proficiency? really?

cycle training

it had long been an annual convention for our local newspaper to offer one week work experience' placements to third and fourth year pupils at the high school, in common with many other employers on the island. this was a supposedly attractive proposition to any kids who had leanings towards writing, journalism or media studies. however, the last time such a request for placements was made by the school, it was accompanied by the necessity of the premises being checked by a health and safety officer to ensure that the offices were suitable for kids who rode bmx bikes, skateboards and jumped off swings in the park in their spare time.

it was deemed that the office lighting was not of the required quality, the windows did not allow suitable ventilation when required and the computer chairs were outmoded and could conceivably contribute to back problems in later life. on the basis that these kids were only due to occupy space in the office for four mornings in one week and the cost of remedying the identified problems would be a tad on the exorbitant side, it was decided that the paper would no longer offer such placements.

however, the enlightenment brought on by this health and safety survey goaded the company's directors into having a more susbtantial check made of the premises, resulting in a great deal of expense and one or two seemingly unnecessary changes. after the work had been completed, the local health and safety officer was invited to check that all upgrades had been done within the letter of the law. it was this check that led to a collective sharp intake of breath and not just a little humour mixed with consternation.

according to his entry in the final report, he had been pleased to see that the step ladders were in good working condition, but found no sign of any appropriate training having been provided. on the basis that one or two of us employed in the office, even if intermittently, were operating state-of-the-art software with a concomitant learning curve that scarcely strayed from the near vertical, it seems very likely that we were eminently capable of using a set of step ladders correctly. and at this point it may be worth my while pointing out one or two iniquities apparent in our increasingly health and safety conscious society.

cycle training

the road between bridgend and debbie's cafe in bruichladdich is open grazing land, frequented by itinerant sheep and cattle. these animals are left to their own devices to wander hither and thither across that main road at all times of the day and night. around four christmases ago, this situation led to three fatalities in a single incident, and has caused several other associated accidents. yet there is more concern shown over training for use of stepladders than to fencing in herds of cow and flocks of sheep. no-one to my knowledge has ever died using the stepladders in the newspaper office.

on reaching the age of seventeen (at least in the uk) anyone can apply for a provisional driver's licence and commence driving lessons, at least a portion of which need be taught by a qualified instructor. signifying that this is the case, learner plates are affixed to both front and rear of the vehicle used for this purpose. legally speaking, no-one yet to pass their driving test can simply jump into the driver's seat and take off into the sunset without a licensed driver in the passenger seat. this could hardly be construed as health and safety gone mad; motor cars often approach one tonne in weight, can travel at well over 100mph and in the wrong hands, are little more than lethal weapons.

however, to return to the inconsistencies of britain's health and safety overkill, it is seemingly not considered entirely iniquitous to allow youngsters barely of school age to ride their little bicycles on the very same roads occupied by those teenagers with a provisional driver's licence and 'l' plates affixed to that lethal vehicle. why is it that there is no compulsion for any individual, adult or child, to undertake what used to be known as the cycling proficency test? and even if that takes place, failing to pass exerts no legal restraint on continuing to ride a bicycle on public roads. nor are any legal checks made that said bicycles are mechanically fit to be ridden in the first place.

cycle training

i'd hesitate to suggest that such may have anything to do with any of the unfortunate and occasionally fatal motorist/cyclist interfaces that occur every now and again, but it surely flies in the face of any health and safety standards applied to less dangerous situations? one of the ten recommendations recently incorporated into british cycling's choose cycling action plan is that cycle training should be made available to every child. this is as a competent reaction to the diminution of such provision that has occurred since the demise of the cycling proficiency test over seven years ago. and it provides an additional means of tackling the much vaunted increase in child obesity over a similar period.

chris boardman's and sir chris hoy's recent support of such compulsory training is well-judged, but somewhere along the line, the training needs to be given more teeth. it needs to find some way of providing each and every cyclist, young or old, with the means of safely sharing the road with rapidly increasing motorised traffic. cycling is one of the finest means of keeping fit and healthy; that needs to be extended to keeping its adherents a bit safer.

as recently evinced by a police chief constable, it's not simply the remit of the cyclist to avoid getting in the way of the motorist, but legally incumbent on the latter to avoid hitting a cyclist. however, aside from the promoted healthy side of cycling, it must surely be of considerable benefit to ensure each and every new cyclist is equipped with the wherewithal to pedal safely in the concrete (and rural) jungle?

tuesday 11 november 2014

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castelli alpha jacket

castelli alpha jacket

the layering principle as applied to winter clothing is one that has curried favour with the outdoor brigade for many a long year. it is based on fairly sound thinking; not only does it allow the modulation of heat by diversting oneself of any items that prove to be surplus to requirements as the journey lengthens, but also from the point of trapping air between each layer. assuming one or more of those layers to be either hydrophilic or breathable, perspiration can be wicked outwards, keeping the torso warm and relatively dry, while evaporating moisture into the elements.

