marginal gains

wind tunnel

as i have reiterated to the point of monotony, my intitial interest in road bikes was brought about by an opportunity to purchase a road frame, assemble the componentry and build a pair of 700c wheels. all of this was predicated on the knowledge (at the time) that the road bike of the early 1990s, was pretty much the same as that of the 1980s and the 1970s. in other words, the road bike didn't change that often and nor did the trinketry appended about its person. mountain bikes, on the other hand, seemed to change week by week and month by month, adding an unwanted level of built-in obsolescence.

bragging rights from owning the latest in the world of knobbly tyres were, by design, rather short-lived, before a new bicycle with the same name arrived, festooned with upgraded components, a new paint scheme and an allegedly 'uprated' frame design. nowadays, that situation pretty much applies to everything sold with two wheels, whether road, mountain, gravel or cross. i've even noticed that so-called proper bikes, with pretty wicker baskets up front are just as likely to feature annual paint schemes and differing wicker baskets.

though i still find myself in thrall to the road-going version of the velocipede, it has far more in common with the mountain bike than it would perhaps care to admit, some of which has been engendered by the 'late-to-the-party' gravel bike. for instance, sram's recent xplr componentry, which included a pair of rock shox suspension forks, offered a 40 tooth cassette, compatible with sram's xd cassette system. i have already read expressions of delight from roadies at the thought of so many teeth on the rear wheel, but as such, that surely flies in the face of developments at the other end of the 'system'?

aside from the mechanical aspects of engendering forward motion, or, in the case of those 40 teeth, upward motion, road bicycles have also come under the watchful eye of aerodynamics. for those of us who feature deep carbon rimmed wheels on our bicycles, it's always worth bearing in mind that the manufacturers and expert commenters are more or less agreed that the benefits of such items only come into play at speeds above those generally achieved by those of us on the sunday ride. common lore would tend to suggest that the average speed of the average sunday rider, hovers around the 30kph mark, equating to about 18mph in old money. some of us, though we're hardly going to admit it in public, are a good few kilometres shy of even that number. yet the effectiveness of many a carbon wheelset, allegedly doesn't kick in until past 40 - 45kph.

however, the aesthetic value of such a pair of wheels ought not to be discounted, and a good thing too, or wheel manufacturers would scarcely sell as many as they do. from a personal point of view, the campagnolo bora wto 44mm wheels affixed to my ritchey logic do appear to have aided my straight-line speed, though it's possible this has every bit as much to do with the bearing quality as the purported aerodynamics. the wto branding pays heed to their wind tunnel optimisation, allowing them to continue to perform even when the wind is not arriving from a point directly in line with the front wheel. this interest in aerodynamics has, for a number of years, been a firm favourite with frame designers equipped with the ability to provide computational fluid dynamics figures on the back of the proverbial envelope.

as one who has frequently ridden in crosswinds of well over 100kph, you will perhaps excuse my guffaws when reading the manufacturers' claims, but if we might assume that their decrees are absolute, perhaps the small print is also worth looking at a smidgeon closer.

a well-known british bicycle purveyor claims to have redefined aero in a brief to develop the world's most advanced road platform, wording that has the same effect on me as scraping fingernails down a blackboard. why have they chosen to describe it as a 'road platform'? surely they mean 'a bike'? however, far from insolently poo-poo-ing their aerodynamic claims, i am more than willing to accept that their claims are every bit as accurate as they'd have me believe. however, it is the value of those claims that frequently seems to be overlooked.

this un-named manufacturer has undertaken extensive wind-tunnel testing incorporating both rider and bicycle, for really, the two are as one in the eyes of a headwind or crosswind. therefore the readings extend from zero to twenty degree angles at speeds of 50kph for the pros and 35kph for what they refer to as a more average road cyclist speed. i can guarantee you that i have never, in my entire life, returned home with an average speed of 35kph and nor has the velo club peloton. i don't doubt that there are those who do, but unless i'm very much mistaken, the average speed of the average road cyclist would be several kph lower. however, for the present purposes, it makes not a lot of difference.

