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art lies in the detail

no corner to hide - frank quitely

is it possible that vicenzo nibali is really bert thomson from dumfries, having adopted the italian moniker as his pen name? or perhaps wout van art is really daniel smith from fort william, well aware that nobody with a straighforward name ever won a spring classic or stage of the tour. after all, many writers adopt nomes de plume, even while having books published under their real names. a columnist in islay's local paper writes under the name of perry green, which i know for a fact, is not his real name. there are all manner of reasons for so doing. in the forties and fifties, several jazz musicians appeared on recordings under a different name to avoid contractual problems. i have a vinyl recording of the lester young, buddy rich trio on which the pianist is named aye guy, in reality, nat king cole, who was signed to another record label.

in 1971 glasgow band, beggars opera released an album entitled, act one, on which the bass player was named as marshall erskine. this fellow was the elder brother of a guitarist i played with in another band, who was concerned that his well-to-do parents would disapprove of him spending some of his time at college, playing bass guitar in a rock band. therefore he adopted his pseudonym, culled from the make of amplifier he used and the name of the hall in which they rehearsed.

scottish comic book artist/illustrator, frank quitely, renowned for his work with marvel and dc comics is none other than vincent deighan, though i have no idea why he found it necessary to change his name. his real name seems every bit as intriguing as does his adopted persona. however, quitely's connection with islay revolves around his having been commissioned to draw a picture of the devil inside an empty whisky cask, a task to which he was more than equal, but of which he said, just like the subject of his whisky label,"it was all in the detail".

to explain further, bowmore's round church, built in 1767 and which sits atop the village main street, was reputedly built in this fashion to ensure there were no corners in which the devil might hide. everyone on islay is aware of this legend, but bowmore distillery's marketing department appear to have elaborated upon the myth by stating that the devil did, in fact, visit the church in 1837 and from which he was chased by villagers bearing lit torches. conveniently for the distillery, the devil ran down main street and into the distillery, reputedly hiding in an empty cask and subsequently whisked away on a puffer taking the casks back to the mainland. nobody i know has ever heard this part of the story before.

the two, limited edition bottles, bearing quitely's artwork are a 23 year-old expression and another at 32 years old. both are exclusively for sale through airport duty free retail outlets, the former at a smidgeon over £237, and the latter a bit more expensively at over £2100. just the sort of money that air travellers are thinking of spending prior to boarding an aeroplane. those details are, to put it mildly, a tad more contentious.

however, details that can make a surprising difference, assuming any of us are paying close attention, might just be a rather insignificant part of a rear derailleur. though there have been a few offerings recently from the likes of absolute black and ceramic speed replacing that standard jockey cage with enormously over-sized lower jockey wheels, the benefits to be acquired from so doing are the subject of major discussion. shimano are unconvinced, claiming that the increased size causes greater aerodynamic drag, while the purveyors of these products conversely claim that the larger diameter prevents drag from the chain, placing less contact between the side plates. no matter who is correct, it seems highly unlikely that benefits from either, considering where the derailleur sits in the airflow path, are minimal at best.

having suffered complete disintegration last week of the sram rival lower jockey wheel on my specialized crux, unable to find anywhere with stock of the oem replacement, i bought a pair of bbb jockey wheels allegedly compatible with pretty much any gear mech you care to mention, whether from shimano, campagnolo or sram. featuring sealed cartridge bearings, compatibility was ensured by a supply of plastic spacers designed to be inserted between wheel and cage. it's amazing just what a difference a £13.95 replacement can do for a £2,600 bicycle. and in something of an about face, only on my return from yesterday's bike ride on the very same specialized, did i realise that the replacement lower jockey wheel is, in fact, smaller than the broken item it replaced.

were i some sort of entrepreneur, i would now be discussing the manufacture of replacement jockey cages featuring smaller wheels on the pure supposition that, not only do these wheels make the delighful purring sound redolent of a brand new chain/mech combination, but i'm sure i could detect considerably less aerodynamic drag on uiskentuie strand. i'm currently checking the telephone directory for the number of my nearest wind tunnel to confirm.

just like vince said, it's all in the detail.

