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Skwinge when you’re winning, Skoyens before you’ve won

June 1, 2015

At the recent Tour of California, a 23-year-old Latvian (pictured above) briefly lead the race after taking a solo victory on stage three. Before he won, his name was “Skoyens”; afterwards, he was referred to as “Skwinge”.

Apparently Eurosport’s commentators spoke to a couple of Toms Skujins’ countrymen after his victory to get the correct pronunciation, and Skwinge was the result. Latvia is hardly known for its sense of humour, but I suspect those two Latvians did their bit to change that.

There’s been a nasty outbreak of pronunciationitis recently. In the weird world of TV commentary, As-TA-na has transmogrified into ASS-ta-NAR, which is surely now cycling’s equivalent of Hyacinth Boo-KAY. The chap who was talking over the Giro d’Italia for Eurosport constantly referred to Eh-LEE-ya Viviani, as if we would have been scratching our heads if he stuck with broadcasting tradition and referred to riders by their surnames. And in the otherwise excellent Telegraph Cycling Podcast, the flow of conversation is briefly stymied whenever one of the presenters pulls the other up on how to say “Michal Kwiatkowski”. Meanwhile, to my untrained ears, it seems no one is that bothered about pronouncing Dutch or Flemish names correctly, even though Belgium and the Netherlands have had a far greater role in cycling culture than Latvia or Kazakhstan.

I think UK Cycling Expert offers a lesson here. There are two broad reasons why we chuckle when he refers to Zdenek Stybar as Zebedee Sidecar. The first is that there is something in the phonetic alchemy of those words that sound funny when they’re put together. The second is that we like getting names wrong. It’s a British tradition. In a similar way to the British First World War soldiers who mispronounced Ypres for their satirical magazine the Wipers Times, we like to make our own fun. So don’t tell us what we should be saying, even if you happen to be right.

I doubt whether pronouncing a rider’s name differently to how his mother says it would cause him offence anyway. And although broadcast professionals are well-meaning and probably correct, they’re fighting against the tide of time. Does anyone really think that our grandchildren, looking at the yellowed pages of a cycling magazine, would see the name emblazoned across a garish greeny-blue jersey and pronounce the first syllable in the same way that an American would say “arse”?

The obvious point here is that with so many languages involved in professional cycling it is impossible to pronounce all of them correctly. This being the case, my advice to any English-speaking broadcaster is to follow the Roy Walker rule: say what you see. Because aiming for authenticity is truly Skwingeworthy.

The bag that will never be bettered

April 21, 2015
One of these bags is invaluable

One of these bags is invaluable

I’ve been using a new bag to take my suits into work. It’s called a Henty Wingman. You put your jacket and trousers on a coathanger, zip it into the flat main compartment then roll it around a cylindrical inner bag which you’re meant to use for toiletries (I prefer to use it as a poncy manbag for the office and leave the bigger, cumbersome outer layer stuffed in my locker).

Generally, I’m not a huge fan of the courier bag one-shoulder set-up, which in my experience means you often have to decide between losing the circulation in your left arm or keeping the strap loose and putting up with the whole thing randomly swinging into the wing mirrors of trucks. I could also do without the Wingman’s preponderance of clips and straps which take a bit of getting used to and make the contraption look like a piece of camping equipment. But the bottom line is, if you fold everything correctly, it works. Your suit will not give you the appearance of having slept rough in a shop doorway. For that look I rely on not shaving for a week and attacking four climbs on a heavy steel fixie as part of my 12-mile commute, which gives me the classic punch-drunk stare of a wino.

The Wingman gets stares of a different kind, mainly because it looks so complicated. A few weeks ago, as I was preparing to go home, someone saw my new bag in the staff changing room, but this time it was the Uniqlo plastic carrier I had pulled out of the side pocket that provoked interest. “It doesn’t matter what you use,” this stranger observed, “you will always need a plastic bag.”