you see the small print advises that, following extensive testing and streamlining of the bicycle's immediate componentry such as bars, stem, seatpost and cable integration, the resulting aerodynamic features of this un-named 'road platform' are likely to result in a saving of 75 seconds over 40km at 35kph and 61 seconds over the same distance at 50kph. i'm willing to admit that i don't quite understand why the savings are lower at higher speed, since i thought that was the basic objective in the first place, however, the powers that be contend that the average saving when riding their ultimate road platform on a typical 100km ride, would be approximately three minutes.

i can see why that would be particularly helpful for even a mediocre racing cyclist, always assuming that his or her competitors were not aboard similarly constituted bicycles. for those competing at the pointy end of the word tour (for instance), it could be the difference between standing on the podium and not standing on the podium, thus justifying the hours and hours and substantial amount of money spent in the wind tunnel. but for yours truly, should i achieve such promised advantage, it simply means i'd be sat in debbie's for three minutes, on my own, awaiting the arrival of my more dilatory compatriots. and i have a sneaking suspicion that the same could be said for many a sunday morning peloton.

granted, should i have opted simply to remain in the company of said compatriots, riding at the same speed as were they, it ought to see me in a far more refreshed state of affairs, having expended considerably fewer watts en-route to coffee. but, just to countermand the oft-repeated phrase beloved of l'oreal customers, i'm not sure i'm worth it. i am unsure if, in the course of their mathematical calculations, the manufacturers took into account the clothing worn by prospective purchasers of this not overly expensive bicycle, or indeed of the tyres and wheels aiding its forward movement, allied to the road conditions over which it might be ridden, all of which could frame their claims in the same category as the number of miles-per-gallon allegedly to be achieved by any particular model of car you may care to mention. variables can be difficult little blighters when they want to be.

perhaps i should wait until mid-november and request a review model from the purveyor of this extra speed, just to see whether their aerodynamic largesse does, in fact, work as advertised in the teeth of an atlantic storm.

monday 23 august 2021

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

i see where you're coming from (sort of)

cycles and cars

having spent most of the week on the scottish mainland, there remained solely the matter of transporting myself back to civilisation over the course of friday. due to having stayed on the west coast, some thirty-five miles from glasgow, though i have no real wish to bore you with the details of each stage of that transport of delights, it did involve arising at an o'clock i would rather have spent in bed. the nature of the journey involves a bus to buchanan bus station, to board another bus to kennacraig to catch a ferry back to the hallowed isle. this trip is one that i have made countless number of times, but current corcumstances dictate that it must be undertaken while wearing a face-covering, a less attractive addition to the trip than has previously been the case.

the comfort and joy was further undermined on reaching the ferry terminal to discover that the ferry on which i should have been travelling had broken down and its thirty-six year-old sibling (the lifespan of a west-coast ferry is reckoned to be twenty-five years) had taken over its duties. bearing a lower capacity than the broken boat, meant that things were a smidgeon more crowded than perhaps they could have been. thus the quiet lounge for which i'd hoped, featured five dogs, a family watching a movie on an ipad at full volume, and two women who, on discovering they were both 'artists', regaled everyone within earshot of their endeavours in this particular field, whether we wished to hear or not.

prior to boarding, there had been two touring cyclists which boarding officials had moved to the front of the queue, cyclists generally boarding ahead of the cars. on disembarking, there's often a lengthy wait for the bus to bowmore, which has first to collect the schoolkids from the nearby primary school. during this waiting period, i watched, with some sympathy, both cyclists struggle up the 14% incline that leads from the ferry port to the rest of the island, particularly since rain had started to fall.

