Thursday, 29 December 2011

wall to wall talent

The sequence of posts and events that leads to them is beginning to offer a strange fascination. In fact, the sequence found its way into a little Christmas tradition. Over the years clues have been written on the tags of presents. They are usually humorous little quips, but at times, they can be pretty difficult and offer a journey into some bizarre esoteric territory that can have non-family members somewhat perplexed.

A previous abode that was mentioned in an earlier post was susceptible to a fair amount of water ingress. The place was built in 1870, had three pitched attics (obviously an excess of slate in those days) and one huge valley gutter. Now, lets consider this for a moment; Glasgow is on the west coast of Scotland, it rains more than it should and the architect specified a valley gutter. Oh, and when you are up there, just put holes through the slates when fixing them to the sarking. I've always been dissatisfied with the process and technology of fitting slates to roofs. Where builders, developers and architects in cahoots? I can imagine the negotiation with tenders circa 1870. Builder - 'You want us to build for how much?!' Developer - Ah, just wait a few years, your crew will be back fixing all those roofs, insurance companies will be paying out. The flats will also be factored...need I say more. A fair few years have gone by and more than a few unfair repairs have been carried out. One such repair ended up in an entire room being 'rebuilt' The result of that particular incident and water ingress required a  new floor. It was the time when almost all sensible and insensible home owners where ripping up perfectly good carpets and fitting wooden flooring. The explosion of do it yourself laminate offers was everywhere. The decision was not to go down that route, but to consider something more responsible and sustainable. After all, the damaged floor was over 130 years old.

only a matter of time

The search for flooring was pretty easy. Other rooms had also been repaired over the years and the 'new' floors where solid maple. It's not cheap, but it looks the ticket and if treated properly, tends to cope well with water damage. A sustainable source was found through a reputable supplier and 49m2 of maple from the Beaver forest in Canada arrived. The flooring guys had a chuckle, 'hey mate, when you sell this place, you can say it has wall to wall beaver'.

The tag on a Christmas gift read 'wall to wall' talent. It was obviously a book, my mind began to wonder....I started out with 'does it have something to do with stonedykes?' no 'does it have something to do with architecture?' no. 'Does it have something to do with flooring?' Could do. Jesus, has my wife just bought me a book about floors!? The breathing became even more laboured when she said 'Beaver'. At this point I gave in and removed the wrapping. To my surprise and sheer delight, I wasn't in receipt of a book that chartered the history of wooden floors, or dare I say it, Beaver, it was Slaying the Badger by Richard Moore. One of these day's I'm might just try an Amazon search on 'Slaying the Beaver'. 

My wife had written the tag at 2am on Christmas morning, totally pooped after a crazy day. She had retitled one of the greatest cyclists of all time and a book that charts one of the greatest Tour de France, no mean feat. The best thing about the new identity is the name, Le Castor does sound better than Le Blaireau.

Another treat under the tree and a book that I've been on the look out for some time is Watchmaking by George Daniels. This seminal text was first published over thirty years ago, the latest edition is regarded as being one of the outstanding events of this year in the horological world. 

George Daniels lived on the Isle of Man and was known as the 'Man of time' and the greatest living horologist. Daniels passed away late October of this year. I'm hopeful that many opportunities will become available during the festive period and beyond to allow me to sit down and savour both books and gain insights to these incredibly talented men.

Stay upright

Saturday, 24 December 2011

cycling conundrum number two

A post earlier this month pointed to the very fine opportunity that one of our guffers has to ride Amstel Gold. These can be rare chances that only come about once a lottery for a place has been won. This seems like a growing phenomenon with entries to more popular (usually harder) rides and sportives selling out quickly especially in the UK.
This leaves your average cyclist trying to achieve a balance between commitments to riding and training and everything else that goes with ordinary life. Websites are scoured for school and public holidays and fingers crossed in the hope that no family occasions clash with the big day. Some of courses manage to combine two demands as noted last year when a couple were married on the start line of Etape Caledonia and it has been known for specially commissioned white kit to be used for a wedding day tandem ride up Mt Ventoux. Alas these are the exceptions.
The Amstel Gold Amateur ride will go ahead on 14 April 2012. The Tour of Flanders on 31 March 2012 The routemeaster had a plan to ride both but it would in effect block out the beginning and end weekends of the Scottish school holidays. This would foreshorten time away or even exclude the possibility of a family holiday all together. We ask much of our partners and families in our pursuit of our chosen glories and must make our choices thoughtfully and with care. Thinking hard…

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

With best wishes from all at cyclesguff

Please do you best to stay upright....