It’s a hallmark of The Serious Cyclist that he (it’s always a he) will proffer a nugget of wisdom whether you’ve asked for it or not. But he’s right, you know. Like the red balloon trailing that kid along the streets of 1950s Paris, the humble plastic bag has patiently followed me throughout my cycling life. It’s a protective wrapping for food to prevent your work clothes being splattered in a burst ready meal. It’s a waterproof inner layer lest the rain seeps in through a zip. It’s a receptacle for soaked kit after you’ve been drenched in a particularly wet off-season race. And it’s a compartment to separate sweaty clothing from smothering the pages of whatever paperback I happen to be reading. Like the best cyclists, the dutiful plastic carrier bag is light, uncomplicated, adaptable and free. Our lives would be messier and smellier without it.

Pay a tenner and get all the cycling magazines you would ever want

April 13, 2015

My chum Chris Ward, who rides his bike a lot but doesn’t like to talk about it, recently tipped me off about a magazine app called Readly which has hundreds of titles available to read on your iPad. It stocks all the main British cycling mags – Cycle Sport, Procycling, Cycling Plus and Cycling Weekly – as well as the niche publications Urban Cyclist, Cycling Active, Cycling Fitness and Rouleur. There is no charge for two weeks, and if you want to continue subscribing then you pay £10 a month – which, obviously, is pretty good value for seven monthly titles and a weekly. And if you get bored reading about a load of old cobbles that define the most recent phase of the racing calendar, then you can always peruse the delightful Your Chickens, which has a news-in-brief section called Chicken Nuggets. The silly cluckers.

You flick through pages in much the same way as you would with a physical magazine, and you can call up a scrolling menu at the foot of the screen that allows you to jump to particular pages. It’s a neat little service, and even though new issues are only available some time after they’ve appeared in newsagents, I find I’m reading more than I usually would in dead tree format because all the magazines are tucked in my iPad whenever I want them. The best thing I’ve read so far is Daniel Friebe’s interview with Mark Cavendish in Procycling, which pulls off that rare feat of maintaining a depth of analysis yet ultimately leaving the reader to decide on the main question: can Cav adapt to the challenges of this stage in his career?

cav in procycling mag

I’ve yet to see any of the cycling mags telling their readers about Readly, and that makes me wonder if they doubt the venture will provide any benefit to their bottom line. But I think it will appeal to special interest types like us, so I hope it flourishes.

I’ve seen the light – rechargeables are a massive waste

March 31, 2015

Photo 28-03-2015 22 43 40

A couple of months ago I bought a pair of Cateye lights. They look ridiculously massive because they’re not USB-rechargeable. But who cares? They work. Of course, USB rechargeables are supposed to be better for the environment, but not in my experience. Because all the ones I owned have ended up in the bin.

In the past two years I’ve owned four sets of USB-rechargeable lights made by four different manufacturers, and all of them went a bit Tour Of Beijing. The first set was a tiny pair which I picked up for a tenner. After about a month, the red one refused to charge. Then I bought two Knog Blinders; straight out of the box, the front light refused to switch on, so the good people at Sigma Sport replaced it – but a few months later the thin rubber strap broke when I attached it to the steerer of my Glider. I replaced it with a Moon Comet, which seemed much brighter but it kept running out of juice after little more than an hour. I retired the white Moon and red Knog after upgrading to a pair of Lezyne Microdrives, which I had been using up until a couple of months ago when the front light decided it wasn’t going to turn off no matter how many times I pressed the button.

Well, so what? I’m just unlucky, right? These things happen. Well, they shouldn’t. Because unlike gloves, a bottle cage or most other optional extras, a pair of lights are supposed to save your life, and I expect them to be reliable because we’re legally required to use them at night. And even if I have been a victim of bad luck, it seems to me that the concept of basic, small USB-rechargeable lights is flawed anyway. Unlike the rechargeable batteries I use for my Cateyes which I only need to top up once a week, all of the small USB lights required constant charging due to relatively short burn times. If I forgot to plug them in when I got to my desk, then I faced the daunting prospect of a ride home in darkness. If they ran out of power while I was riding, they died suddenly rather than fading out gradually, and I didn’t have the emergency option of popping into a shop or service station to get new batteries.

I suppose I could get a mini-floodlight like the Exposure Race, which I borrowed for last year’s Dunwich Dynamo. I switched it on at 10pm and it cast a powerful beam across unlit country lanes at the lowest setting until I reached the beach at sunrise. It’s an amazing light but I won’t be getting one because, aside from the expense, I would be venturing into “Mr Nut, meet Mr Sledgehammer” territory: when commuting, I shouldn’t need such a powerful light to accompany me along a mere 12 miles of Tarmac, all of which are illuminated by streetlights.