it was on the approach to the village of newton that the bus driver came upon those two cyclists, just as they began to negotiate a blind corner, necessitating a sudden reduction of speed until it was clear to pass. as a passenger on the bus, i can see why meeting cyclists on the road is often viewed as an unfortunate happenstance for those in motor vehicles. there is no doubting that, as cyclists, we have every bit as much right to the road as does one of islay's service buses, or any other motorised vehicle, but there's also no denying that no matter how fast we think we are, bicycles are a darned sight slower than pretty much every form of motorised transport. even tractors.

and that makes us a nuisance to many.

however, at the risk of making myself unpopular with even the velocipedinists, there's little doubt that a smidgeon of lateral thinking and awareness could have mitigated friday's circumstances just a bit. the point at which bus met bike, there are a few cottages, accessed by a sizeable opening to the left of the road. it would have taken but a few seconds for the cyclists to have dipped in at this point, allowing the bus to pass unhindered, and without the cyclists having to slow or making so much as a gearchange.

a similar situation had occurred as the glasgow/campbeltown coach reached the foot of the steep 'rest and be thankful' road, en-route to inverarary. two cyclists, riding single file, slowed that coach quite considerably, but in this case, with nowhere for them to go. however, they both rounded a blind corner ahead of the bus, at which point, seeing that the road was clear, they could have signalled to the driver to pass, and where there was also an inset at the edge of the road into which they could have moved to ease overtaking.

manouevres such as those described above, are undertaken on a weekly basis by the velo club; where it may be possible to allow cars to pass, we'll make the effort so to do. and i'm pretty sure we're not the only ones. quite where anyone needs to go in a hurry over here, i know not, but it seems that, if there's an accelerator pedal, it needs to be pressed with gusto. some of you may see this as capitulation, interrrupting the needs of the few for the needs of even the considerably less patient. however, the name of the game is co-existence. it would be nice to think that this would be a reciprocal agreement, but in practice, that's highly unlikely to happen. yet, i think it right and proper that we be the bigger man or woman; if we really need to be somewhere in the twinkling of an eye, we probably would be getting there by bicycle in the first place.

i'm well aware that, extrapolating this overt kindness to its full extent would probably mean never actually reaching our final destination by bicycle. i'm not suggesting totally disregarding our own needs for those of the often ungrateful motorist. perhaps it's a completely untenable state of affairs in urban and inner-city streets; maybe it's only in the rural setting that such velocipedinal largesse can be regularly practised. however, irrespective of your stance on such matters, of necessity, the roads will continue to be shared by cars, trucks, buses and cycles, and the more courtesy we all employ, the better and safer we're likely to remain.

so, as you wend your merry way on the sunday ride, or daily commute, remain particularly aware of the other vehicles around you, and if you can get out of the way without undue delay or inconvenience, maybe that would be a good idea. and now you can moan all you like about my disgraceful acquiescence in the face of the infernal combustion engine and those sneakily silent electric cars.

sunday 22 august 2021

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

the cost of living


much has been made in the press and social media recently, regarding the 'battle' between richard branson and jeff bezos over the quality of their respective trips into the lowest classifiable regions of space. apparently the uk would be unlikely to recognise either as 'astronauts', but america has less stringent demands, thus both now possess the bragging rights of which they can boast when down the pub on friday nights. the scrabble on twitter and the like had less to do with their actual achievements (if that's the correct description), and a great deal more to do with the money spent on frittering away something like ten minutes looking back at their home planet, before beginning the return descent.

it might just be considered unortunate timing that their trips to space coincided with wildfires, snow, torrential rain and serious flooding across the world, hailed as tangible evidence of climate change. unsurprisingly, many thought that the money could have been spent on more deserving causes than allowing the obscenely rich to look more closely at the stars.

the naysayers were probably right.

graeme obree was once quoted, with reference to drug use in cycling, as saying that he thought it possible that even training could be considered as cheating. graeme's implication was that cycle racing ought best be fought between those with an interest in so doing, but victory being decided by who was 'naturally' faster. indulging in extensive training regimes in the quest for victory, according to the flying scotsman, was hardly cricket. i should point out that graeme offered this contribution with tongue firmly placed in cheek.

