Posts Tagged ‘Look Mum No Hands!’

Cyclists in comic form

August 30, 2013

Here are two very different comic strips I’ve enjoyed recently, both of them featuring cycling. The first is how many of us would probably like to see ourselves – a glorious phalanx of wheels and whimsy enveloping an entire city – and the other is a chuckle at the grim reality.

I’ve been meaning to write about Bicycle by Ugo Gattoni since Jen gave it to me for my birthday a couple of months ago. Inspired by the 2012 Olympics, this dialogue-free strip is a lurching cityscape featuring a bike race, drawn in a rambunctious, surreal and heavily-detailed style. I guess you might call it Richard Scarry meets Hieronymus Bosch – or you might not if, unlike me, you have a thorough working knowledge of the visual arts.

It comes in a folder and opens out into a long, double-sided poster.

bicycle gattoni open

The sprawling journey is anchored around real landmarks – Big Ben, the London Eye, Regent Street and so on – while the smaller places appear to be made up (Gattoni, who is a Frenchman, has populated his version of Britain’s capital with fictional French shops). I can spot only two references that are the exception to this rule: Nobrow, the publisher of Bicycle, and Look Mum No Hands!, which has an advertisement in a version of the cafe’s distinctive cursive script stuck on the side of the Olympic Stadium.

bicycle gattoni look mum

That gave me a kick. It’s like when Pulp did a song about Bar Italia – you have an indication that a place has left some sort of a mark on the cultural consciousness when it’s referenced in a creative work. Or maybe the Look Mum fellas simply bunged Ugo a few Euros for a plug. Obviously, I prefer the former explanation.

The second strip I’ve come across is two pages in the latest issue of the peerless Viz. In Cockney Wanker, the eponymous cabbie flies into a panic after he runs over a female cyclist. “Is she orwight?” worried Wanker asks his mate Barstard…

viz cockney wanker crash

…before it’s revealed that the “she” he’s concerned about is his beloved black cab.

viz cockney wanker cab

This isn’t really satire or any serious attempt to make a social point. The joy of Viz is watching how the narratives push the already ridiculous characters into ever-more ludicrous extremes. In this case, Wanker gets the injured cyclist to pay for the damage to his vehicle by taking her card out of her handbag and running it through his PDQ.

viz cockney wanker pdq

Sorted.

A wheel hassle

May 10, 2013

Freehub remover

I recently attended a bicycle maintenance course at Look Mum No Hands!, where I was taught many workshop-related secrets by an affable anarchist named Digger. I wish I could tell you those secrets, but sadly I can’t, because I’ve forgotten most of them. What I do remember, though, is Digger’s insightful response when I told him it was my dream to one day remove a cassette and chainring.

“What you need to do,” he concluded sagely, “is dream bigger.”

And Digger’s right, of course. To experience a fulfilling, meaningful existence, a human being must aim for an achievement far greater than the removal of a drivetrain (even though doing so allows you to give it a good scrub and get the whole thing looking extra sparkly-clean, which is always nice). Nevertheless, I am pleased to say that thanks to Digger and subsequent research on YouTube, I was able to take the sprockets off a wheel last week and transfer them onto a brand new one (the chainring business will have to wait for another day). It’s literally half a dream come true!

The path to realising your dreams is often paved with cobbles, and so it proved with my cassette-removing odyssey. Firstly, I went to a hardware store on North End Road run by an idiosyncratic Cypriot who refused to sell me an adjustable wrench until I took off my bicycle helmet and sunglasses. “I can’t see who you are!” he complained as I reluctantly removed my prescription eyewear – which, ironically, prevented me from seeing him.

A bigger problem occurred after I purchased a chain whip and lockring tool from a branch of a well-known bike shop chain near Southwark Bridge. The lockring tool didn’t fit. This is because it was actually a freehub remover (you can see it in the photo above resting on top of the cassette instead of slotting in). To spare their blushes, I won’t name the shop that doesn’t know the difference between an FR1 and an FR5. Although you don’t need to be a brain surgeon (see what I did there?) to work out who they are.

So after a delay of one day caused by being sold the wrong tool, I set about removing the cassette. Pull the chain whip clockwise around the cassette, turn the wrench anticlockwise, and behold! With one little tug, you have begun the process of liberating the cassette from its wheel-bound home. It’s piss-simple. As with most things cycling-related, I should’ve done this years ago.