castelli alpha jacket

though it's hardly a precise science, by and large it works pretty well. however, with the majority of outdoor apparel purveyors toeing the party line, it has become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. it wont necessarily work equally as well for everyone or, indeed, every form of activity. stopping to remove a mid or outer layer is a darned sight simpler for the trekker or hiker than it necessarily is for the cyclist. the professionals can avail themselves of its benefits quite simply due to the persistence of a following team car, something that remains true even in training. the individual, however, may find themselves without an appropriate repository along the way.

knowledge of this latter fact might often result in a compromise that exists at point of departure. it was ever thus, though technological advancements in garment manufacture have made this a less onerous initial choice. and at the risk of being a cynic, the latering principle itself lends well to the notion of selling more rather than less.

castelli alpha jacket

however, simply because the idea seems written in stone does not mean it shouldn't be revisited every now and again, particularly if to seek more beneficial alternatives.

though i perhaps attach more circumspection and credit to italy's castelli cycling wear than is ultimately deserved, their latest alpha jacket may just have provided a closely allied yet viable alternative. if i might revisit one of my earlier points above, the ability to shuffle off an outer layer while aboard the bike is not always as practical as it might at first seem. who amongst us has not set off wearing an outer windproof, water-resistant shell and felt the need to remove it after riding several kilometres? at the point at which perspiration makes this demand, removing it may engender somewhat severe cooling, notwithstanding the fact that a suitable sized rear pocket may not be immediately available. or to consider an alternative, unzipping the front relieves said garment of the ability to provide even a portion of its thermal properties.

castelli alpha jacket

castelli's alpha solves this dilemma with a clever piece of lateral thinking. while the outer shell is fabricated from gore's windstopper material, offering a high degree of water resistance and windproofing, the waffle textured thermal layer is stitched into the outer shell to form what can only be described as a zipped waistcoat. thus, when donning the alpha jacket, it is first necessary to zip up the thermal layer before closing the outer zip of the jacket. when or if it becomes necessary to cool down en-route, 'tis a simple matter of unzipping the outer as desired to let in cooling air, while the thermal layer prevents any loss of the cosiness acquired along the way.

castelli alpha jacket

in and of itself, this is a feature that is surely worth the price of admission alone, but it gets even better.

the full-length outer zip, with a castelli toggle to ease zipping up or down, ends not just in the ubiquitous zip garage, but in a commendably high, fleece-lined collar. this zip is asymetrically positioned to avoid the bulk of two zips atop each other. and it's within the collar that things become very clever. on almost each and every jacket i own, when unzipping to cool down, the constant inward influx of air has a distinct tendency to apply an unfortunate and persistent layer of cold air to the back of my neck. to get round this iniquity, castelli have attached a small, fleeced, upward curling flap. in practice, this flap sits close against the back of the neck, holding its position no matter what subsequently transpires. in the process, it completely obviates any cold draughts at the back of the neck however far you open the front zip.

castelli alpha jacket

through several lengthy rides, in climatic conditions that ranged from cold and wet to cold and windy, when i felt that my core temperature was rising just a tad too high, opening the zip on the outer shell provided a cooling breeze that failed miserably to upset the cossetting of the still zipped thermal layer. it is, in short, quite brilliant. however, not content to be obsessed with their cleverness in the realm of central heating, castelli have not forgotten what real cycing is all about. one of the successful points of their revered gabba jacket relates not only to its level of weatherproofing (remember 2013's milan-sanremo?), but also to the fact that the necessary three rear pockets were not conspicuous by their absence.

castelli alpha jacket

and it is thus with the alpha jacket. and then some. this fabulous jacket not only has three well-sized rear pockets, but a fourth zipped internal version on the left, the closure of which quite truthfully informs the owner that he has an unfair advantage. and there's also a small zipped pocket at front lower left. why aren't others so generous and practical with their pocket space?

the lower section of the jacket, below the windstopper fabric is of a more stretchy, lycra-like material that forms a close bond with, in this case, a pair of castelli bib-threequarters. the rear portion is scalloped to cover the posterior, internally featuring silicon gloop to prevent it riding up in use. castelli define their cuffs and waist as raw, in this case meaning that they just stop, forming in the process, an almost hermetic seal at waist and wrists. it makes wearing gloves so easy and devoid of bulk.