sunday 17 october 2021

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there's life in the old dog yet

bespoked harrogate 2021

the bike show originally known as bespoked bristol once took place in what was once a railway platform in isambaard kingdom brunel's temple meads station, originally constructed in the mid-nineenth century. i first visited the exhibition eight years ago, and while the surroundings were absolutely perfect for the exhibition, effectively britain's answer to nahbs - the north american handbuilt bicycle show, there's no doubt that space was very much at a premium. however, following a lengthy journey from islay, involving one ferry and two buses, a trip that took almost as long as it did to get to sacramento a few years earlier for nahbs, it was a trip worth making.

those years were very much a period when bicycle building and innovation were very much in the ascendancy, when there seemed to be frame builders popping up right left and centre, along with an attendant cottage industry providing componentry to suit a genre of bicycle that was considerably less concerned with speed and aero than seemed the industry at large. unsurprisingly, the majority of builders worked in steel, a material more economically suited to the abilities and economics of the skilled individual.

the following year, the problem of space had been more than addressed by moving bespoked lock, stock and barrel into london's olympic velodrome, a move that offered plenty of space between exhibition stands. disappointingly, following excellent catering services in bristol by look mum no hands!, availability of food at lea park was something of a disappointment. but who attends these events for the victuals anyway?

after last year's hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, bespoked has once again resurfaced a tad later this year (the original took place in april) and has moved from bristol to harrogate, a location that would undoubtedly have lessened my travel woes had i been in a position to go in the first place. unfortunately that means there will be no 'on the spot' reporting for the umpteenth year in a row. however, it warms the cockles of my jockey wheels that the event continues to prosper, for i have frequently wondered where we'd all be if big brother had won, and we were all confined to riding into the sunset aboard monocoque carbon fibre?

this apprehension of a velocipedinal future is not, you will be pleased to hear, a knee-jerk reaction brought on by appreciation of the machinations of ned ludd. in my little world, there is nothing particularly retentive about riding a steel-framed bicycle in preference to slab-side, wind tunnel tested carbon frames. horses for courses; very few of us, if we're honest, have need of the latter. whether or not we fancy owning one of those is purely a matter of free choice, accompanied by the appropriate financial wherewithal. but i think it an essential part of modern life that we continue to support the efforts of the skilled artisan. in the true definition of chiarascuro, we can only compare and contrast, if there is valid comparison to be had.

it has been pointed out that many of today's cyclists are scarcely aware of the existence of anything other than carbon, while there will soon be a generation of sporting cyclists who are unaware that gears could once be changed without need of a battery. while there is essentially nothing wrong with that scenario, it would be a crying shame if it were to become the only show in town. tautologically, a bespoke bicycle can be built and assembled to cater to your every dimension and cycling proclivity, factors that can rarely be offered by the bicycle industry, even supposing they were interested in doing so in the first place.

but aside from that, events such as bespoked and those who participate are a salient reminder of what the bicycle actually was, what it is and what it could yet become, unsullied by the need to support the factories in taiwan, pay dividends to the shareholders and occupy any downtime in university wind tunnels. there is still unbridled innovation to be seen at the handbuit end of the equation. it's a tangible reminder of why we yearn for the days when we used to simply go for a bike ride.

you know i'm right.

bespoked 2021

saturday 16 october 2021

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wouldn't it be good...?

nik kershaw - wouldn't it be good

one year before george orwell's novel claimed we'd be living under a repressive dictatorship, singer, nik kershaw released an album entitled 'human racing' from which was culled a single, released a matter of weeks, prior to this, his first studio album. the single, 'wouldn't it be good' reached number four in the uk charts, though made far less of an impression on america's billboard chart, making it only as far as 46th. in the lyrics for 'wouldn't it be good', the third line of the chorus asks, 'Wouldn't it be good if we could wish ourselves away?'

following the past year and a half of pandemic restrictions and lockdowns across the world, there will be many who would tick the yes box in answer to that question. but probably not many of those in the velocipedinal realm. looking at the contention that every cloud has a silver-lining, the initial weeks of lockdown were something of a bonus for britain's cyclists, removing a substantial proportion of the uk's motorised traffic, and leaving empty vistas, ripe for unfettered cycling. granted, it is of great distress that it took an international pandemic to effect such a state of affairs, but opportunities like that have to be grabbed when they present themselves.

