oh good grief charlie brown - part thirty-seven

ceramic speed drivetrain

nowadays we tend to take it for granted that the processors in our computers are pretty much up to the job, depending, of course, what kind of job you had in mind. the speed of an intel, or at one time, a motorola power pc processor was measured in megahertz; the bigger the number, the faster the computer could handle any task thrown in its direction. however, in the early days of computing, those processors operated the same way as the average bloke; they could handle only a single calculation at one time. oviously, female processors could multi-task.

bria skonberg - mario caribˇ

thus, the technology had to progress in order to handle more than a single thread at a time and concomitantly, the speeds gradually increased to be measured in gigahertz. however, though this serious advance in technological development reduced any apparent time-lag between pressing a keystroke and viewing the desired result, many of us scarcely had the typing skills to keep up. so, the fact that the lastest computer could allegedly complete a task twice as fast as its predecessor, if that was measured in milliseconds, we only had the manufacturer's word on that.

i spent an enjoyable saturday evening watching and listening to canadian trumpeter and vocalist, bria skonberg accompanied by laura macdonald, brian kellock, mario caribé and alyn cosker performing a darned good set at islay's gaelic college on the outskirts of bowmore. having played at the islay jazz festival for twenty-one years now, i have many friends within the musicians and sound crew, so it acts as a weekend's family reunion. however, during the performance, not to occupy a seat for which someone had paid, i sat next to dave, the sound engineer.

laura macdonald - alyn cosker

it would not have been uncommon to see the chap sat in front of a multi-channel mixing desk, with xlr plugs sprouting cables from the back into a connection box and subsequently the multi-core leading to a similar device on the stage. however, rather than such a spaghetti of cables atop his workdesk, he commanded an ipad connected to a macbook pro, with a verismilitude of a set of faders onscreen. according to dave, to achieve the same effects and sound control would have required a flight case full of flashing sound processing units. i understand from one of the other sound fellows, dave regards this as the future, a contention in which he may well be correct.

it is no secret that such a means of sound mixing, processing and control woud have been almost unthinkable a mere decade ago, but the continued technological progress in both software and hardware has allowed this to head on its way to becoming de rigeur. but such systems are not yet as efficient as they will no doubt become, so there may still be an infinitesimal amount of latency (the time between action and result) to deal with, though from what i saw, you'd have to be a very demanding sound engineer or performer to notice.

computer mixing software

the bicycle, as a machine, has a reputation of being the most efficient form of transport on the planet. depending on where you acquire your figures, this can vary between 80 and 90 percent efficiency, quite an order of magnitude greater than a standard family saloon which hovers around 2% on a good day with a following wind. however, i dare any one of you to put your hand up and state that during yesterday's sunday ride, you spent much of that ride concerning yourself with the efficiency of your bicycle. irrespective of how long it took from home to the café stop and back, the only factor that would have held you behind your compatriots would likely have been you. so, if the bicycle is already so efficient, why are there still people spending thousands of research and development dollars, creating the most unsightly bicycle transmission the world has ever seen?

ceramic-speed, for reasons best known to themselves, have produced an enormous rear wheel cassette device, driven by a pinion drive that would shift across said cassette in an effort to produce a 99% efficient drivetrain. according to the manufacturer, they have been relentless in their ministrations resulting in a "...drivetrain (which) now comprises a fixed front pinion and a patent-pending, wirelessly controlled, electronic shiftable rear split-pinion." obviously, those of you hiding at the back of the room have been crying out, not only for greater efficiency from your drivertrains, but untold complexity that sees the pinion drive placed below a raised chainstay (even though there's no chain).

it remains only for me to reiterate my heading: 'good grief charlie brown.'

monday 16 september 2019

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no boundaries part two: the outskirts

rapha: the outskirts

a few days ago, i found myself exploring the concept of self-imposed boundaries, intially in a grand sense, but ultimately, as with all things, eventually constrained to those experienced on the bicycle. though i would be loathe to come down on one side rather than the other, the possibilities offered by the bicycle would surely encourage unfettered exploration, rather than that curated by a third party? in other words, would it make more sense to arrive at the road less travelled and singularly follow it to the source, rather than have someone guide you there? ultimately, i'd imagine that becomes a personal choice, influenced by your own individual personality.

a bit like being scared of the dark, if you see what i mean?

rapha: the outskirts

that then calls into question, i believe, the motives behind those who either create a category into which they can sell, or attempt to satisfy a perceived need that was always there in the first place.