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Block and Tackle

Shimano just would not cut it on that bus

Pulleys are fantastic things. My old abode used them to wonderful effect. Tall ceilings provided ample void space to dry clothes and hang bikes. The mechanical advantage also came in very useful when ‘finger tip’ hauling of the bike into the rafters was required after a long day in the saddle. Experience also proves that a muddy bike is also easier to store in the air. After a day or two, lovely dry chunks of mud would find their way onto wooden floors just in time for the dust pan and shovel. This little ritual was a well worn path. The bikes where stored in a small room off the hall. That room also contained the combi-boiler and every other item of house hold paraphernalia that required storing; paint tins –check, light bulbs - check, ladders – check; ancient string and odd fasteners – double check. Ah, the joys of a store and a chance to indulge in my minor obsession of order. The pulley ropes where even tethered to numbered hooks. Why look up and have your eye put at risk by an errant mud bomb? Select bike of choice by number, unleash and off you go.

The contents of that store now make up for almost half of the garage/man cave at my house. More space in my experience equals less effective order and more opportunities to cover surfaces. I should attempt to apply an area/volume parallel principle of Cyril Parkinson’s Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion to garage planning. It was during one of those ‘where the hell is it moments’ and frequent rummages through the various boxes of bike parts I came across a blast from the past. Fellow guffers may be surprised to find out about my secret past. You see, I was a Campagista. The little gems shown above have been kept for a variety of reasons, the most important one – memories – there it is again, what is going on with all this reminiscing? These are from the early 90's, no indexing, just plain and simple friction levers. The aesthetics are exquisite, the sensory overload of just holding them had me back in the bunch racing my 2nd hand Cougar Columbus SL, (Terry Dolan built) full of teenage dreams and ambition. These levers now fetch a handsome sum, but I feel all the better for them being in my possession.

Parent Logic - He will grow into it. 23inch frame for a 16 year old
These levers fell out of favour when the Cougar was moved on (due to a massive crash) and a Ciocc Columbus SL was the replacement. The Campag Athena rear mech was also totaled and this is when Shimano moved into my life. Probably the best Christmas present for a young cyclist was kit. The price of dream kit, in fact, almost any kit was out of reach. The neatly wrapped piece of dream kit waiting patiently under the tree was a Dura Ace Shimano Total Integration rear mech. You would think that the marriage of a rear mech with a friction lever would be a painless experience, not for me. I tried everything and called upon various sources of wisdom. There was never an answer or solution to my shifting woes of matching Shimano and Campag - the Ciocc was not to be a polyglot of shifting languages. I couldn’t afford matching Dura Ace shifters, so 105 had to do. The result was breathtaking. No more missed shifts, never an ounce of concern that the gears would skip went you went for it on the hill or sprinting for the line. This was a harmony that I had never experienced with bicycle gearing and I was hooked.
The collar does not match the cuffs

We just have to look at bikes and components today to see the developments and manipulations of materials and technology. There are a few fabrication techniques that have even provided bicycle designers with a new aesthetic. Hydroforming is possibly the most successful development in frame design where metal is still used. As for composites, the successful collaborations between aerospace, motorsport and composite manufacturers has resulted in some awe inspiring off the shelf, ready to race kit. The most heavily publicised has to be the McLaren-Specialized Venge. Having Cavendish at the controls obviously helped with the aura that surrounds that bike. We have fly by wire controls, wireless sensors, braking tech from the motor industry even nano tech cleaning agents. This is all fine and dandy, the real paradigm shift (sorry for the pun) has to be indexed gears, surely one of the best tech developments in bicycle history. OK, My first experience of index shifting was the muscle car shifter on the Raleigh Chopper and that was just too cool for school. The Chopper was unashamedly a marketing exercise and a very successful one at that. I can’t help but think that so much other stuff that fills the mags and pixels on our screens is just that; a filler, padding, fluff and future land fill.