however, the lyric has implications beyond the likes of the sunday ride, or the daily commute. with yesterday's unveiling of next years' tour de france route, there are at least one or two professionals very much in danger of wishing themselves away. with a parcours that commences in danish denmark, takes in more than just a few cobbled sectors around arenberg and includes the 21 hairpin bends of the iconic alpe d'huez, this year's green jersey winner, mark cavendish has been quoted as saying, "There aren't as many chances for the fast men as in the past, so you'll need to try to make the most out of every opportunity."

bear in mind that 2 july is quite some months away (just over eight, to be a tad more accurate) and presumably there will be more than a few days' racing before then in which the quickstep - alphavinyl rider could taste sprint victory. but now that the route has been revealed, i'd not be a bit surprised if the above fact remains uppermost in his mind until mr lefevre makes his tour team choice nearer the grand départ. of course, cavendish's comments and aspirations are not necessarily shared by his potential tour competitors.

winner of il lombardia at the weekend and the last two editions of the tour, tadej pogacar apparently believes that it will take a complete rider to take the yellow jersey in paris, undoubtedly the rider he considers himself (with some justification) to be. with five mountain top finishes and two time-trials, you can sort of see where mark cavendish is coming from. but the announcement of the following year's tour route at this time of year and its subsequent reporting, rather undermines the opinion allegedly held by many within and without the sport. reputedly, nothing succeeds like success, but the tour de france seems to occupy a place in the cycling world several podium steps above its station.

it would be lovely to think that each world tour event exists independent of any association with its peers, that, just like a large family of children, there are no favourites amongst their number. but if you consider that the giro d'italia precedes le tour on the international calendar by almost two months, is it not a tad iniquitous that the route of the 2022 event yas not yet been announced? if this favouritism did not visibly exist, the giro announcement should surely have come first? i believe this simply serves to raise the tour de france to levels that seek to place it outwith the rest of the world tour matrix. and i don't see that as a good thing, but it's been happening for a very long time.

i know that there are others who share my views, but each october and every july, they are professionally required to report on both aspects, serving only to achieve the opposite of what many of us feel should be the case. i get that announcing the route allows the teams to make the necessary logistical arrangements, along with those who plan to follow the event, or visit for a stage or two, but this simply creates a self-fulfilling prophecy in my opinion. and, of course, when the magazines reach publication stage, there will be all manner of punditry aimed at informing us as to which riders might be favoured by each stage, despite no current knoweledge of who might be chosen for each team, or how the early part of next season might transpire.

so, not that you'll notice any real difference, i will be henceforth ignoring any and all promotional reference to the 2022 tour de france, partly on the basis that whatever i say will undoubtedly be wrong, and partly as my own small demonstration against what i see as one of the sport's major inequalities.

but to quote from an episode of the big bang theory, "...not that anyone cares."

friday 15 october 2021

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rouleur

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built-in obsolescence

carbon fibre matting

the increased availability of titanium and other exotic metals for the bicycle industry, if memory serves correctly, began in the early 1990s following the end of the so-called cold war. titanium, scandium and even beryllium had been used by the aerospace industry in military aircraft, missiles and the like, where defence spending saw little problem in the cost of such materials (a beryllium bicycle frame was once exhibited at a cost of $24,000). the sizeable amount of those materials now looking for a purpose and the expertise that had been gained working with them, in its search for a future outside of the military realm, settled, for one, on the bicycle industry. this brought us titanium stems, frames etc., along with scandium and alloys of aluminium, the latter of which rose to the top due to their easier malleability, light weight and relatively low-cost.

judging by the hapless fellow i once met on uiskentuie strand, nursing a colossal break in the aluminium downtube of his mountain bike, temporarily held together by gaffa tape, these new aerospace materials were hardly undestructible, though i'm readily assured that such breakages rarely affect the far stronger titanium, a metal that scarcely even corrodes, allowing for an aesthetically pleasing satin sheen and no paint. the metal era of the bicycle industry was quite short-lived, even though frames of ferrous and non-ferrous materials are still readily available, for the now ubiquitous carbon fibre soon took over the top step of the podium, both literally and figuratively.