however, few of us hold such a black and white view of competitive cycling, with even participants of sunday rides all across the world, augmenting their bicycles with lightweight and allegedly faster trinketry in order to win the sprint to the village sign nearest the coffee stop. as featured not so very long ago, many, if not all of these augmentations have a tendency to seriously affect the total on your bank statement. absolute black's hollow derailleur jockey arm will offer that effect to just the wrong side of £500, despite the benefits being somewhat obscure, and highly unlikely to result in sprint victory. but for a select few, pulling out all the stops, no matter the cost, is, in the manner of messrs. branson and bezos, a perfectly acceptable pursuit.

and it is the latter that has highlighted the latest example of wanton excess in the search for total pointlessness. ashton lambie has become the first cyclist to ride the 4,000 metre pursuit (admittedly not actualy pursuing anyone) in under three minutes, breaking the record previously held by italian, filippo ganna. and why does this matter? if you think this to have been a worthwhile exploration, then i'm afraid if i agreed with you, then we'd both be wrong. if the american simply wished to get his name in the cycling press, then that box can be ticked. if his sponsors wished to advertise that their carbon fibre prowess was capable of travelling faster than any other, then they too have the right to place a tick in the box.

other than that?

lambie achieved his record winning ride aboard an argon 18 electron pro pursuit frame, an example of which would set you back around £13,000 when fitted with argon forks and zipp carbon wheels. of course, as the cognoscenti well know, the above would scarcely allow even a standing start. other considerations are thus necessary. lambie's chainset, with a 63 tooth chainring added another £1600 to the invoice, while his elaborately made and elaborately named handlebars cost a further £8,500. not to be outdone by hardware, his soft wear (clothing) was reputed to have had a price tag of £3,250 (and you thought rapha's prices were high).

obviously enough, lambie would have undertaken a serious amount of training in order to reduce the time taken to ride four kilometres, but just in case that, and £25,000 worth of bicycle and clothing were insufficient to put matters very firmly in the american's favour, he opted to undertake the ultimately successful record attempt at aguascalientes velodrome in mexico, generally reckoned, at 1800 metres above sea-level, to be the fastest track in the world. the previous record, held by filippo ganna, was set at the 2020 world track championships in berlin, somewhat closer to sea level at an altitude of 34 metres.

so ashton lambie holds the current world record for riding 4,000 metres in 3m:59:930. but was it worth it? will filippo ganna now move his sights to mexico and lower the bar even further? and what does any of this have to do with cycling? i seriously doubt that, were any of us to be handed lambie's bicycle and an all-expenses paid trip to mexico, we'd be likely to reach the finish line in under ten minutes. but if i could ride at the same speed as either ganna or lambie, i doubt i'd be able to persuade anyone to go riding with me, though i'd have exclusive choice of seating at debbie's.

lambie's record is being hailed as cycling's equivalent of roger bannister's sub-four minute mile, but i'm pretty sure that bannister's trainers cost a lot less than £25,000.

saturday 21 august 2021

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

the kids are alright

free bikes for schoolchildren

there's no way to beat about the bush; the majority of members of the velo club, and there are few enough as it is, are either boring old farts, or well on their way to becoming boring old farts. not for us the thrill of adventure, nor the instigation of 'anything can happen sundays'; we're more than content to perambulate the same old highways and byways of the principality in the increasingly forlorn hope that we might make it to debbie's for noon. and to make matters worse, where once nutritional considerations would have been salted caramel gels or powerbars, nowadays it's far more likely to be a double-egg roll with a side-order of chips. the luncheon of champions, so i'm told.