Shimano Ultegra 10-speed sprockets removed

The next step was to lay all the sprockets and spacers out in order and clean them – the most satisfying part of this whole process – before attaching them to a Shimano Dura-Ace C24. (Yes, Campagnistas. First came the Shimano shoes, then the 10-speed Shimano electronic groupset, and now Shimano wheels: I am ‘turning Japanese’ in a way that is almost as unsightly as the activity described by that euphemism.) You’re probably dying to read my review of the C24 wheelset, so here it is: they’re very responsive but not as smooth as Ksyrium Elites, and the levers are what I imagine the ‘RELEASE BOMBS’ switch on a fighter jet’s control panel might look like.

Shimano Dura-Ace C24 quick release

That’s about it, really.

I’ll draw a veil over what happened next. Suffice to say, I am grateful to the ever-helpful Pearson Performance for being open early on a Saturday, and I didn’t realise the C24s are built for 11-speed when I bought them.

The important thing is, I achieved my sprockets-removing goal. I can now dream bigger.

The DYNAMITE! Five: the month in cycling, remixed. January 2013

January 31, 2013

5 DOWN Assos winter kit assos winter kit at bike show
From the Swiss outfitters who gave you The Homoerotic Mandroid comes another unique way of celebrating the male body: a pair of winter leggings that will turn your balls blue. Isn’t that what they’re supposed to prevent, guys? Cycling Weekly, which photographed The Assos Circle Of Cyan on a dummy’s gentleman’s area at the Cycle Show, has failed to provide a photograph of the garment’s rear view. Which is probably just as well.

4 UP The Urban Cyclist
In the ever-competitive world of cycling magazines, plucky newcomer The Urban Cyclist makes a strong bid for Most Fanciful Upgrade Suggestion: a £649 five-spoke carbon front wheel for the sort of bike you would normally use to get to work or go down the shops. Apparently the BLB Notorious 05 is “a serious bit of kit”, so no pointing and laughing if you see one, OK?
Urban Cyclist mag carbon wheel test

3 UP Rapha rapha shower made for two story
The fashionable literary genre of S&M appears to have infiltrated one of the mini-stories that Rapha famously sews into its garments. New Sky signing Ian Boswell spotted the intriguing tale of a soigneur climbing into a shower to get his hands on bruised and battered Richie Porte – but how does the steamy story end? James Fairbank, Rapha’s head of marketing, suggests you will need to buy all 11 variations of the new Sky jerseys to find out. Just in case he isn’t joking, here’s a suggestion for a title: 50 Shades Of Gains (Marginal).

2. UP Pinarello
To sneers and groans of disappointment, Halfords has announced it will stock Pinarellos. Who would have thought that a proud, Italian, Tour-winning marque could be sold alongside car stereos and bottles of anti-freeze? Well, for a start, anyone who has been to Pinarello’s hometown of Treviso, where the brand’s name adorns anything from kids’ bikes to sturdy shoppers – the sort of bicycles you would expect to find in, er, Halfords.

1. DOWN Lance and Oprah
Amid the fallout from Doprah, spare a thought for the hitherto unexamined effect on the caffeineistas of Old Street. Popular cyclists’ cafe Look Mum No Hands! announced it would screen Armstrong’s confession and give away coffee every time he shed “crocodile tears” – only for the shameless cheat to avoid delivering a Kleenex moment during the first night of the two-part interview. So no free brews. It’s always the fans who suffer, isn’t it?

Lance falling

October 11, 2012

Nine years ago, Jen and I went to a bar on the Haymarket, had a few drinks, met some fellow cycling fans and watched Lance Armstrong fall off his bike. The famous tumble on the road to Luz Ardiden caused by a spectator’s musette caught in Armstrong’s handlebars had taken place earlier that day, although we hadn’t turned up with the intention of watching the yellow jersey and Iban Mayo have a whoops-a-daisy. We didn’t even know it had happened – both of us had been at work, Twitter hadn’t been invented yet, and mainstream news outlets didn’t give a toss. The reason why we went to watch a big screen at a West End watering hole had something to do with engaging in what was a unique experience for us in 2003: being in a room with other bicyclepeople who liked watching bicycle races. Because we knew very few people who did.