castelli alpha jacket

on all occasions i wore only a long-sleeve baselayer beneath the alpha, but had i paid more attention, the thermal fabric lines both sleeves, meaning on at least two occasions i could have managed with a short-sleeve. the versatility of the jacket is most impressive and a joy to behold. the term water-resistant is pretty much one of life's undefinables. a lack of taped seams means the alpha cannot be described as waterproof, but having been inadvertantly caught in rather a lot of cold rain, there was no noticeable ingress of water on arrival at the service corse (bike shed). no doubt trapped in a biblical downpour would not fare quite so well, but i've a pretty good idea as to what level of rainproofing i can now expect.

it's not too often that a cycling garment offers such a distinct improvement over the current state of play, and arguably even rarer that it manages to deliver on those promises. this particular alpha will find itself fully employed this winter.

castelli's alpha jacket is available in black, light grey (as reviewed), red and fluorescent yellow in sizes from small to xxxl at a cost of around £225. available from castelli dealers.

castelli alpha jacket

monday 10 november 2014

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isadore merino gloves

isadore merino gloves

much has been made in the news recently of the iniquities of social media. i seriously doubt that the progenitors of either twitter or facebook had in mind some of the negative tendencies of those using either, but a bit like nuclear weapons, not only can they not be uninvented, but in and of themselves, they are neither good nor bad. that's down to the folks that use them, or in the case of the former, press the red button. however, in the same way that people on the island are more likely to inform of others' bad points than their good, the negativity surrounding all forms of so-called 'social media' is more likely to sell newspapers than the good stuff.

i've been on twitter for years while simultaneously avoiding facebook like the plague. trade magazine bikebiz featured twitter several years ago, keen to point out that those in the trade who avoided using it, did so at their own risk. while i don't strictly consider myself a part of the bicycle trade as such, i still figured the only way to gauge its effectiveness one way or the other was to sign up and use it for my own purposes. and those mostly consist of smart-ass one-liners.

isadore merino gloves

still, that's twitter's fault, not mine.

however, as many will be aware, there's more to social media than simply twitter and facebook. there are a panoply of others that, in truth, mean as little to me as the physics surrounding black holes in space. but one other that i have dabbled in for a very short period of time is instagram. a bit like facebook, it's a facet of modernity that i'm not sure i quite comprehend, though a lack of a smart phone in my pocket may have quite a lot to do with that. however, my friends in portland both at rapha and chris king amongst others applied untold pressure to have me join. quite why they had interest in where i was or what i was doing at any time of the day or week is beyond me. still, there's no accounting for taste.

though i have no iphone or similar device, i do own an ipod touch which features a camera of admittedly rather dubious resolution. so i capitulated; i signed up with instagram a couple of years ago, determined to let the whole world in on my weekend velocipedinal activities, for better or worse.

those of you already on instagram will doubtless query my reservations, but let me list what i perceive as the unnecessary paraphernalia that restricted its use in my hands. firstly, i am not a natural photographer; i generally only point the lens at subjects necessary to illustrate features and reviews on thewashingmachinepost. i can honestly say i have not recently been overcome with a sudden need to stop en-route to somewhere and snap a picturesque scene. therefore the imposition of instagram upon my day to day lent a certain artificiality to my machinations. what on earth was i supposed to photograph? why would anyone be the least bit interested? and wouldn't stopping every now and again only serve to interrupt a pretty decent bike ride?

isadore merino gloves

all those, however, paled into insignificance when i actually made the effort. ok, so it was in the month of february, but stopping, extricating the ipod from its waterproof pocket and snapping a pic was the simple bit. since there's no wi-fi on the high road, there was no means of immediately uploading any pics, so they had to be saved for later. but then instagram wanted me to title the pic and add keywords and other such paraphernalia, all this with gloveless fingers; how else to work a touch screen?

so not only was i cold, but so were my hands, stood in the middle of the high road in early february, taking pics of passing place signs for folks who were likely still asleep across the pond and who might scarcely be interested in the first place. the social bit of all this was beginning to escape me. but now, notwithstanding the fact that i'm still no closer to feeling the need to take photos in the first place, i might revitalise that instagram account.

isadore merino gloves

the reason has been provided by the folks at isadore clothing in slovakia. providers of rather sleek and svelte cycle clothing, they have recently brought to market a pair of merino/lycra gloves featuring touch screen friendly fingertips. now, assuming my inspiration forces the need for instant digital imagery, i can navigate my ipod screen with cosy fingers, while pressing the shutter button in similar circumstances. that alone would make them ten fingers worth of one trick pony were it not for their seamless construction, sturdy cuffs and silicone grippers on the fingers and palms.