it would make perfect sense to instigate an appropriate recruitment drive, if only to ensure the longevity of the organisation (such as it is), well into the future of climate change. but as the mighty dave-t has often pointed out, the shortcomings of such hopes revolve principally around the fact that, at some point or other, there will be pedalling involved. research that we have not carried out, would anecdotally lay the blame for this lack of acolytes squarely at the door of the ubiquitous game boys, playstations and x-boxes, though i am more reliably informed that the smartphone is every bit as blameworthy in this particular instance. either way, the long and short of it is that while we age gracefully (a guy can dream, can't he?), the vacuum we leave behind is not being filled.

or is it?

last sunday, the variable meeting point had moved to the foot of bowmore main street, where the two regulars were accompanied by an unknown face aboard an unknown bicycle. it transpired that the youngster, considerably less than half the age of yours truly, has taken up a post as primary teacher at one of the island's schools, having moved to the hallowed isle only a matter of days previously. knowing no-one and knowing even less about the geography of his new home, he had been press-ganged into velocipedinal activity. implementing the sunday ride's golden rule ('leave no-one behind'), he made it as far as debbie's for coffee with legs that hurt just a smidgeon, but an agreeable smile upon his face and an enthusiastic commitment to join us this coming sunday.

however, the rate of one new recruit every three or four years, still does not bode well for ultimate continuation of the islay peloton.

once again, without undertaking any research whatsoever, i am led to believe that the velo club is scarcely the only such organisation to be suffering such iniquity. while many cycle clubs have prospered during lockdown, gaining new adherents without really trying, many others have noted a similar state of affairs to that of our own, though perhaps on a less obvious scale. while there could be many, many different reasons for this, and dave-t's above statement notwithstanding, there's the not entirely dismissable possibility that the source of ill lies at a much earlier age.

parents nowadays, seem beset with all manner of economic demands which i, and indeed my own parents, rarely, if ever, experienced. it is apparently a very contemporary necessity for schoolchildren of a certain teenage demeanour, to have their feet encased in very specific brands of training shoe (if ever there was a misnomer), while carrying about their person, suitably badged backpacks atop highly fashionable jacketry. in keeping with the price of the inevitable smartphone, none of the above are sourced from the bargain-basement section of primark, river island, or the very catalogue.

heaven forfend that the already expensive child should require a bicycle too. and further down the economic scale, are those whose parents can afford none of the above, including the bicycle. whither the transportational future of the disavowed?

in a move that surely deserves a round of applause, the scottish government have announced an initiative to provide free bicycles to school children whose parents are unable to afford one. the pilot project, announced on wednesday 18 august, will include six groups and will ultimately seek to include local bikeshops around the country, along with trialling delivery models in both urban and rural locations. i fervently hope that one of those rural locations might include the hebrides. the pilot scheme will last for a year before being considered 'fully evaluated', and there are apparently further pilot schemes to be announced shortly.

for those, like me, who have asked "why now?", the engagement of former bmx champion shanaze reade as the first in a series of high-profile ambassadors in the run-up to glasgow's presentation of the 2023 uci world cycling championships, might offer a clue that's hard to miss. however, though an initiative such as this is to be warmly welcomed, there does seem to be a slight disconnect in the philosophy behind it. for instance, in november this year, glasgow will host an international climate conference, which would surely have been a better citation for holyrood's velocipedinal largesse. encouraging children at an early age to adopt the bicycle as a practical and environmentally sound means of transport would surely have been seen as justification enough?

it's a consideration that does seem to have been uppermost in the mind of scottish transport minister, graeme dey, who has been quoted as saying, "I'm blown away by how community groups, active travel and cycling partners have responded to our 100-day commitment. With support and funding from the Scottish Government, I'm pleased they will shortly offer free bike pilots (sic) to school-aged children, who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford them.
"We've still got a lot of ground to cover when thinking about how best we can assess need, build in accessibility for all and ensure supply and delivery models which are sustainable for urban, rural and island communities across Scotland."

