clement las clincher cyclocross tyres

clement las clincher

it has, so far, been a particularly wet winter in the inner hebrides. wet enough, that really not an awful lot has been happening in the world of agriculture; at least nothing much when it comes down to growing stuff. but since all the bumpy bits are round the edges of the island, leaving much of it pretty much flat and exposed to the weather, flooded fields have been notable by their preponderance.

my morning walk on a road bordered by several fields has been made more problematical by the farms and estates occupying their time in attempting to improve the drainage of said fields. for when the weather picks up (who am i kidding?) and they all decide it would be in their best interests to grow barley for a few of the local distilleries, all will go far more swimmingly (if you'll pardon the pun) if the water is where it should be.

unfortunately this has led to a surfeit of kubota and mitsubishi excavators sitting expectantly near the gates, having covered large portions of the road with the mud traipsed from the last field they were in. and it's not just the road near the croft; though the surface between ballinaby and saligo would hardly win any awards for flatness, it now bears the added frisson of large clumps of muddy earth joining together to make a particularly slippery surface.

clement las clincher

and then there's the road only brought out of retirement on special occasions. this may seem like something of an eccentricity, but truthfully roads such as this are generally only frequented by farm traffic and loitering herds of cattle. invariably there are other ways to reach the same destination by avoiding these tributaries, but if reviewing wheels and/or tyres, there's little to beat their crappiness. turning a negative into a positive.

clement's las cyclocross clincher tyres are specified for wet grass and hardpack. the former i have in abundance, the latter not so much at this time of year. however, the relatively flat 33mm width featuring a finely grafted nail-file tread rolls very well on both smooth and less smooth road surfaces, allowing the 'cross bike to garner a few more months of use now that the season is officially over 'till autumn. though the las (named after las vegas airport code) actually acquitted themselves rather well in light mud, the squishier stuff left both them and yours truly foundering a bit more than desirable.

however, my purpose in reviewing was mostly to investigate the appropriateness of the the tyres while wading through and over the agricultural crap that will infest more than just a few of our roadways between now and when the weather becomes more mediterranean like. it has not gone totally unnoticed that the route circumnavigating loch gorm on islay's west coast more closely resembles a track than a road. combining a reduced roads budget with a seeming inability of the roads department to effect anything other than seriously mediocre repairs, i doubt i'm the only one who has noted that a 'cross bike is a tad more practical than cambiago's finest.

clement las clincher

though knobbly 'cross tyres offer the inestimable advantage of sounding like a land-rover with the volume turned down, the las clinchers offer far less rolling resistance and, at times, utter silence on the few patches of smooth surface left in existence. the more knobbly sections on the shoulders of the tyre, pretty much the same as clement's pdx 'cross tyre, offer the more intrepid rider the ideal traction when tipping over for fast cornering. i'm not usually given to exploring the outer reaches of traction when cornering, but such was the confidence inspired in this instance that, from a distance and through fogged lenses, i would almost have seemed competent.

there's no way that clinchers can compete with tubulars in terms of low pressures over rough ground. i did run these at 25psi, but the rocky hill climb in bridgend woods threatened to do more damage than would have been offset by any apparent improvement in grip. for sanity and peace of mind, 30psi seems a more favourable and practical minimum.

clement las clincher

the grass bit was easy enough to accomplish. there's a 4km stretch of the stuff between uiskentiue farm and foreland road end which i adjudged the ideal route. what i hadn't counted on was their staging of muck spreading. the first part had been done several weeks ago and was thus suitably inert for perambulation without folks moving their seats further away at debbie's later in the day. what i'd not paid attention to was their having spread the second part the day previous to my excursion. though the tyres acquitted themselves admirably in the face of a mucky adversity, the flying detritus is unlikely to be patented by lynx anytime soon.

cyclocross bikes have a perceived usefulness that extends to both commuting and weekend leisure rides. though the clement tyres are undoubtedly closer to the serious end of the market at around £30 each, they'd be ideal for country roaming where the odd gravel or farm track might form part of the equation. and if tubulars are not high on your racing priorities, they are more than equal to the task of heading more quickly towards the finish line on less gooey circuits.

as recommended by the cows at west carrabus.

clement las clincher cyclocross tyre | clement tyres are distributed in the uk by 2pure

monday 2 march 2015

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design by numbers

rapha data print

in 2007, as i prepared to ride the hot chillee londres-paris, the nice people at nokia offered to lend me a mobile phone with their latest gps tracking software for review. i spent a morning with their public relations people having the operation of the phone explained to me, a real necessity since i am still bereft of a mobile to this day.

rapha data print

it turned out to be a case of 'close, but no cigar', as the bungee cord fastening it to the bars obscured the buttons required to pause and restart. add to that the fact that the battery gave up the ghost after six hours into an eight hour ride, and you can perhaps see why i failed to give it a glowing review.