as i have pointed out on many a repetitive occasion, i have never quite caught the wanderlust bug, preferring to to stay within shouting distance of the garden gate. i cannot deny the occasional temptation to go see what's actually out there, but the older i get, the less is the likelihood of that ever happening. however, that does not occlude me from wishing the opposite to be the case, a state of affairs that, it transpires, can actually be at least partially satisfied.

i make no apology for harping on about the north american rapha continental, a project that fully engaged my attention as a compulsive series to be experienced once a week over a period of years, and one that bore repeated reading and/or watching, to the extent that i had the north american rapha office of the time (situated on the top floor of a wood building that had chickens wandering unhindered on the ground below), send over a compilation dvd of their very own continental grand boucle. i still have that copy sat behind the television in the sitting room.

rapha: the outskirts

their weekly deeds of derring do struck me as making use of the bicycle for the very purpose for which it was designed, even if the inventors were unaware of it at the time. the oddest part was that the concept did not translate particularly well to this side of the pond, though in retrospect, it may have been a misguided notion to think that it would. but, some ten years later, the folks at imperial works have produced a viable alternative, with an accompanying clothing range released at the beginning of last week. i am, of course, referring to the morton brothers' exploits in vietnam, a world away from a day job in the ef education first world tour team.

if you have seen the movie trailer on or on youtube, you may have been similarly inspired, even though the chances of most of us arriving at danang international airport with the bicycle wrapped in any odd materials we had lying about the house, are remarkably slim (though i'd be happy to be proved wrong). in a 'glass half full' sort of way, the outskirts range fabricated to accompany the meme, could be seen in similar light to the 'inventors' of the gravel bike, except i tend to view it the other way round.

let me explain.

rapha: the outskirts

though 'tis many a long year since i have visited london town, i recall wandering aimlessly down regent street, trying manfully to avoid the directionless phone-obsessives along the way. during these deviations, i noticed a young chap exiting the ferrari store, wearing, unsurprisingly, a red jacket emblazoned with the prancing horse logo and the word 'ferrari' writ large along the left sleeve. if he was old enough to possess a driver's licence, i would have been surprised, but nonetheless, it seemed highly unlikely that he owned one of enzo's finest creations. however, it's ever so likely that wearing that red jacket conferred a self esteem that might eventually, assuming benevolent circumstances and a following wind, be satisfied with a gto in the driveway.

similarly, if sales of rapha's new outskirts range were confined to those who had actually ridden a cannondale in vietnam, we'd better hope they didn't over stock. but that, if you'll forgive me stating the glaringly obvious, is hardly the point. with a soundtrack (border e) created by the eponymously named duo builder's tea and a video style reminiscent of old bmx movies, there's every chance it would likely inspire you to go grab the bike from the bikeshed and head off into the wide grey yonder, no matter its dissimilarity to any part of the far east. it certainly did for me.

rapha: the outskirts

and if my simply wearing the tie-dye cap made me the vietnamese equivalent of the day's breakaway, then who cares? with technical t-shirts, for which rapha are slowly becoming famous, to the outskirts technical reflective patch jacket and even sunglasses, you can forget zwift and its allied kickr accoutrements and just ride in the pouring rain into a galeforce headwind, but with the mindset of lachlan morton. as rapha make mention on the website "designed for exploration and inspired by adventures in vietnam".

now, do not misunderstand me, i am not a rapha fanboy or apologist; they're big and ugly enough to fight their own battles on that front. however, while balancing the books and satisfying their american investors, they have provided us with a tangible opportunity to make good on all those cycling adventure books we've read recently.

even if it's only in (or on) our own heads.

rapha outskirts collection

sunday 15 september 2019

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smells like team spirit

endura custom clothing

human beings are an inclusive lot; tribal if you like, happy to band together for a common purpose and almost inevitably ascribing to a common uniformity. fly anywhere these days and not only the cabin crew, but usually the ground crew present themselves in a co-ordinated fashion (in both senses of that word). similarly, the folks who look after you on virgin trains, citylink buses and even costa coffee.

the summers of my student years were spent working for an airport catering concession, where i spent more effort than truly necessary, attempting to avoid having to wear anything resembling a uniform, simply as a result of an inherent sense of rebellion. what self-respecting art student would wish to be seen in matching brown jacket and trousers? this was notwithstanding the fact that the art school was filled with so-called individuals, all wearing jeans, t-shirts and scruffy hair. however, there was one portion of the airport staff who were not only desperate to wear their uniforms, but continued to do so during post-work activity.