so far so good. but the reasoning behind the scheme starts to fog just a tad, when you add shanaze read's thoughts into the equation. to wit, "By shifting our way of thinking and providing kids with the chance to get on a bike, we can encourage them to take up cycling as a sport, particularly with the spotlight on BMX after an incredible Tokyo Olympics." i get that ms reade is likely to approach the subject from a different direction than mr dey, but firstly, in the government's announcement, there was no indication that any of the bicycles being provided were likely to be bmx, one of the least pragmatic means of cycle transport available. and secondly, who said anything about racing and winning medals?

there will always be a number of early learning cyclists who are inspired by the exploits seen during the olympic games, but it only requires a cursory glance at british cycling's membership to note that the competitive element is very much in the minority. this is borne out by the list of pilot projects encompassed by this government initiative, which includes cycling scotland's cycling friendly network, forth valley's barnardo's, equality cycles with st paul's youth forum in n.e. glasgow and sustrans in conjunction with several scottish councils. none of these scream gold medals or even lycra bibshorts, so i can't help thinking that the nomination of shanaze read as an ambassador for children and young people is very much at odds with the avowed intentions of the programme.

given his demonstrated vein of inventive practicality, surely graeme obree may have been a more pertinent choice, or perhaps, in the light of an available named range of kids' bikes, chris hoy? while i have nothing but admiration for ms reade, her birthplace of crewe to a jamaican father and irish mother, makes her an odd choice for a scottish cycling ambassador, one for whom the competitive element still seems uppermost. can we stop pretending that every persuasion to get kids on bikes has to feature a medal or yellow jersey as the defined end-point?

photo: transport scotland.

thursday 19 august 2021

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

rhyme and reason

for the love of the flying scot - rab wilson

it would be foolish of me to rationalise and state that cyclists are a more fickle subset of the human race than model railway enthusiasts, or whisky aficionados, for instance. though i do have some experience of the latter, other than the occasional video on youtube, the former remain an intriguing mystery, a state of affairs that mrs washingmachinepost fervently hopes will not change in the foreseeable future. but as cycling enthusiasts, bordering on cognoscentism (is that even a word?), we all have our little pecadilloes.

if i may be so bold as to ask all those to raise their hands who consciously choose shimano on their bicycles, followed by the individuals who will stomp out of evans cycles on finding nothing fitted with campagnolo? you see? fickle. there are ergonomic reasons for choosing the latter over the former (or vice versa), but it rarely comes down to that. i am aware of certain individuals who, expressing no degree of fanaticism whatsoever, prefer campagnolo for the gear changing options, and others who opt for japan because the chain moves from one sprocket to the other with noiseless efficiency, but choice of groupset rests far more upon emotion than on pragmatism.

for the love of the flying scot - rab wilson

similarly, bicycle brands. i'd be inclined to accept a colnago rather than a pinarello, predominantly on the basis of absolutely nothing whatsoever. well, ok, i really don't like those squiggly pinarello forks, and i despair over their headtube logo, but those are hardly pertinent reasons on which to base the purchase of several thousand pounds worth of carbon fibre. yet those are the very reasons i'd have in my head, if push did indeed come to shove. however, all is of academic interests, since i rather prefer the plain, narrow tubed steel of my ritchey logic. it seems only fitting that a confirmed luddite ride excellent steel (even if festooned with twelve gears and a set of 45mm carbon wheels from vicenza).

but that is to apply the 'problem', should it be described thus, to modernity. some are firmly and comfortably ensconced in the past, expressing their velocipedinal joy by way of a marque (or marques) no longer with us in their original manner. i have three peugeot jerseys, one or two caps and a water bottle, predominantly on the back of robert millar's (pippa york's) 1984 king of the mountains success. others may do likewise through identification with either tommy simpson or eddy merckx. all are perfectly legitimate reasons to ride with a chequered pattern on one's chest and under one's helmet. and then, if you're from north of the border, there is the eponymous flying scot.

these lugged steel bicycles were first built in glasgow in 1901 by david rattray and company, at the time, one of the largest makers of lightweight bicycle frames in the country. rattrays went out of business in 1982, but the name was purchased by dave yates at steel's framebuilders, building bikes under the name 'flying scot' until 1991. but despite the name no longer featuring in contemporary framebuilding practice, the mystique of the flying scot has scarcely diminished. witness the recent youtube video featuring scots poet, rab wilson, waxing lyrical over his love for the flying scot, despite holding a rather impressive collection of alternative steel bicycles, including the aformentioned colnago.