These days you can mount lights on your wheels. There is even a light that projects a laser image of a bicycle on the road in front of you to alert motorists to your presence. Or you could, if you wanted to look like a malfunctioning robot, wear a flashing jacket. Yet none of these products seem to provide any evidence that they are actually safer. One day, maybe, these entrepreneurial types will give up on crummy gimmicks and come up with small, long-lasting, easily-mountable USB rechargeable lights. Until then, I’m going back to stick to my bulky, reliable, battery-powered Cateyes. I have seen the light.

Me and heart rate straps are over. I’m glad I got that off my chest

January 13, 2015

I had a stroke of luck at Christmas. Jen didn’t know what to get me and I honestly couldn’t think of anything I wanted, but by chance I remembered a recent contribution I had made to a thread on the London Dynamo forum about the tendency of Garmin’s heart rate straps to give up the ghost. Two of the buggers have died on me, and I suggested to my fellow afflicted ‘Mos that a Mio Link Heart Rate Band, as recommended on Twitter by Pretorius Bikes’ very own Mike Miach, might be a smart alternative. So, in a spirit of inquisitiveness and practicality, that’s what I asked Jen to get me.

And, my goodness, I’m very pleased that she did. I have experienced a sense of liberation that is surely similar to the burning of a bra. My chest is no longer enclasped: the Mio band sits above the wristbone on my left arm and detects my pulse. It’s as easy as putting on a watch, and never again will I have to go through the hassle of partially undressing in a bleary-eyed state after forgetting to strap up before putting on a baselayer and bibs. (Oh come on – we’ve all done it, haven’t we? No? Right, just me, then.)

The actual unit sits in the middle of a rubber strap. Press the button at the lower end of the unit and after a few seconds a light will flash in time with your heartbeat. Get your Garmin to detect its presence and bosh – you’re ready to go. The blinking light changes colour as your heart beats faster (blue is the lowest, red the highest) which I suppose is useful for runners or anyone else not staring at numbers on a little screen while they train. I just like looking at the electronic blinking because it makes my arm look a bit like a robot’s.

During three long rides the Mio band has stopped transmitting only once, and that was easily remedied by using the traditional, centuries-old IT solution of turning it off and on again. Powering up is simple: pop the unit from the strap and slip it onto a little charging tray which magnetizes the device into place.

It is, all in all, a very clever little gadget – although I reserve the right to lose my rag when I inevitably mislay the recharger and render the band as useless as my old, defunct Garmin ones.

The speed limit sign in Windsor Great Park is a stopped clock

December 16, 2014

On a whim and with two hours to spare, I took a flyer out to Windsor a couple of months ago and managed to ride to the Great Park shortly before night closed in. The speed limit sign at the entrance is a familiar sight, but seeing it at an unusual time of day when there are more families ambling along the pathways made it look even more inappropriate. So I took a photo to remind me of its daftness.

Speed limit sign in Windsor Great Park

Why is the speed limit so high for roads that are essentially paths for pedestrians and cyclists? And why not a nice, round number? Even a habitual speedometer-watcher like myself would struggle to keep the needle lodged a few degrees south of 40.

I can’t answer the first question but I do know the answer to the second. Decades ago, there was a plan to convert British road signs to metric, which would have meant displaying the basic speed limit as 60kph. Anticipating the switch, the Crown Estate put up signs in the park reading 38mph because that’s the equivalent of 60kph. Except it isn’t: 37mph is roughly 60kph; 38mph is actually 61kph. The body tasked with maintaining order in the park is asking its users to slightly exceed a mooted speed limit which never actually arrived.

You have to admire the Crown Estate. The number is wrong and so is the principle of using a path as a road, but like a politician caught in the glare of commonsense who refuses to admit a policy is dunderheaded or ill-thought-out, the speed limit defiantly remains at 38mph. Those signs could be swapped for useful ones to warn that groups of cyclists must not exceed six people, which is what Windsor’s parkies have told London Dynamo members in the past, but that would be far too sensible. Best to keep them as they are and hope that one day the government will once again want to display speed limits in metric form (which is what will soon happen to height restrictions on roads). Even a stopped clock is right twice.