the ladies concerned (they were all female), were employed in the duty-free shop, and wore uniforms that bore a passing resemblance to those of air stewardesses. augmented with their photo id cards still on display, they would, en-masse, traipse to a local hostelry frequented by male members of the british airline pilots association. i'm sure there is no need for me to elaborate further. though we may well all laugh collectively, in truth, we are little different.

though velominati specifically advise against it, there are still those more than comfortable wearing the cycling kit of a team of which they are decidedly not a part. i have done so myself, though i invariably have the get-out clause that my apparel was most often sent for review. lest you missed it, i was in fact, never a part of greg lemond's adr team. however, having made ourselves very much at home in debbie's café, the next step was to acquire a corporate identity, that we might present a unified face on the sunday ride or, perchance, at the ride of the falling rain. at the time, those jerseys, proclaiming 'welcome to great coffee' on the frontmost cream hoop, proved sufficiently popular, that they were sold across the world.

though i doubt he has cause to wear it these days, chris hoy had one, while another, signed by the likes of graeme obree (twice), brian smith, mark cavendish and mr hoy, takes pride of place on the café wall, for all to see. those early jerseys were designed by yours truly before being made by scotland's endura custom clothing in livingston. several years further on, i still have mine in pretty much the pristine condition in which it arrived.

many cycling clubs order new team kit year after year, either to replace that from several years previously, or to accommodate new members. so doing allows for any sponsorship or colour updates as approved by committee. every club secretary in the world realises this is hardly an inexpensive process, though also fraught with sizing issues and lead times to allow for delivery at the start of the season. endura have been processing custom kit for over twenty-five years, where your club kit is made by the same folks that put together the jerseys worn by alejandro valverde and nairo quintana. now, they're offering to do so for free for three indivdual cycling clubs.

managing director, jim mcfarlane told me "To underline our support for the club scene, we're offering three clubs the chance to win £2000 of custom kit for their members. They can email us at by 27 September 2019, with three photos and one sentence that shows us why their club is extra-special. Perhaps that's due to the club bringing new people into cycling or developing the next generation of club riders, or increasing the diversity of their members. Perhaps they consider themselves to be a band of hardcore riders; we'll leave it up to them to tell us more. We'll then select a short list for a public vote to select our winners."

not to put too fine a point on it, what the heck are you waiting for?

saturday 14 september 2019

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no boundaries

bunnahabhain distillery

in common with many regions and islands, there exists an islay and jura tourism and marketing group, a rather lengthy title for a local organisation, incorporated with the sole aim of promoting both islands as attractive and intriguing visitor destinations. granted, with the current existence of nine malt whisky distilleries on islay and another at craighouse on jura, much of their work is already done, but, oddly enough, there are folks who are less than interested in the amber liquid and how one goes about making it. for those individuals, pointing out the existence of an award-winning museum of islay life, an rspb nature reserve at loch gruinart, the ancient seat of the lords of the isles at finlaggan, and an abundant supply of wildlife and birdlife, keeps them busy in their spare time.

for many a long year, predominantly before the wholesale arrival of the interweb and all its far-reaching foibles, one of my annual tasks was to prepare a visitors' handbook, detailing much of that outlined above and more besides. i had long pointed out that making this booklet available at the mainland ferry terminal would surely make perfect marketing sense, allowing the travelling visitor a couple of hours to familiarise themselves with the delights towards which they were headed. for surely there was nothing worse than purchasing a copy on the island, then reading it on the ferry trip home?

imagine discovering what you'd missed when it was too late.

i made mention, around the time of the ride of the falling rain, that my services had been engaged to guide a group of cyclists to ostensibly desirable locations upon the hallowed isle. on day one, we rode to the ancient celtic cross at kildalton, some six miles past ardbeg distillery, where we opted to stop first for coffee, but stayed long enough to consume victuals. on the day following rotfr, i took a smaller group north to bunnahabhain distillery, along a rolling road overlooking the sound of islay and across to the paps of jura. we stopped at ardnahoe distillery for lunch on the return ride, before heading south to bruichladdich.

the corollary to the latter was presented yesterday when i received an enquiry as to suitable cycle routes on islay in advance of a group arriving next week. you will begin to place all this in perspective, when i relate that the latter inquiry made no mention of my joining them on their perambulations. the only facet missing from this discussion is that presented by those who arrive from scotland, asking nothing but where to park their bicycles on boarding the ferry. they are the very folks living the very embodiment of the phrase 'ride until the road no longer looks familiar.'