there is scarcely a component on the contemporary bicycle that is not fashioned from the black stuff, including spokes, hubs and even chainrings, whether proving lighter than metal or not. condor cycles once placed many of their professional riders on steel frames, as did one or two others at pro continental level. the world tour, however, rides almost exclusively on carbon fibre, though there are still a few components that steadfastly remain fashioned from aluminium alloys. campagnolo have adopted the material throughout their product range, from gear mechs to wheel rims, and as far as frames are concerned, carbon rules the roost.

it's certainly a versatile material, allowing designers to place more where needed and remove it where it suffers from less stress to reduce weight. building with carbon is, in essence, an additive process. metal, on the other hand, requires to have material removed, in a similar manner to that of a sculptor, in order to provide the butting that keeps it strong at the joints, but pleasantly light weight in the middle. however, aside from monetary cost, there are other costs to consider, not least of which is longevity.

manufacturers, in earlier years, were often wont to add restrictive paragraphs to their owner's manuals, advising that items such as carbon handlebars, seatposts, carbon wheels and stems ought to be replaced at regular intervals, the recommendation usually centering around a period of three years, or 15,000km. though carbon frames were rarely, if ever, mentioned, it came as a bit of a shock to many (self-included) to learn that these often expensive components were unlikely to last forever and ever.

either as a result of negative responses from customers and potential customers, or the discovery that the material has proved to be tougher than expected, those paragraphs have softened their tone. many now simply advise that carbon componentry is regularly checked and possibly replaced, depending on the findings. alert to the relatively fragility of carbon can be more readily appreciated by frequent advice to never clamp a carbon seatpost in the jaws of a workstand, but to use an aluminium post instead. i am no engineer and most certainly not an expert in carbon fibre, but it does come as something of a disappointment to learn that our carbon comfort and joy might be more short-lived than we either thought or hoped, particularly in the light of the often high cost of entry.

as a confirmed luddite, nothing would give me greater pleasure to advise that we all shy away from the black stuff, and spend our pennies on far more durable materials such as titanium or, more economically, steel. but the cycling world is not made that way. aside from which, i have a long history of nobody paying any attentionto what i say. i currently have a foot in both camps, riding a superb steel ritchey logic, festooned with carbon fibre componentry, purely for pleasure and certainly not for reasons of weight or speed. carbon may be the essence of our dreams and aspirations, but its apparent built-in obsolescence still comes as a bit of a shock to the bank balance, or at least, it will when time comes for replacement.

when we're all being encouraged to think more positively about waste and the environment, having to replace componentry every three years or so, doesn't sound as environmentally sound as purchasing items that will possibly outlast their owner. carbon fibre can be recycled (apparently with great difficulty), but i note that argyll and bute council do not offer a wheelie bin into which the material might be placed for such a purpose. incineration of carbon fibre has to take place under controlled conditions due to the potential release of small, electrically conductive fibres into the atmosphere. maybe we'd all be happier if carbon components were leased rather than purchased, allowing for replacement after the requisite three years?

and when was the last time you saw anyone wearing a 'carbon fibre is real' t-shirt?

thursday 14 october 2021

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ritchey super logic single bolt carbon seatpost

ritchey logic one-bolt carbon seatpost

there has been much discussion, if that's the correct term, on youtube lately over absolute black's hollowcage, shimano only, carbon jockey replacement unit, offering an oversized lower wheel, the effectiveness of which has been disparaged by several of those posting in the video channel. much of this 'discussion' surrounds the substantial price-tag attached to the device, one that outweighs the price of shimano's entire eleven-speed dura-ace rear derailleur. claims of increased efficiency or improved aerodynamics, if true, are highly unlikely to make any real difference to those of us without a professional contract in our back pockets. it could, therefore, aside from all the hoo-ha, be regarded as a solution looking for a problem.

