining manner. the subtitle a field guide to north american cyclists has obvious leanings toward americana than this side of the pond, but that is surely merely an accident of geography, one that i feel transcends the inevitable translation when reading. tribal we may be, but international differences are considerably less pronounced than you may think.

the $64,000 dollar question, however, is: how long will it take before you recognise yourself?

bike tribes by mike magnuson is published by rodale books on may 22 2012.

posted monday 19 march 2012.


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a matter of opinion

times literary supplement

though it sounds less than credible, i did honestly find myself as lead snare drummer in islay pipe band completley unaware that it was happening. and for the subsequent thirteen years, i fulfilled the role to the best of my ability which, in the terms of pipe band drumming, was never going to set the world on fire or, as david duffield would say, likely to trouble the judges. in the early years, mostly through lack of ability coupled with a similar lack of financial wherewithal, the band made only one annual trip to scotland, participating in the pipe band competition at cowal in dunoon.

i will resist the temptation to describe the convoluted competitive setup that is the royal scottish pipe band association, but basically there are four grades (four up to one, in order of ascending ability). on arrival in the coach park, most of the band would make its way through the tuning park to the competition field, intent on listening to those being judged ahead of our own designated slot. this would almost always result in hearing one or more bands that we were confident had reached a standard of playing even lower than our own.

yet come the end of the day, after the march past and standing en masse in the centre of the stadium, it would be discovered that at least one of those bands had won a trophy of one sort of another, while we languished amongst the also rans. i cannot truly relate that modern painters circumstances such as these were entirely unexpected, for i have steadfastly and resolutely stated my belief that neither music or visual art should be subjected to the strictures of competition. i am no longer a member of islay pipe band, and have not been for some years now, as the current regime are all about competing at an increasingly higher level year on year and i cannot reconcile this with my previously stated belief.

i can, of course, accept that there are bands in all walks of musical life who are technically and musically better than their peers, but that, i fear, should not be something that detracts from their popularity or singular existence. in point of fact, it rarely does. there are forms of music that i infinitely prefer to others, and there will always be those who express opposite or differing views to my own. unlike yesterday's milan sanremo, who is the best musically does not equate with the situation where the first man across the line (simon gerrans) is quite obviously the winner. placing the same onus on a work of music , art or literature is based entirely on subjective reaction and not, as is the case in cycle racing and other more manifest forms of competition, objective observation.

london review of books

however, it would be unfortunate if we were required to enjoy or participate in the world of cycling, whether in its competitive forms or otherwise, based entirely on objectivity. i'm not sure that cycling equates with the blind support offered by the masses towards specific soccer teams. i can enjoy the racing standards and objectives of europcar for the sake of example, without my world falling apart should they fail to win or place in a race i chose to observe. in fact, it is quite possible that cycling fans show more allegiance to specific events such as flanders, roubaix or the giro than to individual riders or teams. we are therefore guilty, if it is appropriate to think in such terms, of ignoring the objective in favour of the subjective, though the order will undoubtedly be reversed when past the finish line.

but it is not entirely thus in the world's cycling press. reviews of individual products, books and bicycles, though often professing to be entirely objective, are rarely so; in fact they'd likely be less enjoyable to read were that the case. however, much of the content provided by the world's cycling press (and i am specifically excluding much of the blogging environment) is objectively analytical, either looking forward to races that have yet to feature, or dissection of those recently past. perhaps we are simply being provided with that which we have demanded or, as the result of some mysterious quirk of karma, receiving that which the publisher feels we deserve.


this is a state of play that exists in many realms of existence, certainly within the sporting sphere, but one not altogether paralleled in those of art, music and literature. in the latter, much informed opinion foments and enables opinion and discussion leading, hopefully, to a better understanding of a wide variety of thematic subject matter. unless i am experiencing a (hopefully) temporary bout of myopia, such does not constitute the contents of the cycling press; there seems to be either very little or none at all, by way of informed opinion being given breathing room within those monthly columns.

much of the content appears to be of historical or biographical interest (with suprisingly little technical writing given that we've almost acceded that it is indeed often all about the bike), all of which i devour as avidly as the next man. but why is it not possible to access the opinions of many currently engaged in cycle sport, or those now retired but with much left to give. a critical stance or attitude would be most welcome, even if only to vehemently disagree with. there is many an author, former rider or pundit who could provide an insight to the machinations on current display, insights that may help join the dots in one or two of the less comprehensible aspects of cycle sport.

of course, such opinions need not solely relate to competitive cycling. for those of us who are happy to consider the bicycle as a form of transport with the means to save the world from itself, discussion as to how that may be brought to the attention of those with the capability to enact any form of dialectic change is surely to be applauded? there are as many opinions expounded on the world's cycling blogs as there are blogs in the first place. it seems a pity that those who set themselves up as our elders and betters seem reluctant to join the conversation.

posted sunday 18 march 2012.


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