as one with an admittedly sheltered upbringing, i have rarely ventured far from the garden gate, and certainly not far enough that i came upon unfamiliar roads, but just like the fact that most of us imagine being the sole member of the breakaway, when out riding over the weekend, i'm sure we have all read books about unsupported rides around the world, convinced that, if only we'd put in for holiday time off a tad sooner, that would be us too. the reality, as i may have inadvertently pointed out above, is often entirely different.

could that, therefore, be the attraction enthused by the promise of the 'real' gravel riding to be had, if only we'd bought a gravel bike? and isn't it just as likely that wearing bibshorts with pockets confers experienced traveller status upon manifestly inexperienced travellers? that raises the question of whether we are the hapless subjects targeted by unscrupulous marketers, or whether the latter have our best interests at heart, keen to encourage us to use the bicycle to the utmost extent of its abilities?

i know which option my money is on, and it's a subject i hope to return to in a matter of days.

thursday 12 september 2019

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rapha pro-team lightweight shadow jacket

rapha pro team lightweight shadow jacket

we are blessed with two ferry ports serving the island; one in the south at port ellen and another further north, at port askaig. the port ellen facility is owned by caledonian maritime assets ltd (cmal), who operate it on behalf of calmac ferries, while the northern port is owned by argyll and bute council, who charge calmac the equivalent of landing fees to tie up alongside. though it may seem a tad excessive to own two piers at which a car ferry might berth, there is at least one particularly good reason why this is beneficial to the island.

rapha pro team lightweight shadow jacket

the prevailing winds round these here parts emanate from a southerly or south westerly direction, winds that, if strong enough, can greatly trouble any boat attempting to berth at port ellen. the boat has to turn into the bay, avoiding submerged rocks near the pier; if the wind hits it side on, all can be less than hunky dory. when such a situation occurs, the boat is generally diverted to port askaig. however, it appears, even with casual observation, that the wind speed causing divertable stress, seems to be lowering year by year.

at the beginning of this week, calmac diverted the lunchtime ferry to port askaig after it allegedly experienced difficulties attempting to berth at port ellen. this raised at least a couple of eyebrows in the office, because at a mere 30 knots, we were particularly surprised at such a turn of events. though i cannot attest as to which boat was thus affected, on delivery of our most recent ferry in 2011, we were assured that it would be able to berth in winds of up to 55 knots. in point of fact, neither boat is likely to sail anywhere if the gusts exceed 40 knots and sometimes considerably less.

rapha pro team lightweight shadow jacket

we are close to half way through the month of september, with another three and half months to go, prior to christmas. this offers plenty of time for the weather to deteriorate considerably; the general feeling on islay is that if the boats are struggling now, how on earth will they fare, come late november? and topically right on time, due to high winds experienced overnight, last night's boat and the early sailings this morning, were all diverted to port askaig. it has ever been thus.

rapha pro team lightweight shadow jacket

such frequent and quick changes in the weather are no doubt what led to laphroaig distillery once running an ad campaign, citing 'four seasons in one day' (not the crowded house hit, however). those are real circumstances that still exist across the west of scotland more frequently than you'd like to think, weather conditions that affect the intrepid cyclist at least as much, if not more than our so-called 'lifeline' ferry service. this has led to an almost enforceable necessity to think like a boy scout, and be always prepared.

though the isle is but 21 miles end to end, and of similar width, there is a considerable difference between its more southerly regions, where trees and greenery resemble portions of kew gardens, and the atlantic west coast where you'd struggle to find any arborial growth whatsoever. the latter features highly in the weekend's velocipedinal perambulations, and i'm sure i need not tell you that the frequency with which a sunny morn turns to an accurate replica of tolkein's mordor in a matter of hours, is beyond calculation.

rapha pro team lightweight shadow jacket

as we head towards the depths of winter, it is necessary to carry more than a simple windjacket in a jersey rear pocket; despite my inherent flandrian hardness, i really need something that replicates the sort of force-field surrounding star trek's 'uss enterprise'. so far, one of the very best fabrics that can be said to come close in any respect, is rapha's shadow material, and i have had the benefit of possessing a long-sleeve version of the shadow jersey for a couple of years, a garment that has had frequent use since its arrival.