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

but all is not confined to the poetic realm, as evidenced through the film (link below), where one man's love for the flying scot no doubt echoes that of others who harbour collections of similarly unique bicycles. in itself, this proves nothing at all, but on the other hand says a great deal about what cycling is, what cycling can be, and how it might just be a great deal more than the sum of its parts. rab's movie is, to purloin the essence of a tweet i posted over the weekend, probably the best cycling video you'll see today, tomorrow, this week, this year.

and whether you actually recognise yourselves in this or not, it's quite likely what counts us as amongst the cycling genre in the first place. carbon fibre is only one small part of the jigsaw. or one verse in the sonnet.

for the love of the flying scot

wednesday 18 august 2021

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

desire, discrimination, determination - black champions in cycling - marlon lee moncrieffe. rapha editions/bluetrain publishing hardback 240pp illus. £30

desire, discrimination, determination - marion lee moncrieffe

to the best of my knowledge, i have never been discriminated against. there was a job application a few years past for which i may not have gained an interview due to my advanced years, but that's pure conjecture on my part. at school, i pretty much sailed through without anyone taking exception to the length of my hair or my mode of dress, a happy happenstance that continued into my years at art college. and since i entered the big bad world of working for a living, nobody seems to have found my presence sufficiently exceptional to discriminate against me.

but, i was brought up as a white, middle-class chap in a predominantly white society, so there was really little or nothing that marked me out as any different from my peers. there were no black pupils at either primary or secondary school and no black students that i recall at college. so in that sense, nor did i find anyone to discriminate against, should i have been idiotically moved to do so. as it is, i have never quite understood why it is that certain members of society find black people to be objectionable. pretty much all the jazz musicians i adored as a teenager, were black americans, and i still idolise art blakey and max roach. i never even considered the colour of their skin to be any sort of issue whatsoever.

however, as with many, i have come across several individuals who do seem to find skin colour a bit of a problem, or at best, worthy of casual racist comment, based on nothing other than, i believe, their own limited intellect. i can but imagine the difficulties experienced by those who are black, living in a predominantly white society. and that sort of discrimination can only be magnified when condensed into the microcosm that is bike racing, a sport that, up until recently, was the preserve of white europeans. and when we see a black, african rider who, against all the odds, has made it into the professional peloton and arrived on the start line of a grand tour such as the tour de france, you'd imagine that his fellow professionals would have proffered an open-arms welcome along with the respect due to someone with the tenacity to reach the grand départ against greater odds that they themselves experienced.

unfortunately, that seems not to be always the case, as is made disgracefully clear in this somewhat disturbing book by marlon lee moncreiffe. should further evidence be required to support such a comment, i would point out that chapter three is entitled 'what the fucking hell are you doing here with us?, a quote by the author resulting from an in-race encounter with a competing (white) rider. there are (perhaps too) many examples of racism encountered by black riders throughout 'black champions in cycling', but that's an observation which it is perhaps too easy to make when a) you've never raced, and b) you're white. of course, it would be somewhat iniquitous to ascribe all examples of racism as arising from members of the peloton.