however, on my return to euston station, with nokia having kindly provided a substantial amount of pay-as-you-go pennies, none of which had been used in the process of riding my bicycle, i proceeded to send a text to mrs washingmachinepost to advise of my safe return. unfortunately, as a mobile phone agnostic, i had no idea how to place a space between words, resulting in a text containing probably the longest word in the english language.

only a matter of days later, apple released the first iteration of their iphone in a form factor that pretty much no-one saw coming.

nowadays, finding someone with the old-style phones, with a square screen at the top and a tactile keyboard below seems so old fashioned. pretty much every manufacturer very quickly produced a phone featuring a full-size touch-screen, though nokia has since been subsumed by microsoft and re-named lumia. but even in the world of moore's law and endless technological advancement, it would take a brilliant chunk of lateral thinking to bring something totally unexpected to market in this age of 'seen it all before'.

rapha data print

however, in a far less groundbreaking field and pertaining to a considerably smaller audience, rapha's recently released 'data print' could also be described as something that few folks saw coming. the endless round of spring/summer and autumn/winter clothing releases that occupy the fashion industry can often seem simply an excuse for new colours applied to existing products. though innovation continues apace, it surely does no harm to refresh the existing ranges with impressive new colour combinations.

but rapha's recent pro-team release, including a short sleeve jersey, arm screens, cap, baselayer et al, features a striking graphic created by design studio accept and proceed, gleaned from sky rider peter kennaugh's race data from 2013's tour de france. though others, notably massif central, have produced data driven graphics, this is the first time i believe such has been applied to an item of cycle clothing. though there can surely be a preconceived notion as to what sort of graphic is required, the specific details can only be ultimately described by the original data.

rapha data print

to find out more about the graphic's origination, i asked accept and proceed's matthew jones how they went about converting the data from kennaugh's tour into the graphic featured on the jersey. was it a manual effort or was some inscrutable piece of software employed?

"It's a manual effort, actually. I'm sure you could write an algorithm, but we're not coders. We simply plot the data through a series of  visual filters, and see which one works best with the data set. We aim to have a dramatic shape each time and different numbers work with different filters."

in an effort to better educate myself as to the joys of data driven infographics, i rummaged around on the interweb to find software that did as it was bid by the numbers. though i have a past and present in the world of graphic design, i'm not sure i like the thought of handing over my flimsy design skills to a sequence of numbers i barely understand. rapha data print however, there's no denying it's an intriguing approach to the representational milieu. but it's the perceived lack of human control that would concern me. did matthew have ultimately control over the graphic presence of the processed information? in other words, was the final intent already in place before the process began?

"Yes. We always create a 'sketch' to test whatever filter we will apply to the data. Often we have the end graphic in mind, and try to create a suitable pattern to fit the information it's displaying. With the Rapha data pattern we tried a number of different effects, including circular looking graphs before settling on the final one. It has a look of both speed and tyre tracks."

rapha data print

of course, the unwritten laws of brand management dictate that it is generally insufficient to merely offer anodyne illustrations of the available products on a website. doing so in isolation is rarely inconsequential, but often lacks the impact of a photo shoot and accompanying video. in this respect, the collaboration between rapha and accept and proceed did not disappoint.

clocking up just over ten years as first call rapha photographer, ben ingham met up with peter kennaugh to photograph the sky rider in his new data print kit aboard a matching white pinarello in hong kong. this, i confess, struck me as a tad extravagant; surely there was a location closer to home in which mr kennaugh could have been photographed? after all, ben ingham's photography looks pretty darned amazing no matter the nationality of scenery providing a backdrop. rapha's james rapha data print fairbank explained that "The arrival of our samples often forces us into the Southern Hemisphere in search of relevant weather. Ben and I were shooting near Wanaka, in New Zealand's deep south and thought that Hong Kong would be the perfect backdrop for the Data Print pattern. Hong Kong's also a pretty incredible place to ride a bike, topping out at almost 500 metres."

not as pretentious a location as i thought.

and so to the video. if you've not already viewed this, i'd suggest taking a quick click over to vimeo to see of which i speak. though it only lasts 37 seconds, in combination with the jersey and ben's photos, it is the cutting edge of contemporary icing on the cake. how did matthew at accept and proceed manage to create such a stunning effect?

rapha data print

"The video was created in a combination of After Effects and Cinema 4D. We modelled a 3D rider and mimicked cyclists' gestures as the basis of the film, then mapped the chevron design to the movements.

i didn't see any of that coming.

the jersey itself is every bit as good as expected from rapha's pro-team range. like all the clothing emanating under that moniker, it lives very close to your shape; when zipped top to bottom, there's not a square centimetre of flappage to be seen. it works very well over the top of the recently released softshell baselayer, since the sleeve length obscures even the latter's lengthy softshell sleeves.