it's kinda nice that modernity is accommodated even in the rarefied world of cycling. granted, there's phones, tablets and even gps devices with touch screens everywhere you look, and it might be silly to buy gloves solely for such purposes, but even if you're something of a luddite in such matters like yours truly, these are pretty nifty gloves, stretchy enough to fit over a regular pair of cycling mitts if you feel the need for padded palms. if you're a techno whizz, leave subtle hints with your bestest for christmas.

isadore merino gloves are available in sizes small to xl at a cost of 35 euros (£25) direct from the isadore website.

sunday 9 november 2014

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rapha city range button-up merino shirt

rapha merino button shirt

though i smugly laugh at each year's influx of visitors, wearing their barbour caps and jackets in a fruitless attempt to blend in with the local populace, almost none of who wear such clobber, unfortunately, i recall making similar attempts in my early years on the isle. a part of this was of a pragmatic nature, but i was pretty much willingly taken in by the iniquities of the outdoor world's insidious marketing.

in those pre-interweb days, substantial catalogues would drop thuddingly through the letterbox for the perusal of the already converted. their pages offered the sort of apparel providing the ultimate protection to those tasked with measuring the antarctic ice shelf, or making single-handed attempts to reach the north pole, armed only with a swiss army penknife and a crunchy peanut butter clif bar.

rapha merino button shirt

sadly, none of my immediate circle had any intention of doing either, and i certainly had no designs on such unbridled adventure. perish the thought.

however, here was i, newly ensconced in the hebrides, determined to underline the difference between here and my former mainland domicile, and what better way to do so than by dressing in a deliberately rugged fashion? brands such as rohan and berghaus were uppermost on the mail order list, encapsulating thermal, brightly coloured, quick-drying, easily packed items of clothing that would not only protect me from the surly elements each winter, but would sartorially advertise that they were doing precisely that.

rapha merino button shirt

i cannot pretend that the ruggedness of it all did not hold a great deal of appeal. adhering to the layering principal, this usually meant some form of t-shirt like baselayer, a fleecy something or other in between, and an outer shell that promised comprehensive breathability and a star-trek like shield ability to keep precipitation at bay. couple this with leather hiking boots and thermal windproof trousers and i could easily have been mistaken for bear grylls while traversing the aisles of our averagemarket on a saturday morn.

all the above is fine and well when, as my own boss, i need only adhere to a self-imposed dress code. though the last vestiges of designer scruff can still be seen when the light is poor, now that i often have need of visiting folks in their own home for training purposes and maintianing an air of insouciant respectability when office bound, i feel i ought to make a bit more of an effort. my late father would have been proud. i, on the other hand, can scarcely believe it has come to this. whatever happened to the ageing hippy?

rapha merino button shirt

the credit, however, is not mine alone. as the wealth of appropriate day to day cycle clothing has increased in direct proportion to the activity's growing popularity, the tide appears to have turned. no longer is it necessary or even desirable to arrive at work after the morning commute smelling like a bin bag and looking as if dragged through a hedge backwards. rapha's observed 15:1 ratio has led to highly technical, yet sartorially innocuous apparel that fares well on the bike, while displaying a more conventional front to a less than caring public.

the pelotonese, of which i am a fully paid up member every weekend, have no shame scurrying about the countryside in full team sky kit, offering a slow motion replay of the last one day classic. but i'm reasonably sure that the boss would be a lot less keen on those three rear pockets and lightweight bibshorts sitting at a computer desk. a one hour commute against the other fifteen hours of civility. keep that ratio in mind.

rapha merino button shirt

let me state quite categorically that i'm not a shirt wearer. and while i'm in confessional mood, i'm none too keen on cotton t-shirts either (though i do make exceptions for certain examples). i quite like polo shirts, but long-sleeve versions are hard to come by. shirts with a collar i left behind when i departed the pipe band; i'm not saying it's a problem to be smart, but i prefer to do so on my own terms, and though i have no wish to appear melodramatic, it seems rapha may just have provided me with the wherewithal.

their new, button-up merino shirts have just the right amount of respectable style married to a relaxed demeanour. meaning, of course, that i can pay at least lip-service to the former, while keeping both arms firmly in the latter. available in two distinct colours (grey and dark blue), the merino button shirt forming a part of rapha's autumn/winter city riding range offers a slim fit, impressive cosiness and windproof woven cotton shoulder panels in a darker contrasting shade. aside from the well-known properties of merino wool in relation to velocipedinal activity, both colours comfortably straddle the line between formality and informality.

rapha merino button shirt

though i'll deny it when questioned, i have already suggested to imperial works that a rapha silk tie, bearing either their chainlink or sprocket pattern would be the ideal accoutrement.

however, if we accept the shirt at its current face value, it looks every bit as good buttoned all the way to the neck as it does with a top button left casually undone. rapha's web page suggests pairing the shirt with one of their v-neck baselayers, but in my humble opinion that's for the self-conscious wimp. i paired mine with rapha's recently released merino t-shirt on the basis that they look as if they were made for each other. don't say i didn't tell you.