In retrospect, I was too young and naive to realise that it was more than friction that had lost out to indexing. The company that openly states ‘history allows no discounts’ was in trouble. As for those Campagnolo Shifters, it is quite unlikely that they will ever grace another bike. Is this how they should be treated? Should they not be allowed to adorn some loved period piece of exotica? Nope, they should be sitting on my desk, ready for a fondle when the mood suits me and to serve as a reminder of ambitions yet unfulfilled.

Will EPS offer as much soul?

 Stay upright

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Gears in the machine

A recent business trip to Amsterdam struck home just how a city can benefit from a number of transport options. The infrastructure and investment in new developments and continuous maintenance is also obvious. I'm not sure what the balance of public and private investment is, but what is clear is the efficiency of how it operates.  The harmony and interface between the various options also works, however the signage and way-finding could do with someone looking at it from a tourist/visitor perspective. 

The four wheel brigade want to keep you dry
There have been a number of Transport initiatives in the UK that have received a mighty hammering from the press and public outcry in recent years. Let's start with a few clangers - Heathrow Terminal 5, the Edinburgh Trams fiasco, oh and how about the country coming to complete standstill last winter due to snowfall. OK, the snow was particularly severe and caught authorities ill prepared and let's face it, the good people of the UK weren't prepared, so should also accept some of the blame. A good measure of this is the current sales of winter tyres and profiteering of tyre suppliers - shame on you. It looks like quite a few folk are paying the price for a new set of 'boots' this year in time for the snowfall and ice. 

What we have enjoyed in the UK and something that has to be celebrated is the Cycle to Work scheme.  The scheme is basically a Tax free bike for work through the Government's Green Transport Initiative. Basically is a misleading word. In practise, it isn't that basic with various options, commitments, buy outs and the revised VAT approach that will be introduced in 2012 will disadvantage some due to earnings and salary sacrifice. What is basic, is the fact that considerable savings can be made on bikes, clothing and accessories. If the stats are accurate; 57million calories where burned yesterday, over 600k car journeys have been saved in the last week and almost 7000 tons of C02 where saved in the last month due to cycling to work.  Does this C02 saving take into account the amount produced due to an increase in bike manufacturing/logistics, increase in food production to feed all those hungry cyclists? I doubt it, but the marketeers do love their stats. Here's another one for the marketeers to consider - the title is a bit dry, so cyclesguff supports a name change and it is very simple, let's get behind the Cycle from Work scheme.

The 'Underground' in Amsterdam
The challenge with cycling in the UK is the complete disregard that you experience from other road users. In stark contrast, a considerable number of kids in mainland Europe, especially the warmer regions progress from the humble bicycle to a moped, then it's on to some tricked out scooter, next step is the small capacity resin rocket. Once they have grown out of that and responsibilities come in to play. Something like a mid capacity scooter (don't be mislead, these things are rapid) or even a small car is next. This means that over the years, their road awareness, spatial consideration and acceptance of all things two wheels is second nature. Just think about a busy junction in Rome, Barcelona etc. Four and more wheeled vehicles are swarmed by the two-wheel brigade. They don't seem to mind as they are engulfed in blue plumes of 2-stroke smoke as the lights turn green. More bikes equals less congestion, shorter journey times and the four (or more) wheel brigade are probably wishing that two wheels had been the order of the day. 

Venue for Amsterdam Hill Climb Championship
Back to Amsterdam. The reason I think the transport system work so well is competition. If any single operator fails to provide a reliable and well maintained service/infrastructure, the user will go to the alternative. The operators of powered transport systems are also acutely aware that the humble bicycle has the upper hand. The efficiency of that solution is their benchmark. Now, let's go back to the UK. Why bother paying over the odds for some crap old bus driven by a grumpy driver and have streaks of water running of the windows due to poor ventilation and condensation, the result making you look like you have peed your pants. Why pay through the nose for a train that turns up late? Why drive the car when the never repaired pot holes will wreck your wheels and those new winter tyres? The main reason is that riding a bike to work in the UK is frequently very stressful and at times a dangerous experience. Do you want a new extreme sport in the UK? Take up cycle to work.