I’ve written about Kingston Wheelers in Simpson magazine and I’m sure you’ll all enjoy it

July 11, 2014

My habit of tapping out words for this blog has been stymied of late because me and Littlejen have been searching for somewhere to live – but now, with issue five of Simpson magazine landing on the doormat of our lovely new home, I have finally found the time and a good reason to turn my attention back to you, the kind reader who allows me to indulge in this blogular folly.

Simpson issue 5 cover

More specifically, I would like to draw your attention to pages 60-62 of Simpson which feature a piece on Kingston Wheelers cycling club, written by me.

Simpson issue 5 Kingston Wheelers

Basically, I went for a ride with them, had a jolly nice time and then wrote about it. The pictures are great, and the magazine has been getting better and better with every issue. It costs six quid, and you can order a copy from their website.

I’d like to do more of these sorts of breezy articles on club rides because I think more needs to be written about the culture of cycling clubs and the idiosyncrasies of riding with them – that peculiar social dynamic that occurs when riding among good friends and total strangers. So if you’d like me to cover your club, email me at dancehippocleides at mac dot com or tweet me. Let me ride with you and write about you, cycling chums!

A rare sighting of a 1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa in the wild

March 30, 2014

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa profile

Fellow Dynamo Jonathon Stacey was in Richmond Park on Saturday morning proudly showing off a vintage bicycle he has restored to its former glory. My chum Martin Garratt was one of many Parkriders at the Roehampton Gate cafe who were taken by Jonathan’s glistening beauty, and he asked me to take a few snaps to show his brother because he didn’t have his phone on him. Obviously there are many more people who would like to drool over these images, so I thought I may as well stick ’em on here.

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa rear mech

I didn’t know Jonathon and I asked him very little about his pride and joy, so I can’t give you a terrific amount of detail about it. But I do know that it has a Campagnolo Nuovo Record groupset, the pedals are made by Christophe (which later became the Zefal brand) and the frame was originally yellow. Oh, and the whole thing cost him £4,000. Enjoy!

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa badge

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa chainring

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa pedal

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa rear brake

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa shifters

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa seattube badge

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa top tube

‘Beginnerism’? It’s ‘expertism’ that we don’t need

March 28, 2014

Update, April 17: Collyn has now taken her post down, but you can still read it here.

Update, March 31, 2015: It’s been a year since I wrote this post, and it looks like Collyn is still so mad about it that she’s had to make up a load of nonsense in an attempt to shoot the messenger. The simple reason why she can’t convince the world I’m a troll is because, er, I’m not. And the allegation I harass women is, of course, desperate old cobblers. Full disclosure: I blocked Collyn on Twitter years ago and have never made any attempt to contact or interact with her in any way. Also, I love the fact that the berk who offers her solidarity once bragged about carrying out an unprovoked physical assault. Be careful how you choose your friends, Col!

Collyn Ahart, the Siobhan Sharpe of women’s cycling, wrote a blogpost that has been doing the rounds recently, and there is a great deal I find odd about it. In case you are one of the few people who hasn’t come across her promotional spiel masquerading as a feminist cri-de-coeur, her key observation is this: brands and the media tend to address women cyclists as if they are all beginners, which comes across as patronising and diverts everyone’s attention away from the higher end of the spectrum. She calls this state of affairs “beginnerism” and it’s the reason why her nascent company won’t be making cycling clothing.

I would’ve thought any aspiring businessperson, if they really had spotted how badly other companies are serving their customers, would consider this an opportunity rather than a reason to retreat before they have even begun. It’s as if Collyn has come up with an elaborate, face-saving excuse because she doesn’t want to enter a crowded market and fail. Or this could be a setup for a self-regarding return to the fray at some point in the future (Hey girls! I couldn’t turn my back on you! I shall be your saviour from patronising pink lycra! And I’ll do it in, like, a totally non-patronising way!). Whatever the reason, it seems clear from Collyn’s tone – apparently “everyone” is surprised by her announcement – that we are meant to consider this a decision of great moment and import. You can decide for yourself whether or not this is the case.