ritchey logic one-bolt carbon seatpost

of course, those of us who have lived in the velocipedinal realm for many years, have long been acquainted with the law of diminishing returns, where the cost of purported incremental improvements bear costs in inverse proportion to those benefits. whether you're willing to indulge in dave brailsford's almost mythical 'marginal gains' depends on both how easily led you are, and how deep are your financial pockets. i should make it plain that there's nothing intrinsically wrong with purchasing expensive components or doohickies for whatever reason, always assuming you're not placing yourself in debt to do so. after all, there are any number of motorists driving so-called sports edition vehicles, when their demands extend no further than getting to and from the office each day and the supermarket at the weekend.

ritchey logic one-bolt carbon seatpost

for almost the last four years, my principal ride has been a steel ritchey logic frame, originally featuring a campagnolo chorus groupset, before being upgraded to record twelve-speed and a set of bora wto carbon wheels. however, through both variations and until last week, i have sat on a brooks cambium light saddle atop a 350mm ritchey logic aluminium one-bolt seatpost. unlike the single rear bolt that featured on the original campagnolo seatpost of yesteryear, the solitary clamp bolt about which ritchey make mention runs at right-angles to the direction of travel.

ritchey logic one-bolt carbon seatpost

i'd be fibbing if i said it's every bit as simple a process to fit the saddle, as was the case on the aforementioned campag post, but there's no denying its ingenuity of purpose. and, if as many of us do, you have a seatpack in which to carry tools, tyre levers and a spare inner, there's no need to remove the latter to adjust the saddle. the one-bolt carbon seatpost generously sent by ritchey for review, features the same means of saddle fitting on the top of a similar 350mm length.

i confess that my reason for requesting such an item for review (after all, who the heck reviews seatposts?) was the substantial difference in price between the alloy version and its carbon fibre accomplice. the alloy post retails at a perfectly reasonable (i think) £75.50, but choosing carbon will deplete your bank balance by a further £153. and up till now, it never really dawned on me to ask why? from a weight weenie point of view, there's a saving of 82 grammes, or, in real money, three ounces. as several of my cycling colleagues have been keen to point out, i could save more by getting a decent haircut.

ritchey logic one-bolt carbon seatpost

i would respectfully suggest that those 82 grammes would only make sense in conjunction with several other weight-saving ploys. when riding up the 6% climb past the rspb's aoradh farm, i know i was no quicker than the previous week, when carbon was not yet my friend.

fitting the post (27.2mm diameter) was entirely without drama. ritchey advise not twisting the post into place, thus avoiding scoring the carbon surface and subsequently causing potential stress risers. a drop of green oil on the lower portion of the post had it easily slide into place, before being clamped in place by the seatbolt. from an aesthetic point of view, the post does look impressively sleek and professional, even if it actually confers no measurable performance gains. however, it does seem a tad prone to scratching; after fitting my seatpack, i'd to slide the velcro strap upwards by one centimetre, in the process of which i incurred a small scratch near the logo. hardly a capital offence, but an unwelcome one nonetheless. perhaps an outer clearcoat would have fended off such absent minded ineptitude.

ritchey logic one-bolt carbon seatpost

so, are there any gains to be had from fitting almost £230 worth of carbon seatpost? though i cannot claim to have ridden twice around the world in order to evaluate the item's potential benefits, the only determinable difference between it and its alloy counterpart, would appear to be a slight diminution of road buzz. if you can imagine islay's road surfaces to be a never-ending series of little pointy summits, the carbon seatpost gives the impression that those summits are now more rounded. it's possible that, on longer rides, this may prove an accumulative benefit, leading to a smidgeon less fatigue overall, but whether you feel that to be worth an extra £153, i will leave to your own judgment.

on the plus side, the one-bolt mechanism held the saddle rock solid over a variety of surfaces, including several cattle grids, while it remained at precisely the height it had been set before the grand départ.

from a distance, it looks little different from matt black alloy, especially following a relentless drubbing from islay's equivalent of 'belgian toothpaste'. however, there is always the smug satisfaction that goes with riding one of the world's top steel frames, replete with a matching carbon seatpost (if that doesn't seem overly contradictory). and much to their credit, ritchey do not actually make any extravagant claims for carbon over alloy.