Can you pick the kids up on the way back from work?
Hopefully future generations of UK bicycle commuters will not have to deal with the all too common experiences of those that currently get on their bikes. If the Cycle to Work scheme has any legacy, I sincerely hope it offers commuters a number of viable alternatives, all of which are efficient, benefit from an appropriate level of infrastructure that also has a process of continuous improvement at its core, is fantastic value for money and has the humble bicycle as its benchmark. 

Stay dreaming

Sunday, 11 December 2011


I used to endure a 10 mile commute by car that would take 1-1.5hrs. I promised myself that I would never work or live in an area that required a commute anywhere near that ridiculous ratio. What's happened in recent years doesn't quite meet with my promise. My commute now is roughly 35-45 minutes and is 12 miles. Thankfully, this time round I have options. Take the car, bike, bus or train are all on the list. I'm also very lucky to be able to share the journey at times with family and friends. The route has wonderful views to enjoy and the changing drama of the sky and light means that there are very rarely two days the same.

When the journey is more of a solitary affair, like most commuters, a book, mag or newspaper keeps me company. The book on the go at the moment is 'We where young and carefree' by Laurent Fignon. He was and still is a hero of mine. I have no embarrassment in admitting that I dreamt of riding in his style when I first grasped the joys of this wonderful sport. I also have no issues with the tears that ran down my cheeks when he lost the Tour by 8 seconds to Greg LeMond. My Dad came into my room wondering what the hell was going on. There I was in a teenage heap, trying to absorb Phil Ligget's words and images from the excellent early days of Channel 4's coverage.

Like most cycling clubs, the evening run was put back so the bunch could watch le Tour highlights before heading out. The Thursday evening run prior to the final time trial was full of Fignon v's Lemond debate, there was quite possibly a wager at stake. I admired LeMond and was always fighting with who I favoured for the 1989 Tour. LeMond had taken a back seat in 1988 due to le Badger and La Vie Claire, surely his time for another win was soon. Fignon had already won two Tours and was one of the most recognisable cyclists on the planet. A third win would put him up there with the legends. In my book, if you have won it once, you are a legend. In the end, my heart lay with Fignon, my head was with LeMond.

One for the next washinglinepost
Fignon's no punches pulled explanation of LeMond in the 1989 Tour is true to his style on the bike - open, attacking and not willing to take prisoners. However, Fignon's account of Lemond also pays tribute to the first American to win Le Tour. His cunning, determination and ability to ride without the aid of a well drilled and capable team playing a major role in Fignon's subtle praise of the cruel 1989 victory. Let's not forget, LeMond rode his first Tour de France in 1984, finishing third in support of his team leader. The team leader was none other than Laurent Fignon. LeMond also finished at the top of young rider classification. A coverted jersey that we know has been worn by many Tour winners.

Fignon's love hate relationship with the press, including the vitriolic French was a way of life. LeMond on the other hand was quickly becoming the comeback kid after his lack lustre season and long recovery from the turkey shooting accident. The bike industry was also acutely aware that technology and marketing where about to take the cycling world by storm. Fignon was the old guard - almost UCI in his take on rules, regulation and progress. Why wear an aero lid, when you can show off your flowing blonde locks? He was also offered a pair of the bars from a supplier. He openly states that the end of 1989 Tour was the changing point for cycling 'The craftsmen where defeated by mass-production. Handmade goods were overwhelmed by factory-made stuff. Individuals were submerged in the anonymous mass. the people's heroes were strangled and the glory of the Giants of the Road trickled away'.

Did LeMond win Le Tour 1989 by tech? Possibly. Did he change the face of cycling? Most definitely! Just look at Scott (did you know his son is called Scott?) and where they are now in the cycling peleton and the trails covered in tell tale signs of knobbly tyres. Riders have ridden their bikes to great victories, thousands are spent and dreams are played out every weekend on their frames. How did a company better known for winter sports kit make inroads to cycling? LeMond and those bars certainly have something to do with it. The bars are credited to US Alpine Ski Team coach, bike racer and inventor Boone Lennon. The next twist was when Charley French rode an early aluminium version at the 1986 Ironman triathlon in Hawaii. His time was a record breaking 12hr 13min, not bad for a 60 year old French also happened to be working as engineer for Scott. The aerobars, not surprisingly, quickly created a following amongst professional triathletes. Lennon is quoted as saying  “Guys who never won before were winning, people they beat would call, and week after week we would do more.”According to French “It’s still the biggest time saving thing you can do to a bicycle". The story goes that when LeMond agreed to have them fitted to his 1989 time trial bike, French personally bent LeMond’s bars into shape,

Charley French - interesting surname...