the quality and fit is impeccable, with buttons featuring the word rapha in embossed white on their sides. an attention to detail that extends as far as a small reflective tab under the collar. the sleeves on the medium size reviewed were of a length that accommodated all styles of riding, yet resisted any predilection to wrinkle in more civilian pursuits. those woven cotton shoulder panels, aside from offering windproofing when riding with an open jacket, also resist wear and tear on the merino fabric if you ride with a shoulder bag.

rapha merino button shirt

and when i eventually made it to debbie's aboard my light coloured taurus corinto, my personage dressed in shirt and jeans, blended seamlessly with a clientele less cycle obsessed than yours truly. and that was true whether i sat at the coffee bar or on the red leather chesterfield in the corner. nobody pointed or sniggered.

i never thought i'd see the day when i'd cheerfully wear a button shirt to work as well as while riding a bicycle. i'd love to say it is a situation that has left me riddled with guilt and self-loathing, but in point of fact, it's ruddy marvellous. a state of affairs that will be regularly repeated.

i believe it was the band haircut 100 that made mention of a favourite shirt.

rapha's button shirt is available in either blue or grey, in sizes ranging from xs - xxl at a cost of £150.

rapha merino button shirt | taurus corinto courtesy of pronto gara, glasgow.

saturday 8 november 2014

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a chance of the nuun day sun

nuun tablets

with the possible exception of proper cyclocross bikes, pretty much everything you can buy nowadays has at least two bottle cage bolts. in the case of michael rasmussen's colnago extreme c, that's all there was, the chicken being somewhat fastidious in his own extremes of weight saving. two additional bolts would be very unlikely to make any difference as to our own ascending capabilities, but psychologically, it must have made a difference to the disgraced rabobank star. similarly maitre jacques who might as well have lived without his bottle cages, bolts and all, given that he allegendly lifted the bottle from its cage at the foot of an ascent, to place it in a rear pocket. this, he claimed, lightened the bike before climbing took place in earnest.

nuun tablets


even my taurus corinto now has the capability of carrying a water bottle in spite of a complete absence of cage bolts, thanks to those nice people at 24 bottles in italy. their porta bottiglia offers me the chance to take liquid refreshment even when plying those three sturmey gears en route to nowhere in particular. at no point in my closeted little cycling career, can i claim to be deficient in hydration. so why, therefore, do i regularly fail to drink on even lengthy bike rides?

nuun tablets

when scrabbling for reasons or excuses, i have come to the conclusion that it's the fact that there's only water in those bottles. rarely can i admit to needing regular infusions of carbohydrate, for in truth i cannot claim expend enough of the little blighters to have need of their replenishment before pedalling home to a warm shower. but 500ml of plain water is hardly the nectar of which dreams are made of. at least, not that which accompany my velocipedinal activities. a smidgeon of flavour, however, would not go amiss.

islay has been favoured with a relatively long and pleasantly warm summer, one that has extended into what i believe is often referred to as an indian summer. if only i knew why. at any rate, on rides of between 60 - 80 kilometres in even moderate heat, the latter stages will almost always necessitate the slurping of at least modest quantities of plain water. necessity being the mother of invention and all that. the problem arises round about now; with hours of torrential rain which have already brought landslides to the rest and be thankful (on the main road route to the islay ferry), a situation that will doubtless repeat itself ad finitum over the next few months.

nuun tablets

let me be quite blunt; it's not going to be warm rain

so if i'm heading out for those same 60 - 80 kilometre rides over the winter months, i'm likely to be shedding the same amount of perspiration, given that i'll have cosied myself in all manner of baselayers, long-sleeve jerseys, windproof and waterproof jackets, and gloves. the ambient temperature may be a lot further down the mercury, but in galeforce winds, the effort is likely to be comparatively similar. meaning i really ought to drink as often as i do in the summer, but given that i have already admitted to being considerably remiss in this department, how likely is that?

so, this far in, i'm aware of needing to drink, but in desperate need of an incentive. something like nuun tablets, now that you come to mention it.

nuun tablets

packed in practical little plastic tubes, nuun tablets apparently contain all the essential electrolytes that need to be replaced after a swot and hetty bike ride, yet none of those infernal carbohydrates that the less than intensive cyclist has no real need of. drop one into a bottle of water, and their relatively light flavour adds just enough zing to make me want to drink more than just the once. in fact, though i probably shouldn't have favourites at such an early stage of our relationship, the lemon and lime flavour is particularly more-ish. an empty bottle at ride's end pretty much says it all.