Targeting entry-level riders is probably a useful strategy from a business perspective. Far fewer women than men ride bicycles, but their number is increasing as cycling generally becomes more popular, so it seems sensible that manufacturers and magazine editors would focus on what appears to be a growing part of the market. And contrary to what Collyn suggests, wasn’t targeting newcomers how her exemplar Rapha started out? As I recall, it was initially the post-Armstrong crowd who rode around with ‘PEYRESOURDE’ and ‘VENTOUX’ emblazoned in bold type beneath their manboobs, not the fanatics who had been following cycling since the days of downtube shifters and Phil Liggett’s voice crackling over a dodgy phone line. Get them when they first venture into cycling, at the very point when they’re at their most enthusiastically receptive, and you’ve got yourself a loyal customer base who will tell their mates how great you are – which in Rapha’s case helped them widen their appeal to all kinds of road cyclists, thus generating a revenue of £28million last year alone.

But instead of following the money, Collyn is following the writing of Jacques Derrida – although I think the quote she used, “the success of feminism will be its demise”, may be incorrect. I wonder if she meant, “The risk of failure of women’s studies is the risk of its very own success,” which means something else entirely. In any case, I doubt whether any successful CEO has wandered down the path of postmodern philosophy to reach a business decision, so perhaps we should wish her the best of luck with that one.

More importantly, what are we to make of her key assertion – and it is just that: an assertion, offered without any evidence at all – that focusing on beginners has a detrimental effect on encouraging women to “reach up to the next level”? I think the competitive female cyclists I’ve known over the years are smart enough and determined enough to be unaffected by what companies in the cycling industry may or may not think they ought to wear or enjoy. Moreover, it’s a bizarre statement to make so soon after the successful launch of the South East Women’s Time Trial Series, Lizzie Armitstead winning the biggest race of her career and the UCI commencing the broadcast of women’s world cup races. Of course women’s cycling needs more success to breed future inspirational successes like these, but the enemy here is lack of money and investment, not a preponderance of fuchsia jerseys in Evans and too many magazines recycling lists of 10 Top Cycling Tips For Gals.

Collyn’s major clanger, which she hastily amended, was including Jeannie Longo in her list of inspirational women, apparently not realising that the Frenchwoman has been linked to a string of doping allegations. And in what might charitably be called a brave move, she has a pop at a women’s clothing brand. It’s done in a way that makes me wonder where professional opinion ends and passive-aggressive point-scoring begins. I’m not going to get into whether their apparel is appealing or not – that’s for each woman to decide, and as Collyn mentions in her addendum, “women are hard to please,” which I think is putting it mildly. But I would say two things. Firstly, I reiterate my earlier point: if an established company really is getting things wrong, then a newcomer should show them how to do it right and reap the rewards. (Incidentally, I can’t recall Simon Mottram having a dig at, say, Endura or any other specific sportswear brand when Rapha started out, and Collyn may like to reflect why this was the case.) Secondly, I think it’s a bit rich for Collyn to write: “This ‘girl power’ thing is all a bit too much protestation. Empowered people don’t have to tell people they’re empowered.” Surely, for any company, spelling out your philosophy in broad terms to your potential customers is just part and parcel of the language of marketing. Those who are outsiders and brave, for example, don’t need to say they are brave and outsiders either, yet those are the words which are plastered over the website for Collyn’s yet-to-be-launched clothing brand.

I suppose if you are prone to coining Siobhan Sharpe-style catchwords, you could call this mixture of cluelessness and assertiveness ‘expertism’ – a sort of evidence-free, self-promoting, faux-expertise. Women will think what they like, but I find it draining and cynical. Give me the imperfect idealism of beginners any day.

Where’s Danilo?

March 26, 2014

Since getting a life ban and moaning that everyone was at it, why is everyone picking on me, it’s not fair waaah waaah etc etc, former Giro d’Italia champion Danilo Di Luca appears to have gone to ground. But I think I’ve spotted him.

Add a ‘tache…

Danilo di Luca with a tache

and a fedora…

Inspector De Luca

…and voila! He is Inspector De Luca, the bicycle-riding detective of BBC4’s latest Saturday night foreign crime drama.

Mystery solved.

Presumably his next case will be to uncover the 90 per cent of Giro riders who were juiced up. Or maybe not.

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