you pays your money, you makes your choice.

ritchey logic single-bolt carbon seatpost

wednesday 13 october 2021

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the final curtain?

pedal on parliament cop26 bike rides

a feature on the financial times website yesterday, asked the question, "are electric cars more environmentally friendly than the petrol and diesel versions they are designed to replace?" the feature was cleverly designed, illustrating from whence the materials used in the batteries originate, describing the environmental concerns of extracting these elements, and the transport costs that must be factored in, moving those materials to the country where the majority of car batteries are built (china) and subsequently to the point of car manufacture. all in all, the financial times pointed out that, according to a survey, an electric car could incur up to 60% more co2 emissions than the fossil-fueled examples it is designed to replace.

the majority of those emissions are incurred by the battery production, if you factor in a projected increase in sales of electric vehicles from 2.1 million in 2020 to 28.2 million by 2030, that would substantially increase co2 output instead of an expected decrease, according to marketing by both governments and vehicle manufacturers. and the oft-quoted increase in tyre particles engendered by electric vehicles is pretty much down to batteries again, but this time due to their weight. while an entry-level battery sits around 300kg, the battery used in something like jaguar's i-pace weighs almost double that. the equivalent, according to the financial times, of the weight of the original morris mini.

however, despite al the foregoing, the ft states "Despite the significant improvements that need to be made to manufacturing, there is evidence that, even today, overall EVs are cleaner than traditional alternatives." this is based on a study by the european union which figures that with electricity supplied by modern power plants and renewables, across the expected lifetime of an ev, the environmental costs will be 17-30 percent lower than that of petrol and diesel cars.

you may well be wondering what on earth any of this has to do with bicycles? directly, it has little or nothing to do with motorised transport, other than electric bicycles using similar battery technology to that featured in electric cars, and as development of the latter continues at the behest of the motorist of tomorrow, cyclists ought also to benefit. however, i'd imagine, based purely on supposition, that electric bicycles, contrary to their car counterparts, field higher environmental costs than the analogue version we've all ridden for the last hundred years. at this juncture, you would surely expect me to once again disparage the e-bike, and in truth, nothing would give me greater pleasure, but in order to maintain some semblance of entertainment value, i will resist.

but the efficient, emission-free bicycle still has its part to play, perhaps a lot sooner than you might think. at the beginning of november, glasgow will play host to cop26 (the 26th conference of parties who have signed up to the united nations framework convention on climate change (unfccc)) at which up to 30,000 attendees are expected. cop26 is seen as the most significant climate event since the 2015 paris agreement, and at which many climate scientists have stated is possibly the world's last chance to stave off a self-destruction that many either seem to see as a trivial matter, or deny altogether. in office conversations and elsewhere, i have already come across individual protestations.

the uk contributes 1.1% of global emissions, so why, goes the argument, are we bothering to make any attempts to curb these emissions? if china and the usa contribute a total of 56%, what difference can it possibly make if we switch to solar and windpower, convert all our industries to renewables and move everyone to electric cars? and you can sort of see their point. but bear in mind that those numbers are percentages; if china reduced its output to nearer 0%, the percentage contributed by the uk would obviously increase as a portion of 100%. and not doing anything at all would hardly be of much help overall.

but, assuming you find yourself in agreement with yours truly and have faith that, quite possibly, the bicycle will save the world, should you wish to make your point a tad more forcibly, several bike rides have been been organised by pedal on parliament to coincide with the conference. and those fine folks have also intimated that, if you fancy organising a ride of your own, feel free so to do and let them know. not unnaturally, the majority of rides centre around scotland's central belt (all just a tad too far from bowmore to join in). that said, there are organised rides from as far afield as dumfries, edinburgh, kinross, stirling, perth and strathaven. all the glasgow rides take place on saturday 6 november.

if you'd like to make the point that the bicycle fights climate change, check out the details via the website link below.

pedal on parlaiment cop26 bike rides

tuesday 12 october 2021

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world bicycle relief

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galloway cycling

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as always, if you have any comments, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading.

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