so to speak.

if you suffer from similar hydrational disparity in the winter months (unless you live in southern california where it's sunny all year round), it would be worth acquiring a £6 trial tube to find out which flavour(s) suit you best. then you can order much bigger boxes to store up some goodness for the rest of the winter. nuun tablets inhabit the following flavours: lemon & lime, strawberry lemonade, grape, kona cola, lemon tea, tri-berry, orange, fruit punch, citrus fruit and tropical. there's bound to be at least one that will lighten your winter woes; no need to obsess over lemon and lime just to curry favour with yours truly.

it would be better that you leave those all for me.

nuun tablets

friday 7 november 2014

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showers pass skyline winter cap

showers pass skyline cap

due to the vagaries of the local postal routes and seeming endless reshuffling of the post personnel, our daily delivery alters from a pre-lunchtime delivery to late afternoon depending on who's delivering on any specific day. though i'm assured the route itself changes not one whit from day to day, the direction in which the red post van accomplishes its task is very much at the mercy of the uniformed postie in the driver's seat. more recently letters, packages and boxes have been arriving either just before i get home for the day, or a few minutes after. thus, the little blighters in mrs washingmachinepost's care and attention vye with each other over who will get there first to bring it all to the sitting room.

if it ended there, worries and concerns would stop at that point, but while white and brown envelopes elicit no interest whatsoever, boxes and jiffy bags are a different kettle of titanium bolts altogether. therefore, no matter that i have been handed my mail, any of the latter type of package is immediately wrested from my grasp, that it might be opened by smaller hands than my own. fortunately, many of today's velocipedinal despatch departments stuff everything carefully inside plastic bags featuring probably the strongest glue known to mankind. so inevitably, after several minutes of squirming faces and white knuckled hands, the packages are handed back that i might finish the task.

showers pass skyline cap

that's a reasonably accurate description surrounding the recent delivery of a showers pass skyline cap. if you need any confirmation of the joy such a specific delivery can bring to a four year-old boy, you need only cast a glance at the photo above.

however, since that particular four year-old has yet to master the skill of riding without my holding onto the saddle, pushing through wind and rain with head showers passed, (if you'll pardon my misuse of the english language) devolved to yours truly.

showers pass skyline cap

the belgian style which the skyline cap emulates - named after skyline boulevard running above the showers pass home of portland town - holds a great deal of favour in thewashingmachinepost hat wardrobe (everybody's got one of those, right?). there are probably more months of the year in the hebrides when such headgear is more appropriate than anywhere else apart from belgium. and i fear even the latter is in some doubt; having watched a couple of european cyclocross races recently, i failed to spot any flemish riders with earflaps and peaks all but concealed 'neath helmets. but invoking once more the conviction that hebrideans are the flandrians of the west, i feel totally secure in my own choice of headwear.

showers pass skyline cap

the principal is simple; a softshell style cap is augmented by a ribbed, elastic flap that covers the ears when emulating pelotonic attack formation, yet can be simply flipped upwards when supping froth at the coffee stop in the feed-zone. the skyline fulfils each and every function to perfection, resulting in a toasty head no matter the ambient weather conditions. and the highly reflective logos applied about its person will leave no passing motorists in doubt as to your existence after dark. however, if like me, you're a helmet wearer, you'll need to flip the peak upwards in a distinctly non-flandrian manner to reveal the showers pass byline on the underside.

as a peak-down sort of chap, i'd be happier if the lettering was also applied to the top.

but while we're here and discussing peaks, this is sort of where the skyline cap falls down. every other version of this style of headwear in my possession features a rigid peak. the sort of accoutrement that can be totally destroyed by popping it in the washing machine. the skyline cap's peak is soft and floppy, and verging on not much use at all in windy conditions. i'm guessing they don't get winds in portland like we get on islay.

showers pass skyline cap

riding into a galeforce headwind, the peak was blown down over my rudy projects, rather limiting my forward visibility. flipping the peak into the up position made no difference; the wind simply blew it back down. crosswinds provided a similar, but ultimately more irritating problem. in this case, the peak fibrillated rather frantically, and when riding into the sunset (so to speak) offered an experience similar to the sort of strobe lighting apparently featured at loud discos. the sort of thing that drives you nuts. the only solution i can offer to these misdemeanours is to insert a plastic former into the peak and make it rigid like all the others. as it is, it has of necessity been relegated to windless days, and those will be few and far between this winter.

close, but no cigar.

the showers pass skyline cap is a one-size-fits-all garment, available in black with yellow trim. price in the uk is £25 ($40 in usa) and available from all showers pass dealers.

showers pass skyline cap

thursday 6 november 2014

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101 damnations. dispatches from the 101st tour de france. ned boulting. yellow jersey press hardback. 304pp illus. £14.99