rapha data print

i'll not fib; the weather up here is way too cold to be riding around in a short sleeve jersey. that delight will probably have to wait until the month of july is heading tha calendar. however, sandwiched between a pro-team softshell and the aforementioned baselayer demonstrates a flattering versatility. the screened fluorescent pink/orange pro-team logo (the data print is dye sublimated) contrasts very well with the monochrome print, adding a welcome touch of colour at the same time.

the print, though bold, looks the absolute business and despite its graphic heritage, not in the least contrived. my only complaint regarding the jersey is the complete lack of a fourth, zipped pocket in which to conceal my coffee money. but i suppose for the professionals, that's what the team car is for. though it features not my club colours, the rationale behind the softshell baselayer was convincingly confirmed.

it seems that agglomeration of data may well be the future after all.

accept and proceed | rapha data print range | top photo by ben ingham

sunday 1 march 2015

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ensure you're insured


at one early point in my career of figuring out what i wanted to be when i grew up, i briefly worked for hertz car rental. part of this employment involved driving rental cars to the nearest filling station to top up the tanks, the quickest way from the garage to the pumps being the old main road that used to cross the runway at prestwick airport (i kid you not). in the process of driving a brand new vehicle for fuel, a young lad on a mountain bike came skidding out of a side road, causing me to brake very hard to avoid hitting him. unfortunately, as he came to a slithering halt, the bike and rider fell over, the brake lever scraping along the side of the car.


not a pretty sight.

we contacted the parents, not for the purpose of issuing a stern lecture, but to assure them he was ok and explain the circumstances of the accident. hertz's insurance picked up the tab for a partial respray; as i recall, the parents did not at anytime suggest even a contribution towards the situation. go figure.

many years ago, matt seaton's late lamented two wheels column in the guardian newspaper brought to my attention the fact that the majority of britain's cyclists are bereft of any form of insurance, even third party cover that would have taken care of the above situation. you and i both know that had such an accident involved an adult on a bike, the outcome would have been somewhat different. like the majority, at the time, i too had no insurance.


i do not possess the bike-handling skills of even the average professional, and certainly not those of cyclocrossers or danny macaskill. therefore, there still exists the possibility that in a moment of inattention i might carelessly ride into a stationary motor car or inadvertantly knock over a pedestrian when navigating from shore street to main street. granted, i pre-suppose no blame attached to either party, but if it was my fault, financially and legally, i might be well and truly stuffed. third party insurance couldn't do any harm.

fortunately, both the cyclists' touring club and british cycling offer insurance for just such a purpose as part of their annual membership. my cheque was in the post the following morning. it is illegal to drive a motor vehicle without holding at least third-party insurance, so in this case, why should cyclists be any different?


a recent european legal case may alter at least a part of the landscape in this respect for better or worse, dependent on your point of view.

damijan vnuk, a slovenian resident fell from a ladder after it was hit by a reversing tractor trailer. because the incident took place on private property, the motor insurers refused to honour the claim, on the basis that the vehicle was being used as an agricultural machine'. last september the european court of justice ruled that vnuk's accident should have been covered by compulsory vehicle insurance. the implication of this ruling now means that motor insurance will be required to cover vehicles driven in all situations, not just on the public highways. that apparently includes even petrol grass mowers.


while i note several quizzical looks as to how this affects the non-motorised cyclist, you may breathe a sigh of relief, because currently in the world of the velocipede, nothing has changed. nothing, that is, unless you ride an electric or e-bike. for the subsequent eu directive extends the definition to 'any motor vehicle intended for travel on land and propelled by mechanical power.'. you may note no discrimination between an electric, diesel or petrol motor.

currently the e-bike market is still a minor percentage of the total uk bicycle market, and i'm not sure that's likely to change much in the near future. however, how long before the eu decides that 'mechanical power' includes the efforts you and i are keen to improve upon during the weekend training rides? it seems to me that it would hardly be iniquitous to classify pedalling a bicycle in this manner.

i can't help thinking, however, that this might be no bad thing. annual membership of bc or ctc including insurance, hovers at around £35 per annum, and still seems like a prudent choice for any cyclist whether you cover thousands of miles per year, or simply nip to the shops on a saturday morning. for the time being, however, doing so is still optional.

saturday 28 february 2015

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the launch that faced a thousand ifs

team sky launch

this year in september will see the sevententh running of the islay jazz festival, an annual event in which i am both honoured and surprised to be the only musician to have participated in every year since its inception. until last year, that prestige belonged also to brazilian bass player mario caribe, but due to a coincidental touring schedule, he was unable to appear, leaving me as last man standing. i am under no illusion that this situation has arisen purely on instrumental merit, but more likely on the basis of local inclusion. however, if i were in need of an impressive cv should larry goldings be seeking a drummer for his next tour, 16 jazz festivals and counting surely wouldn't do any harm.