One of my favourite bikes is a 1996 LeMond Alpe D'Huez. The bike has the classic euro stance with the subtle tweak of LeMond geometry - longer than normal top tube, and very comfy. It is almost a contradiction to what the man is about with his restless quest for marginal gains from exotic material exploration and combining their best properties into one frame.  It is also the bike that I would choose to commute on. You see, this is where the dilemma starts to hit home. Every time I take le Alpe out, I can't help but think of Fignon. Lemond has also caused some controversy in recent years with his allegations and thoughts. I rode the LeMond when Lance Armstrong came to Glasgow for his famous ride out. Prior to the ride, Armstrong signed my hat and we even exchanged a few pleasant words. Would he have been so kind if he'd seen my bike? According to one rider that came along side and said 'Christ, your brave riding that today' he would have told me where to go. That rider was Graeme Obree and I wasn't going to argue.

Dear Santa
I'm positive that more tears will roll when I come to the inevitable end of 'we where young and carefree'. Those tears will quickly dry as images of le Prof in his heyday appear and allow of us to appreciate and celebrate his intelligence and elan.

Allez Allez Fignon!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Speed = Distance ÷ Time

The post Tom loved the bike had a reference to a small but incredibly significant component on my Peugeot PH10s. That stem was the starting point of the conversation with Tom. With a few moments to spare, I started to make a few enquiries with family members about whatever happened to my Peugeot? I recall one of my Uncles using it after I'd moved on to another bike. Others think that it was sold to make way for 'yet another bike'. This enquiry was an attempt to find out a little bit more about the stem. The next port of call would be the web. Boy oh boy did it deliver.  Not only are there some wonderful pics of a PH10s on the  excellent puncheur/roubaix site, but the wonderfully titled and explained disraeligears site even has the instructions. Both these sites are well worth a look, but be warned you will be there for sometime.

Cateye also experimented with Stem integration in their early days.

During the search another interesting series of images came up. I've been a big fan of Bontrager for years, primarliy down to his early offerings of beautifully detailed and logically thought out frame designs. I've owned a few Bontys in the past. The deep blue Race Lite below being an all time favourite.

A true steel is real wonderbike

The Race Lite is now in Norway being enjoyed by a fellow enthusiast. Why did I ever move it on? The same reason as the Peugeot, I just wasn't using it. Bikes of that quality deserve to be ridden, the Bonty had quality by the bucket load. Back to the search; the concept below doesn't provide anything new for me. However, Ryan Hahn, Industrial Designer at Trek has brought an old approach back to life with an added dose of joy.

I just love a well put together presentation sheet

If this ever gets to market, it will no doubt be priced at the upper end of the scale and does beg the question about transferability. Then again, if it offers the delight and intro to cycling for others that the CELC provided for me, I hope it sells by the bucket load. It has taken me almost 25 years to appreciate what that stem has resulted in. That appreciation was celebrated by a very satisfying and fitting mix of cultures - a Yamazaki 10 Year Old Malt.

Stay upright

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Tom loved the bike

There has been a fair amount of reminiscing on cyclesguff of late, so while this guffer is on a roll....There was a gentleman called Tom Robertson that changed the way I look at the world. I met Tom in my early teens, the Peugeot 10 speed I was riding being the catalyst for the chat. The Peugeot was purchased in Nimes, France with money that I'd made by going round the doors and selling Macaroon and Tablet bars and a healthy birthday contribution from my parents. I don't have a sweet tooth, therefore didn't eat my profits. The bike also had a very unusual integrated stem/computer. If my memory is correct, I recall that rare unit being Shimano. I do have a plan to look into this when the time comes.

Probably one of the few times Tom pushed a bike

Tom ran the Broughty Velo Cycle Racing Team and suggested that I come along on a club run. I still remember the late Summer Sunday morning. I crept out of the house, doing my best not to wake everyone and made my way to the club rendezvous - Claypotts Castle. The early morning sun, quiet roads and head full of teenage nervousness reminds me of that classic 80's TV add. I where right 'bout that saddle though.