The shindig at the Sports Café was organised by Phil Cavell and Julian Wall of Bikepark in Covent Garden, which later evolved into Cyclefit, the business which is more or less responsible for bicycle fitting becoming a standard part of the bike-buying process. Paul Callinan, who had chatted to me at the Hillingdon circuit when I tentatively started racing, was among those attending. A few months later, after Bikepark stepped down from organising its two popular weekend group rides, Paul and a couple of friends would seize the momentum by reviving a name that Jules had coined in the mid-nineties for the early incarnation of his shop’s team – and so it came to pass that the all-new London Dynamo, which started life as a discussion in Paul’s kitchen, became a phenomenon that swiftly (and inadvertently) grew to be bigger than every long-established club in the south-east. Also propping up the bar on that July evening was Nick Peacock (he later sold me his Merlin frame after he became Dynamo’s second club captain, although I think we didn’t get round to speaking to each other that night) and triathlete-turned-demon-time-trialist Martin Williamson, one of many kindly ’Mos who gave me a lift to races during my first season as a non-car-owning fourth cat. But that night we were all more or less strangers to each other.

So there we all were, the many and varied chums of Bikepark, watching Armstrong fall off, get back up, wallop his groin into his top tube as he came out of his pedal and then solo away to victory. Chapeau! Except no one exclaimed “Chapeau!” or “Hat!” because it hadn’t occurred to any of us yet that pretension or irony had a place in cycling. The mood was more of muted amazement rather than the whooping, roaring enthusiasm you now get at Look Mum No Hands! during an eventful moment of a big race. This was fascination before it evolved into fandom. And we all know the aspects of Armstrong’s story that fascinated us: beating cancer and then beating everyone, a singular character with a single ball. Personally, I loved watching his movements on the bike, swaggering when he was out of the saddle, and the robotic, propulsive, high cadence when he was seated – a contained, measured ferocity. Yet most of the conversations that night weren’t about Armstrong or pro cycling, but about our own, more modest, adventures: where we had been riding, where we planned to ride or race, each of us glimpsing the others’ characters and experience (invariably much greater than mine) by learning about their cycling history.

And when Dynamo began, I still didn’t know who my riding chums actually were. They each had a name, a bike and stories about their riding, all of which helped to identify the less vocal members who dwelt beneath the ubiquitous mask of helmet and sunglasses, but the life they lived beyond our weekly 50-mile training loop across the Surrey Hills was a distant vista. Before setting out one Sunday, Paul muttered wearily to me about having practically no sleep because he had been on call all night. Ah-ha, I thought – a doctor! It took a while for me to discover that he actually worked in IT for a bank, and being on call involved piping zeroes and ones to the Far East in the early hours of the morning. But at least I knew his name – I can still recall the delight at discovering “Nicholas Peacock” on the finishing list of Dynamo’s inaugural Beginners’ Series race, because the surname was part of a long-standing in-joke between myself and Jen. (And as it’s a slightly bizarre gag which isn’t aimed at Nick, it’s probably best Jen and I keep it to ourselves…)

Dynamos were Dynanonymous to each other – but the one name everyone knew, whether they had a rich history of riding or had just started out, was Lance Armstrong. There was a unique combination of factors that led to Dynamo confounding a British Cycling official’s prediction to Paul that we would probably attract a total of around two dozen members: as the only club to have a regular ride in the cycling mecca of Richmond Park, we were conspicuous; we welcomed all-comers; we were, and still are, a friendly bunch; and, in a major departure from the aesthetic of the time, our jersey didn’t comprise a clumsy mélange of fonts and colours or resemble something an estate agent might hammer onto a stick. But I think the main reason why Dynamo grew so rapidly was due to a pool of new, unaffiliated riders who had recently taken up the sport after an English-speaking athlete had caught their attention by repeatedly winning the Tour de France. Armstrong was the key that unlocked the entrance to a previously clandestine world – and if he could get on a bike after what he had been through, then why couldn’t you?

So the blue train of the US Postal Service team unwittingly begat a blue, black and orange locomotive – although it is there that the parallels, like two diesels thundering towards each other, must screech to a halt. I can dimly remember a line in Procycling magazine claiming that Armstrong-related catchphrases such as “No chain! No chain!” and “How d’you like them apples?” had become de rigueur on club runs – and oh, how I cringed, because from my experience of Dynamo, amateur cycling didn’t take hero worship or wish fulfillment to those extremes. Talking about Armstrong, or pro cycling generally, was an excuse for men (sadly, there were only men in those days) to indulge in the necessary human act of gossiping, sharing our awe about feats that had amazed us, trading information, often as a means of trying to work out who would do what the next time around. Would Jan Ullrich ever win another Tour? Could winning the Dauphiné prove to be a poison chalice for the Texan? And, inevitably, along came the only question that never went away: do you think Lance is clean?