across all those years, the schedule has been pretty much the same. i receive an e-mail offering a set fee for the gig, along with a date and place for both sound-check and subsequent concert. on the appointed date, i arrive as early as possible to setup my drums before the sound crew arrive to place microphones close to those instruments which require a modicum of amplification. we then proceed to approximate the very tunes with which we intend to regale the audience that very afternoon or evening, before heading into the village to find something to eat.

team alpecin launch

each year i usually find myself and colleagues sharing the stage with a more prestigious name in the jazz milieu. these more esteemed artists often follow on from our own performance, though on occasion, they precede us (eminently more satisfying for the ego). either way, someone from the organisers will announce us to expectant aficionados of the rudimentary, and we make our way onto the stage. the next part has confounded me since the days i first sat behind a drumset in public.

the audience applaud.

though this is hardly an unpleasant situation, considering we have yet to play a single note, i cannot quite fathom the purpose behind the applause. admittedly, it's far more welcoming than a barrage of rotten fruit or perhaps cultivated indifference, but it does rather place the onus on us as a group of musicians to fulfil an unknown set of expectations. the discovery of that reality is generally only found at the end of the performance, when an absence of clapping would be considerably more worrying.

the simile to this in the world of professional cycling surely has to be the team launch. no doubt of great embarrassment to the members of whichever group of riders are being presented at any given time, these extravaganzas of varying import and expense are probably at the behest of the team sponsors, offering an opportunity to demonstrate their allegiance to the cause. of course, there's also the likelihood that the team owners have assembled this cast of characters to prove the veracity of their sponsors' choice.

uhc team launch

either way, i can't help cringeing whenever the more salubrious of our world tour teams take to the stage in full team kit, podium caps and shiny trainers. this cringeing lessens not one whit when the smaller teams, racing for buttons and carbon fibre appear in front of a flashlit studio backdrop wearing whatever they put on that morning. preferably something athletic looking.

at the risk of revisiting my usual bah humbug, and incorporating my eternal dislike of pre and post race punditry, can we not simply watch the racing and literally or metaphorically applaud when velocipedinal deeds of derring do meet our desires? it's called cycle-racing because that's what it is; yes it has its stars, but everyone is in the same race at the same time, so can we please refrain from emulating gerry cottle's circus and get back to sporting prowess?

that would be worth applauding.

sky launch photo: bryn lennon/getty images europe

friday 27 february 2015

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wheel meet again...


my appreciation of all things bicycle was pretty much led by richard's bicycle book, a paperback held in great esteem and composed, compiled and authored by the late great richard ballantine. it's the book i wish i had read before i bought my first ten-speed racer, because i managed to get all ten of those gears completely wrong. if you plan to tour the world (i could have if i'd wanted to), 42/52 with trouser guard married to a freewheel with only a 21 big sprocket was definitely not the ideal setup.

however, midst all the exciting possibilities offered in each chapter, there were one or two scary bits too, particularly in the sections dealing with the often intricate mechanical niceties. for instance, though i do not have my copy easily to hand, i recall mr ballantine warning the unwary that, in the days of cup and cone bottom brackets, removing either of those cups was likely to result in a flurry of quarter-inch bearings decorating the floor. this accompanied by the likelihood of several making their way underneath stuff they should not be found underneath.

sugar wheelworks

not entirely comprehending that of which he wrote, i left any form of bottom bracket maintenance till the very last.

however, contemporary assembly techniques of the day meant that the prospect of those loose bearings was lessened by the imposition of bearing races. fewer bearings i'll admit, but now not only allegedly simpler to assemble in the factory, but ultimately simpler for the ham-fisted home mechanic. this was certainly my first introduction to the necessities of mass production.

nowadays there are all sorts of aspects of the bicycle that bear the marks of the far east and a means of putting everything together more easily. nowhere is this more marked than in the field of factory-built wheels. though the genre may have begun elsewhere, the most obvious progenitor of the factory-build was mavic's ksyrium. while the french firm had previously offered complete wheels of a classics mold, featuring their own cartridge bearing hubs laced three-cross to a sturdy pair of mavic rims with regular double-butted stainless steel spokes. ksyrium changed all that; a competitive wheel that could be machine built.


featuring flat and straight zircal spokes affixed to the profiled rim via a proprietary, serrated nipple, the inside of the rim was effectively sealed. the construction methods were designed to allow for machine assembly and initial truing, and the concept proved remarkably popular, fostering a whole slew of me too products. nowadays it's possible to acquire factory-built wheels of pretty much every flavour, frequently featuring lashings of carbon fibre. it is, as they say, the modern way.