101 damnations

let's suppose just for a moment, that instead of going sailing with their team sky pals, chris froome and sir dave had actually turned up at the 2015 tour de france presentation. and rather than learning how to tack into a cold headwind, he'd turned to sir dave and said "hey, this looks like 21 days of french hell, but stalwart competitor that i am, i'm willing to have a go after this year's disappointment.". sir dave would no doubt have responded with an approving nod.

of course, none of that actually happened, and the cycling world collectively holds its anticipatory breath to learn whether the boy who would be king will turn up on the start line next july. it's likely all part of a brailsford strategy to ensure that cycling weekly fills its pages with team sky mentions for the next six or seven months. but just in case that begins to pall, the second string story concerns prince bradley's possible exit from the dark side after april's paris-roubaix, allegedly forming a brit-centred team around his leadership and designed to set him up for the 2016 olympics in rio de janeiro.

it's a fact of life that pretty much everything is surrounded by a cocoon of politics these days. some of it is deliberate strategy, some of it is based on rumour and supposition and some of it is simply collateral damage. personally, i can't be bothered with any of it. i don't actually care if chris froome doesn't ride next year's tour and nor am i concerned as to the colour of jersey on bradley's shoulders prior to jetting off to south america in the summer of 2016. i enjoy the racing for its own sake, something that is getting harder and harder to do these days due in part to the advent of the social media explosion and the attempts of the mainstream cycling press to mitigate the subsequent damage caused.

celebrity culture has a lot to answer for.

inside the tour de france, however, the reality is somewhat different. the little bubble that encompasses press, tv, riders, teams et al during those 21 days in july, keeps the majority of outside conversation at bay. at least until after the podium in paris. one of those best qualified to disseminate all the internal goings on is itv 4 tour presenter ned boulting. anyone who is willing to admit to their on-air faux pas of referring to the coveted winner's jersey as the yellow jumper is, in my opinion, well-qualified to leave behind all the pretension and artifice that the circus has accumulated over the past 101 years. this, his fourth book about cycling, is determinedly his best yet.

you'd be forgiven for thinking that there can be literally no corner of the tour de france that hasn't already been exposed in print, particularly after the flurry of publishing that accompanied the 100th edition. happily, 101 damnations will prove this lack of faith entirely wrong. for rather than being simply a diary of one (humorous) gent's experiences while following its twists and turns, ned boulting provides a highly entertaining perspective on this well-worn cliche, interspersed with dollops of history, geography and climate.

"When it rains in the Alsace, the rain actually tries to destroy the Alsace and all its confused inhabitants. [...] To this day, I have heard it told, if you touch (Heinrich) Haussler on the cheek, buttocks or feet, he feels cold and clammy. I cannot confirm this, as his press officer expressly forbids it."

naturally enough, the opening days in yorkshire and subsequently cambridge and london fill those early chapters. even here, the setting offers an insight into mr boulting's own personal history, steeped in self-deprecation. "As we swung around the corner next to Christ's Piece [...] on our way to the start line, we came across the publicity caravan, parked outside the row of houses where I used to live, as a student, back in the late seventeenth century."

however, were this book only an exercise in self-publicity, strewn with ned's own brand of humour, it would surely be viewed as yet another same old, same old? there's a limit to how long the same joke can be stretched, but mr boulting has considerably more than one string to his bow. to aid and abet the author in his literary prowess, there is a supporting cast of chris boardman, multi-linguist and notable bass player, matt rendell and the itv4 film crew. "We stopped in the main square to film a nostalgic look back at the 1994 Prologue in Lille: Chris Boardman's first Tour win.
"You'll have to tell me what I remember. Chris doesn't do recollection."

the tour's approach to verdun prompts the author to provide a precis of the historical turns that converted the french countryside into one of history's less salubrious moments in the war to end all wars. just what marshal ferdinand foch, count alfred von oberndorff, a railway carriage and paris-brest-paris have in common, is presented with considerable aplomb, followed by a respective tribute to the tour riders of the age who fought and died in battle. yet midst such honourable reverie, boulting keeps the narrative connected to that which its subtitle pertains. "...but as the 2014 peloton crossed through Charny-sur-Meuse and kicked north of Verdun, it might well have ridden over the very spot where the two-time champion (Lucien Petit Breton) perished."

however, as to be expected, humorous observation outweighs morbidity. around midway through the book, ned finds himself discussing the etymology and pronunciation of riders' names by distinctly anglicised commentators (phil liggett is from the wirral). aside from jens voigt, michael morkov and michal golas, "...we have not even mentioned Thomas Voeckler, who was born and raised in the little town of Schiltigheim, for which there are three acceptable pronunciations, none of which actually involve an obscenity, but all of which run the gauntlet."

this determined need to raise our level of knowledge regarding seemingly each and every aspect of the tour results in what for me remains one of the highlights of the book, namely "the Legend of the (Wooden) Board of the Beautiful Girls (In As Much As It Relates To Stage Ten Of The 2014 Tour De France." in other words, la planche des belle filles.