the pro-team, lightweight shadow jacket is subjected to the same double coating of water-repellency and enforced shrinkage, as its bigger, heavier weight brother, but the extreme lightness of being allows it to be scrunched into unbelieveably compact and bijou proportions and unceremoniously crammed in a jersey pocket. it's hard to believe that any fabric this thin can not only stave off all but the most seriously invasive precipitation, but stop the wind dead in its tracks. and its admirable properties do not end there.

rapha pro team lightweight shadow jacket

for any garment to optimise its breathability, it needs to act almost like a second skin, allowing the warm air pressure on the inside, to squish any thought of condensation to the outer side of the fabric. this matches well with a need to mimimise any flappage in the face of galeforce excesses. the stretchiness of this lightweight material, assuming you choose the appropriate size, allows it to wrap tightly around your honed physique, with a two-way zip for easy access to victuals stored in a back pocket. and there is endless joy to be had from watching droplets of water simply rolling off the fabric and onto carbon fibre or (in my case) steel.

the high price of the shadow fabric has left many a cyclist ill-equipped to afford such waterproof luxury, but currently, rapha have reduced the price of this lightweight jacket by a generous £60. if your winter purports to be as inclement as mine, nows the time to act.

rapha's pro team lightweight jacket is available in green grey (as reviewed), dark navy or chartreuse yellow. sizes are seriously restricted at present, so don't delay in spending your £140.

rapha pro team lightweight shadow jacket

wednesday 11 september 2019

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don't let the sun go down

cycling in the rain

it hardly seems particularly iniquitous to look at the bicycle in isolation from the circumstances in which it finds itself. there's no denying that it is a mode of transport or activity that varies its perspective depending on social strata, geographical location, or practical need. those in africa who have received a buffalo bicycle from world bicycle relief will have an entirely different relationship with their bicycle than those of us who have availed ourselves of the finest carbon technology, fresh from the shop floor. and the well-to-do gent who drives past in a '19 plate, range rover evoque, more than likely experiences your cheery wave as that of a pauper in bibshorts or raincape.

at the risk of engendering a sharp intake of breath, the bicycle is an inanimate object, content to play the yin to our collective yang. it is, as they say, what it is, willing to act as a chameleon upon the background on which it is placed. it should not, however, be treated as if it had no feelings, nor indeed, subjected to societal whims, brought to bear as a result of external pressures.

there's a slight danger of my retreading a previous dissertation in the following, but i have a bit of difficulty comprehending that which i have discovered. and though i like to pretend that the daily postings are entirely for your personal edification, in truth, they are more of an exegisis, the writing of which helps me understand aspects of the velocipedinal world that, on the face of it, either make no sense at all, or portray a section of the public in a less than commendable light.

i am, as previously admitted, a creature of habit. come saturday morning, i will extricate the bicycle-du jour from the bike shed and, more often than not, trace the same route to lunch at debbie's as i have done so on oh, so many previous saturday mornings. of course, i could excuse this predictable behaviour by contending that it is part of structured training plan, repetitive of necessity to better measure any minor or significant improvements that might result from my perambulations.

but who would believe that?

and, like many of you, i bear no ill will towards inclement weather, more than happy to ride anywhere on any saturday morning you care to mention whether it's warm and sunny or wet and windy. for many of us, riding our bicycles is not dependent on meteorology; those who sign up for next year's hot chillee london-paris ride would be very unlikely to cry off, were there to be a little incessant drizzle at imber court sports club. but we are, in isolation it seems, big and tough and strong.

halfords recently announced their trading performance over the twenty weeks leading up to august this year, and despite strong growth in e-bikes and kids' cycling, sales of the so-called 'big-ticket' items (expensive mountain bikes and road bikes to you and me) have declined 'in line with expectations'. those 'expectations' seem to be based on the weather experienced by us brits over summer last year. according to halfords' not entirely unrealistic conjecture, the 'exceptionally warm and dry summer' in 2018 was highly unlikely to be repeated in 2019, leading to the concomitant 1.1% drop in sales.

i had, i confess, hoped that britain's population was a tad less fickle than these sales figures would tend to prove. while i can understand that sales of paddling pools, frisbees and sun tan lotion will vary dramatically, depending on the climate prevailing during july and august, but it comes as great disappointment that supposedly intelligent beings would make such important velocipedinally related decisions, based predominantly on the weather forecast and a few drops of rain on the sitting room window. i'm quite sure halfords hold the same sense of despondency.

so, come on people, for goodness sake, get it together.

tuesday 10 september 2019

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