but while all this was going on, with professional riders regularly seen aboard the latest from someone's factory line, what happened to the handbuilt wheel, once the mainstay of the upper echelons of cycle racing and touring? had the nation's wheelbuilders simply folded up their truing stands, thrown away the wheel disher and pocketed their spoke keys?

derek mclay occupies his daily hours hand-building wheels under the banner of wheelsmith in larbert, scotland, near stirling. meanwhile, jude gerace of sugar wheelworks, builds superlative wheels in portland, oregon, so it seemd pertinent to ask them both whether there was still room in the modern world of cycling for the handbuilt wheel?

sugar wheelworks

"In terms of volume" said derek, "and compared to the percentage of cyclists owning handbuilts years ago, it might seem like a dying art. however, the more people ride their bikes, the more they often realise the wheels fitted to their bikes aren't up to their demands."

jude concurs but perhaps for different reasons. "We've noticed an increase in hand-built wheels particularly when we have to deliver the unfortunate news that a repair is not possible because a part is no longer made. It's not just the economic quandary of a new set, but now what happens to the rest of the wheel when a small part is missing?
"I think more than ever there is room for hand-built wheels and the connected values they have with them: they're sustainable, they're repairable, and the performance is in line with an individual rider's needs, versus a 'one size fits all' solution."

take a look through any of the online cycle sales channels, and you'll find more factory-built wheels to choose from than you could ever imagine. granted, many of them seem like the same wheel but with different graphics on the rim, making it even harder to make a prudent choice within your budget. and you needn't consider contacting the manufacturer to ask if perhaps you could have a couple of spokes fewer on the front, or a rim that's a couple of millimetres shallower than that advertised. that is not the way it works. for that sort of customisation, you'd need a wheelbuilder.


but apart from price, why would i ask either derek or jude to build me a pair of wheels rather than make my choice from the catalogues?

"At Sugar, what you get is a small shop that cares. A shop that knows the vendors and can advocate for you and that cares about you even after you've finalized a sale. Many companies stop caring when the product leaves the factory."
"According to Derek "The main thing is, they will perform and feel a lot better. That comes from choosing the right number of spokes for the rim and the type of spoke, using hubs that are designed to operate as hubs, and not make a design statement or try to be different for the sake of it. One other thing is 'repairability'. We've given up with some factory wheel repairs due to the time required to fix them."
"When we get the balance right, and you are up to speed on a properly tensioned pair of hand-built wheels, there is that feeling that they were made just for you. Like a custom frame does."

in the face of this knowledge, and it's hardly a well-kept secret, you have to wonder why the factory option is so often chosen. granted, many of today's bicycles arrived with factory-built wheels straight from the shop floor. it would make less than economic sense to ship scottish or portland built wheels all the way to taiwan to fit at source. and to be honest, both jude and derek would struggle to supply the demand, even if they joined forces and worked all night. rather a lot of cyclists are more than happy with their shop purchase.

at least until they aren't.

sugar wheelworks

but could it be that the big boys such as mavic, campagnolo, zipp, fulcrum et al have the money to provide the professionals with their products. and seen on the international stage, there could surely be a case of 'if they've got it, i want it'.

derek figures that to some extent this is true. "Given the number of wheels a team gets through in the grand tours or even lower ranking professional use, it would be too costly and time consuming to get their wheels hand-built." some may say that this was hardly the case in eddy's day, when every team's wheels were hand-built. so what's changed? well, the teams are considerably larger nowadays thanks to the world tour, and there's no denying that it's a simpler logistic to ship out a few more factory wheels when needed. added to that, riders today have a wider choice of which wheels they have fitted to their bikes depending on terrain, weather, parcours etc. eddy just rode 32 three-cross for everything.

jude figures wanting to look like the pros is a large part of the equation. "But pro riders are just a small fraction of the number of people that ride bikes, however. There are a lot of really good riders that aren't sponsored that want a product that will work for them and have a long life."


i made reference above to the preponderance of rotating carbon fibre nowadays, a feature that seems to go hand in hand with the increased number of factory-built wheels on the market. it would be naive to think wheels of this description are the sole preserve of the machines, but technically, is it possible for derek, jude or other skilled wheelbuilders to compete at the more exotic and carbon end of the equation?

jude says that sugar are working on that. "There are many ways we can have a slice of the pie. One way is knowing about these wheels so that we can offer repairs for when they need servicing. Another way is to offer aesthetic customization of our product line and thirdly, to exploit the values of a hand-built wheel, which is hard, but we're slowly making that happen."
derek has an outlook every bit as positive. "Yes. For example we use ENVE rims regularly and offer a few hub options that take the wheels into exotic territory. But the Taiwanese rims are nearly as good now, in all respects, so we can build something which is much more durable and just as light as that which would have been termed 'exotic' a few years ago."

however, he holds a healthy attitude towards such exotica. "Some of the exotic low-volume hubs and rims on the market don't actually work for very long and that's difficult to get over to someone who expects everything to last longer if they paid more money for it. There is a threshold, and it becomes disappointing for them when we refuse to build that way."

sugar wheelworks

in the heyday of richard's bicycle book, aside from the cheap steel rims laced with galvanised steel spokes, the cycling world revolved on carefully hand-built wheels. granted they may not have been specifically matched to the rider, but their resilience, repairability and ease of acquiring spare parts made them ubiquitous, popular and effective. things have changed somewhat since then. can the handbuilt wheel regain its lost market?