"...the shrieks and cries of their at-that-very-moment-being-horribly-murdered brethren echoing up from the valley, as the Swedes vented their awful bloodlust (this was, you see, a long time before Volvo, with its concerns for health and safety...)"

that italian vincenzo nibali staved off seemingly less than determined opposition to take his place on the podium's top spot in paris is well-known within our closeted circles. even, it gives me pleasure to relate, a result that occupied many a column inch in the mainstream press. the race may have started in leeds, finished in the french capital three weeks later and been interspersed by enormous crowds, some dodgy weather and a couple of high-profile abandonments along the way. but as ned boulting has deftly crafted within the constraints of 300 pages, there's a great deal more to the world's biggest cycle race than that. a bit like the matrix, there are all manner of sub-plots and background strategies weaving themselves in the background, some of which influence the daily proceedings, but more often than not providing a tapestry against which racing takes place.

'a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts' may very well be an over-used cliche, but that doesn't stop it being true every now and again. this is easily ned boulting's finest work to date, one that stands head and shoulders above its predecessors, not withstanding the fact that they were pretty darned good in the first place. there is a maturity of writing here that raises the author several levels above that of (mere) pundit. if you don't believe me, buy it on thursday (6 november) and read for yourself.

the tour de france will never be the same again.

wednesday 5 november 2014

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

hackney gt bobble hat

hackney gt bobble hat

there are, at the time of writing, about fifty days till christmas which, i confess, sounds considerably less daunting than the tv and newspaper adverts would have me believe. rather appropriately, like a snowball rolling down a snowy hill, 25 december is allegedly heading in our direction at an accelerated rate, even though common knowledge would point out that those fifty days last the same length of time as any other.

it's a season that brings its own baggage along with it. delightful pictures of cheerful little robins on snow-toasted logs, pine trees similarly dusted with white stuff, paper decorations hung from corner to corner of the sitting room, nativity scenes decorating the mantlepiece and entire tv channels dedicated to some of the most apalling christmas movies ever made. sit for any amount of time in front of children's tv at present and i'm bombarded with "will you get me that for christmas brian?" every few minutes. only on 26 december does the realisation dawn that it's the greatest anti-climax of the year. even so, we fall for it every twelve months.

hackney gt bobble hat

that, however, does not mean that we should not participate, even if only on the premise of if you can't beat them, join them. after all, what possible harm could it do? perhaps there's more fun to be had by pretending to be a seasonal enthusiast, yet all the while privately adhering to the mantra 'bah, humbug!'.

last year, mrs washingmachinepost, who embraces christmas cheer as early in the year as she figures she can get away with, bought each and every member of thewashingmachinepost family a christmas jumper, including two of the kids she childminds each day. in principle, a few years back i would have left said jumper (grey with white christmas trees and snow decorating its front) in the drawer, protesting my distaste for such frippery. however, aside from the fact that it's actually a very cosy jumper, such apparel has become rather fashionable. and though fashion has never been my strong point, the fact that so many others were likely to be similarly clad, rather diminished any sense of potential embarrassment in public circles.

hackney gt bobble hat

this new, infectious and accepting nature that i found myself with was underlined and bolstered by russ jones at hackney gt, sending through a similarly constituted cycle jersey to enhance those festive bike rides. though the new year's day ride could reasonably be considered to exist after the fact, the same accusation could not be levelled at the mince pie ride on the sunday prior to christmas. this year, however, mr jones has produced an item that can but enhance the entire experience in a more civilian manner.

though the rather cosy winter cycle jersey of which i speak is available once more for this year, there can be little of more joy than the option to remove my helmet after the mince pie ride and substitute with a red and white bobble hat. best bit is that bicycle pattern applied to its circumference. christmassy, cool and cosy all in the same sentence.

unlike many similarly constituted items of headwear, the hackney gt bobble hat has no truck with acrylic wool; this example is 100% cotton. as a result, it not only feels just ginger peachy, but it fits a whole lot funkier than its springier acrylic stablemate. referencing once more the fifty-something days before santa climbs down the central heating vent, that means there is ample time to order one of these for that significant cyclist in your life. and if such an individual does not yet exist, be selfish and buy yourself one. it's only a festive, one size fits all £22.50.

hackney gt seasonal bobble hat

tuesday 4 november 2014

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