" The underlying attitude of racism permeates the culture of officialdom too. Joe Clovis, a contemporary of Maurice Burton, was regularly refused permission to race at Herne Hill on the basis his tubular tyres were not considered safe. His white friends could not believe this and so decided to test this 'rule' by bringing the same wheels for inspection by the same officials. They were granted permission to race."

discrimination in any walk of life, and however you wish to define that, offers but two alternatives; you either knuckle under and hope to make yourself 'invisible', or, as is the case for many of the quoted athletes in the book's pages, you let your legs do the talking.

as described by rahsaan bahati, "The turning point for me was when I was 13 years old. I was put up in a race against a guy who was 18 years old. [...] Anyway. I smoked him. He had no idea that I was down the track on the black line and gone. He must have looked over his shoulder again and realised that I was not there. By the time he looked forward to see where I was, I was already coming out of turn three."

the book opens with the claim that boxer, muhammed ali (cassius clay) may have been inspired to become the champion he undoubtedly was following the theft of his red schwinn cruiser. "Clay became so tearful and angry that on reporting the crime to a local police officer he promised to "whup" the thief if he ever found out who it was. The police officer suggested Clay might like to redirect his attention to boxing." and the author too predated his cycling experiences with those of the classroom "...a white teacher asked me to leave the classroom after I spoke up about an issue from a black paradigm; a way of seeing and thinking different to dominant white norms, a perspective that they were not used to and did not want to understand. On my return to the classroom, I would discover white students being praised and given applause by the teacher for speaking a second-hand interpretation of the perspective that I had been offering."

i would imagine, though i have no evidence to back it up, that the majority of you reading this review will not only be cyclists, but white into the bargain. it's all too easy to dismiss these examples of racism as black cyclists being overly sensitive, but that, in essence, merely allows us to let ourselves off the hook. there is no situation of which i can think, where disparaging another purely on the basis of their skin colour, can be thought acceptable. if you were beaten by a black cyclist, it's probably because they were faster than you; to be a bad loser and call them out with racist remarks would not only be unsporting, but inhuman.

of course, the book is not all doom and gloom, highlighting many instances where black riders demonstrate how cycling was instrumental in providing them with an expressive outlet and building of character. for instance, the previously quoted rahsaan bahati went on to win ten american national championships. and rapha's recent championing of the williams brothers' le39ion team can but underline that state of affairs. lee moncrieffe speaks to british riders maurice and germaine burton, as well as russell williams, to charlotte cole-hossain, bmx rider, tre whyte and many others, demonstrating, through many examples, that racism in bike racing is hardly constrained to a few isolated incidents, but also showing that the tenacity and resolve of the majority of his interviewees has, in most cases, risen above the situation.

lee moncrieffe also pays attention to the complicity of national selectors, at least in the uk, who seem predominantly to select white riders for the national team. as he points out, scots olympic hero, chris hoy, began his illustrious career as a bmx rider, switching to the track sprint and keirin to bring a medal tally that reigned supreme until jason kenny's exploits in japan this year. strange is it not, the author ruminates, that no black bmx riders seem to have been afforded similar opportunities.

my only real disappointment with desire, discrimination, determination' is the lack of any apparent conclusion. there are many, many examples of all three of the above 'd's, yet no potential solutions are proposed. admittedly, the individual who can resolve the racism issue, not only in cycling, would deserve considerably more than a medal, and it's unlikely any tangible solution actually exists. and unfortunately, like many a cycling manifesto from the national cycling organisations, 'black champions in cycling' is likely one more example of preaching to the converted. i can't see too many racists eagerly picking up a copy and reading it from cover to cover. however, what the book does potentially succeed in achieving, is in highlighting the situation to those of us who could conceivably make a difference by making us aware of racism's existence in the sport and encouraging us to help stamp it out amongst our peers.

we're all humans living on the same planet, ultimately no different from one another. discrimination, for any reason, is simply unacceptable. marlon lee moncrieffe is to be applauded for having written this book, as are rapha and bluetrain for publishing it.

desire, discrimination, determination: black champions in cycling is published this month by rapha editions/bluetrain publishing.

thanks to the generosity of of rapha/bluetrain, i have a pristine copy of marlon lee moncrieffe's excellent book to give away to the randomly chosen sender of the correct answer to the following question. by what name was muhammed ali previously known? answers should be e-mailed to by monday 23 august, including a full postal address.

tuesday 17 august 2021

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