The market has always been there, but if the market is always 'I want it because the pros have it' then no." says derek. "For the majority of riders who ride a few sportives a year and a few thousand miles, cheap factory wheels will get them round if they maintain them. It's the 'don't fix what isn't broken' thing. But when they do break, or if you want something that can be really enjoyed for what it is and get the best out of your bike, a pair of hand-built wheels will do the job better for longer."

jude sees things slightly differently. "Our shop has never been as busy, so i might have a different perspective; i'm not sure.  I'm in it to win it and will always do my very best to give hand-built wheels a 'voice' in this industry. Maybe we'll eke out a good living or maybe we'll be faced with the inevitable truth of having to close our doors. But one thing I know is that it's well worth the effort of advocating hand-built wheels."

wheelsmith/graeme obree

for derek, probably echoing similar sentiments from jude "It is rewarding for us to see a pair of wheels going to someone we know will look after and enjoy them for years to come, maybe take them on holiday a few times, or win a few races. It's the feedback we get from these people keeps us going."

but then there's the learning curve that comes with aspiring to a pair of hand-built wheels from a local builder (or in my case, probably the one that's closest. though both the interweb and fedex often mean sugar wheelworks is every bit as close as wheelsmith.) unlike the prescribed components that form the factory-build, there are an inordinate number of hubs, spokes, rims with seemingly endless combinations and possibilities available to the inquisitor. if you are less than well-versed in the art of the bicycle wheel, where do you start? should you ask endless questions of your appointed builder? after all, how else will you learn?

while there is a degree of reality involved in that of which we discuss, all the foregoing can occupy so much time and prevarication, that after a month or so, you might feasibly find yourself no nearer to that ideal pair of wheels you could have already been riding if only you'd placed your faith and trust in the wheelbuilder in the first place.

"Yes. There's got to be a high degree of trust involved and it's imperative that the customer gets the pre-order and back-up service they deserve." says derek. sugar wheelworks "My output is becoming severely limited by the amount of time I spend answering emailed requests for information. The intangibility of an 'internet' workshop without any perceived queue seems to invite people to ask as many questions as they possibly can, especially when they always get an answer, even if it's not related to our wheels. If someone did this in a small shop where the manager served them, they'd get booted out. I can't think of another market in which this happens to the same extent. If you were to quiz a waiter on the minutiae of the menu or how it might taste, you'd end up really hungry".

it seems this 'problem' is one that traverses the atlantic ocean, for similar woes are experienced at sugar. "I experience something of a similar conundrum. This is made more frustrating after a lot of time and effort answering questions, to be then informed that they'll have their wheels built by someone charging less. My other issue is of people using our design services then purchasing parts elsewhere at a modest discount. We love sharing knowledge but without a way to monetize our time and research that goes into what we do it often leaves us frustrated.
wheelsmith "I love what I do, but the amount of time wasted by people who want to 'pick my brain' (which is quite literally what people say when they come into the shop) has taken a lot of effort not to get jaded.  It's like going to a restaurant with your own vegetables and asking the chef to work his magic while expecting a discount."

i have not composed this feature to allow two highly skilled wheelbuilders to have a public moan. there is little doubt that the factory built wheel has encroached on the territory once held as sacrosanct by the devotees of the truing stand. for many, they fulfil a need and do so perfectly adequately, but zipp's recent recall of a particular model of front wheel with the words ..."could incur retaining ring failure that might result in an ejection of all the wheel's spokes. This may result in wheel failure." hardly encourages wholesale adoption by the wary. particularly since their method of spoke retention is common across the genre.

so why did i give vent to the above? it's still my contention that there is little in this world that can equal a pair of wheels hand built by a builder who not only understands you and your style of riding but possesses the skills to fulfil those needs. and if you fear that the big boys are in a better position to carry out desirable research and development, i think it prudent to offer jude gerace the last word.