That day on the bike was the main reason why I still ride to this day. Spending time in the back of the car as kid looking out of the window doesn't prepare you for what is beyond the walls and hedges. Up until then, my knowledge of the countryside and landmarks had not be based on the knowledge that you could use your own steam to get there. Weekends would never be the same and I still remember shocked family members looking in disbelief when informed that I had cycled a 'century'. It was almost a religion that the Sunday bunch stopped for lunch at a milk bar (or pub if some of the old guard had their way). I would be home in good time to take the dogs out for a stroll along Broughty Ferry beach. If you had any pennies left in your pocket, the East Coast recovery tonic, an Ice from Vissochis couldn't be missed. A special mention and thanks must go to fellow rider from back in the day, Nick Kopp. Nick is obviously far more organised than me and has kept his training diaries. His excellent site and contributions from fellow cyclists provides a great account of those magic days.

Tom's knowledge of the countryside, minor roads, paths and places of interest was legendary. He was also a master at chatting up the ladies. His secret was simple, he didn't even know he was doing it. The young lads would just watch in amazement as he held the fort and gave as good as he received. The ladies that ran those milk bars and rural pubs where a force to be reckoned with. He once took us to a great wee cafe beside Dunkeld, one of the old guard ordered a pot of tea for a sizeable bunch of thirsty riders. We all found this funny until a stout lass with forearms thicker than my thighs came out with the biggest pot of tea that I have ever seen. Tom, in his immutable style looked at all the young pups and asked 'right, who's pouring?'

Tom was also the kind of man that didn't think twice about signing us up for some epic charity event. I don't have an exact figure for the monies raised or miles covered, but judging by the reaction of those that received the cheques, the effort was more than worth it.

1987 The Peugeot and Tom that kick started my love of cycling are on the left.

He rode some lovely bikes. His winter hack was always pristine and never out of shape. The frame was an early 531 Dawes tourer. This was also his bike of choice when riding to meet his mate that lived in the Italian Dolomites. They used to enter races there for the over 60's, he usually came back with a medal. His summer bike was one of the most beautiful bikes that I can remember, a powder blue Mal Rees. It was adorned with Campagnolo and just oozed class. His annual mileage was in the region of 10k, I'm happy that I covered at least a small percentage of those miles with him in my early years.

Tom commanded an element of respect that was based on him being a genuinely lovely and generous man, full of enthusiasm and never one to let you down. I miss him dearly.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

golden thread

After a long lay off filled with indulgence and non bike it is time to get back on track.If proof were needed recent and sporadic runs have been tough going lacking in any form shape or edge. Time like these usually require some inspiration and it comes in the shape of the Amstel Gold Race. Routemaster, one of our guffers, entered the draw and has been lucky enough to win a place on The Amstel Gold amateur or Tour Version as the organisation likes to call it. Starting in Valkenburg and finishing on the short but deceptively difficult Cauberg a mere 250km later, the ride takes place on 14 April 2012 a day before the Pro event and makes for a fine weekend of cycling. The organised training starts here with a proper session on the turbo this morning working on condition and technique. Feels good to have something to aim at...

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Mark Cavendish wins BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2011

I have a feeling that will not be the headline come 22nd/23rd December. No doubt it will go to some sport personality that doesn't compete in the truly awful and misleading title of 'minority sport'.

From Cav's twitter feed, a few more bed heads come April?
One thing is for sure, it will not be won by a female, tut tut BBC, you really should know better. The last female winner was Zara Philips in 2006. There have been notable female champions since then including World and Olympic Golds. There is also four time Ironman (time for a new title) winner Chrissie Wellington.

Back to Cavendish. Anyone who can conceive a child during one of the most grueling sporting events deserves more than a medal and the razzmatazz of SPOTY winner 2011. In his own words, future Fatherhood is ‘the most exciting news I’ve had all year, and that includes what I’ve done in cycling'. Talking of medals, he did receive something very recently, Mark Cavendish MBE - well done! Let's hope that Queen&Co. are cheering him and Team GB when they pass her place in July 2012.

 Stay upright has a whole new meaning....