"We continue to expand our knowledge. Not only do we work with an engineer, we're also working with a metallurgist!" anyone in any profession who can remain curious about their work is, i believe, someone worth supporting.

wheelsmith, scotland | sugar wheelworks, portland

thursday 26 february 2015

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ambassadorial clout

ashmei ambassador

word of mouth is an excellent means of communication, passing on recommendations or otherwise to those in your immediate social circle. such has been the tried and tested method for many a long year. but more recently, both social media and the art of blogging have eased the ability to extend that circle beyond local geographic constraints. i have a number of friends in portland, oregon and the advent of the interweb has allowed them to talk to me and vice versa. now we can recommend or warn each other across a sizeable quantity of rough water.

however, the binding principle behind this situation has to be based on trust. if i happen to be a noted fan of blue bikes, any admonition i might offer against red bikes really ought to be taken with a pinch of salt. thus, what we're looking at is an establishment of credibility, for none of us have the time or disposable income to ride, wear or click everything on the market in order to appraise its suitability for our purposes. we therefore rely on the recommendations or disparagement of others.


but what of those who demonstrably have a vested interest in a particular product or service? how can they go about proselytising to both the interested and couldn't care less amongst the great unwashed? the tried, tested and decent return on investment method is to place adverts in the cycling press, or perhaps take banner space around the nearest velodrome. or, if budget allows, dye sublimating a name on the front of a cycle jersey has been known to pay dividends. always assuming, of course, that your target market forms a part of those who stand at the roadside waiting for a hurled water bottle or flying musette.

however, an alternative method may rely slightly more upon the word of mouth and visible presence as described in my introductory scribblings.

in the world of single malt whisky, the notional idea seems to involve gathering the faithful via international friends associations or committees, fostering the idea that those happy to pour a glass or two of an evening are part of a large, worldwide family, glued together by the label on the front of the bottles. extending this idea a few centimetres further, ardbeg distillery created a number of embassies. there are currently eight of these in the uk and several others around the world '...dedicated to supporting everything and everyone Ardbeggian, ensuring Committee members present and prospective are never left wanting for Ardbeg.'

ashmei ambassador

embassies, almost by definition, tend to have associated ambassadors, currently professionally recruited from within the company's professionals, something they share with the majority of the other distilleries on islay. it seems yet to occur that perhaps the brand's best ambassadors might be the very folks who drink the amber nectar. in this, cycling brands may conceivably be seen to be at least one step ahead of the future. in this respect, consider ashmei clothing.

this may be a name that is new to you in the realm of our increasingly busy cycle clothing market. as opposed to one watchword, they have three: performance, quality and style ( apparently always in that order). it's a company that began its career with running apparel, more recently launching a cycling and triathlon range, probably the very stuff to capture our interest. to further their cause amongst the faithful, ashmei are inviting endurance sports athletes to apply for the position of ambassador.

ashmei ambassador

those selected after the closing date of 2 march 2015 will be provided with a full wardrobe of ashmei apparel, subsequently assisting the company with product development and participating in events and photo shoots, representing the brand at races and similar events. assuming you are of the necessary athletic profile, applying is simplicity itself via completion of a form on the ashmei website. personally i fear personal failure at the first hurdle, for never have i had anyone describe me using the adjective athletic, though i can cycle at a pace that would easily allow close examination of any product i might be seen to be wearing.

however, i am well aware that there are those amongst you who would easily qualify, and i'd urge you to click over to ashmei and fill in the application (or, if you're american, fill out the application). what is there to lose? judging by even a cursory appreciation of their cycle clothing range, there is much to be gained.

ashmei ambassador | ardbeg embassies

wednesday 25 february 2015

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rapha pro-team softshell baselayer, armwarmers and kneewarmers

rapha softshell baselayer

a cycling colleague from a number of years past was convinced of the merits of wearing a cotton t-shirt as a baselayer under his cycling jersey. no matter the fact that cotton has a deep propensity to not only retain moisture but continually remind you of the fact, every time we went out cycling, there would be that white cotton t-shirt. at the time, the options were somewhat limited, mostly confined to some form of polyester or polypropylene, the very man-made fibres that would wick perspiration to the regions you would most prefer and usually keep you cosy in the process, but at the cost of being somewhat on the aromatic side.

the advent of merino as the ideal natural material for use as a baselayer ticked pretty much every box: wicking, warming and naturally constituted to prevent much in the way of despicable odours. since merino as a baselayer fabric became common currency, i have rarely worn anything else under my cycle jerseys.

certainly not a cotton t-shirt.

however, apparel development continues apace in pretty much all spheres of outdoor activity in an effort to keep us more comfortable on the bike, on foot or while climbing ruddy great hills or mountains. i recently had the good fortune to review rapha's pro-team softshell which offered a different perspective on the art of keeping warm and dry. despite years of breathable waterproofs, it's still pretty much the case that few, if any garments adhering to this format manage to successfully encompass both features. therefore rapha and others have figured perhaps they ought better to concentrate on managing the middle ground between warm and dry without necessarily specifying one or t'other.

rapha softshell baselayer

based on the apparent success of this approach, rapha have now released a pro-team softshell baselayer for two apparently good reasons. firstly, it matches well as the layer below their new pro-team softshell outer. and secondly it effectively allows regular cycle club members the option of accessing at least a portion of the benefits offered by a softshell outer, while still wearing their club jersey.

despite the inclemency of the current weather system affecting the inner hebrides, now seemed an opportune time to give the pro-team softshell baselayer a bit of a hard time. very much out of my comfort zone, i opted to make the baselayer the sole undergarment to the previously mentioned pro-team softshell outerwear, augmented only by a pair of the latest pro-team armwarmers. experience told me that there would be greater prudence in also wearing at least a short-sleeve jersey, but that hardly seemed the best means of testing the baselayer's mettle.

as pointed out above, and in keeping with most of scotland's west coast, the gales are blowing, the sleet is falling and the temperature is looking at the underneath of zero degrees.

rapha softshell armwarmer

it is worthy of my mentioning that armwarmers, kneewarmers and baselayer all form a part of rapha's pro-team range, and thus take the definition of skin-tight to its ultimate conclusion. that baselayer forms a second skin, but at least its stretchiness somewhat eases the contortions of putting it on in the first place. in my case, i'd to remove my spectacles in order to do the least amount of damage pulling the admirably high collar over my head. the front hem features a short, curved panel of lycra which ought to sit well with a pair of bibshorts. if i have a single pertinent criticism of the garment it's that i'd really rather it was at least a centimetre or two longer, because it barely fitted inside the top of a pair of sky logo'd team-pro shorts.

oddly for a baselayer, the seams atop the shoulders are taped on the outside, while there is a lighter fabric under the arms to aid cooling and flexibility. it also features a similar dwr (durable water repellent) treatment as the pro-team softshell, giving credence to its use under a club jersey and offering weatherproofing not usually associated with the genre.

rapha softshell baselayer

as to the armwarmers, if i thought it something of a struggle to don the baselayer, the armwarmers brought an altogether different level of faff. take my word for it; if you're wearing them with the softshell baselayer, put them on first. the baselayer features longer than usual sleeves (which may prove a distraction under a short-sleeve club jersey) which hug those bulging biceps. rolling up the sleeves to pull the armwarmers all the way up, is one of the most frustrating experiences i've ever had. the forearm portion of the armwarmers is fashioned from lycra, tight enough to all but prevent the hem making it past my hands. don't get me wrong; these are very finely sculpted to fit the arms absolutely perfectly and in use they're impeccable. however, having seen professionals remove their armwarmers during competition, i figure they may struggle to emulate that manoeuvre with these. though, when removed, they easily fit in a rear jersey pocket.

as to the kneewarmers, they slid on very easily, but i fear i may have erred in requesting the medium size, since even when pulled on as far as they'd go, it was still all but impossible to lose the crumpled kneecap look. however, when pedalling, they proved more than equal to the task of keeping my lower legs in the land of the living when paired with those team sky bibshorts.

rapha softshell baselayer

the softshell baselayer proved itself to be every bit the ideal partner for its outerwear sibling. despite (galeforce) windchill of a few degrees below zero, i was never cold other than a few chilly moments after setting out for the day. i'd no idea that softshell fabric could provide such excellent thermal properties in this fashion. the cut is very pro-team. despite having forfeited an additional jersey, it kept me cosy and was a lot softer and flexible in practice than i'd expected.

however, the real test of its abilities were shown on the following morning. if you read my review of tesco's waterproofing liquids yesterday, you'd know that having supposedly 'proofed' my orginal rapha softshell, i wore it in galeforce driven sleet and less than amenable temperatures. in short, i got soaked by very cold winds and precipitation, leading to the early curtailment of the sunday ride. i genuinely believe that had i not been wearing the softshell baselayer, 'neath jacket and sportwool jersey, i may have enjoyed the onset of hypothermia prior to reaching the sanctuary of home.

sadly, i'm not really sure that's an exaggeration.

once the jacket was thoroughly soaked, the sportwool jersey had little option to follow suit. had i been wearing my more regular long-sleeve merino baselayer, it would have been next in line, and probably long before i reached home. the softshell was barely damp, providing the ideal insulating layer to keep body and soul together.

rapha softshell baselayer

and for that, i am truly thankful.

(though the development cycles for each are possibly occupying differing trajectories, it's a bit of a shame that the softshell baselayer cannot currently be obtained with that rather striking data print released only a few days ago.)

rapha's softshell baselayer is available in light grey or black, in sizes ranging from xs to xxl at a cost of £80. bear in mind that this is a very close-fitting garment. if you have bulges you'd prefer not to make public, consider moving up a size or two (medium size reviewed). the softshell armwarmers cost £50 per pair in sizes small, medium and large, as are the kneewarmers at a cost of £55.

rapha softshell baselayer bundle

tuesday 24 february 2015

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