Fast forward a few years, and half a dozen ’Mos are sitting on one of the benches outside the Roehampton Gate café in Richmond Park after the Parkride. I’m one of them; two others are also long-standing members (although they’re not the Dynamos I mentioned earlier). Armstrong has decided not to contest the US Anti-Doping Agency’s case against him, and the consensus around the table is that, as a result, no one will truly know if the man stripped of his seven Tour wins ever cheated. Most think the case should never have been pursued because it happened a long time ago, everyone was at it, and USADA doesn’t have any authority in the matter anyway. One Dynamo calls USADA boss Travis Tygart “Travis Dickface”.

Well, Mr Dickface does have the authority, and USADA’s 200-page report released yesterday, featuring damning testimony from every American Tour rider who rode for USPS and Discovery, may convince the doubting Dynamos I listened to that morning. Perhaps I should have pointed them in the direction of the truth: there were some professional cyclists who asked Tygart to sit in as an observer when they were questioned as part of the original federal investigation into USPS – so USADA had to pursue the allegations, because this is what they are funded to do. Anything less would have been corrupt.

But I didn’t say anything. And I’m pleased I kept my trap shut, because the opinions I heard that morning were not those of diehard fans desperately clutching at straws; they were an expression of disconnection from a complicated story that has been twisting and turning for years. True, a few of my cycling chums have followed the slow, inexorable exposure of the EPO years, but they tend to be the minority whose interest in pro cycling began prior to Armstrong’s appearance. I get the impression that most of the cyclists I know have simply not followed the diffuse trail of whispers and nose-tapping which has been played out mostly on fan sites and forums. They’re not angry or disappointed about Armstrong’s fall from grace, because they’ve not been exposed to much of those areas of the internet where anger and disappointment reigns. Threads on our own forum these days about tyre choice, groupsets or any other quotidian aspect of bike riding dwarf those about Armstrong, while the full-throated, joyful cheers we’ve given to Wiggins, Cavendish and other home-grown heroes are more passionate, more engaged than the interest anyone had showed for the Texan. One reason for that enthusiasm is that the likes of Wiggo and Cav are British, and their Olympic exploits were performed on roads we’ve all ridden. Another reason, of course, is that the performances have become more believable.

So let’s remember the Tour de France 1999-2005 in this way: lots of people took loads of drugs and did some amazing things, and we all had a good time witnessing them. But like the big screen looming over our conversations that night at the Sports Café, Armstrong’s adventures have proved to be just the background noise to our own experiences on bicycles. It’s not about the bike rider who brought us together – if, indeed, it ever was.

A mysterious club

May 18, 2012

It seems incredible, but there really was a brief period in my life when I didn’t know what a flat white was. For two giddy months, I would make vague expressions of interest when cyclepeople of my acquaintance expressed their delight at this caffeine-based innovation, until one day my chum Phipsy mistook my proud boast of ignorance as a plea for help and tweeted a succinct description of how a flat white is constructed. So that was the end of that.

More recently, I stubbornly resisted learning the definition of the jazzy new word “soundslide”, but in that instance curiosity got the better of me after just a couple of weeks, because the soundslide in question featured none other than former Dynamo clubmate and all-round nice person Sam Humpheson of Look Mum No Hands! fame. When he was building my Merlin some years ago, Sam overruled a misguided decision I had made and, quite rightly, wrapped my handlebars in white bar tape. Not black, as I had foolishly requested, but white, the hue of speed and elegance. So when wise Sam speaks, I must listen – even if he happens to be speaking via the medium of (and I do so dislike the word) a soundslide. Ugh.

In principle, though, I stand by both of my short-lived campaigns of willful ignorance. New words should be an aid to your self-expression or help you engage more fully with the world; if they do neither, they’re simply clutter. And now, trying its best to clutter up my consciousness, comes another curious phrase: the “Car Club”.

I think this mysterious club must be the council’s doing, as its sole manifestation has appeared on an area of tarmac opposite the entrance to our building. So far, it has been quite easy to avoid discovering anything about the Secret Order Of The West London Car Club because no one has bothered to offer an explanation. I would like to think it involves men in thick, ornate moustaches and goggles sharing their love of vehicles that require a hand-crank to start them up, but at the moment there’s just a metal pole with a notice and the warning “CAR CLUB ONLY” painted imposingly in front of two parking spaces.

Very strange, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The specially designated car club area looked like this two days ago:

This is what it looked like yesterday:

And that, basically, is what it has looked like since it appeared.

I realise, of course, that any sort of club has to create an air of exclusivity to stand a chance of becoming a success. But the mysterious Car Club, judging by its perpetually empty area, doesn’t seem to have any members at all. And it has nabbed two of the best spots on a road that rarely has any free parking spaces. The ruddy cheek!

In other transport-related news, the management company that runs our flats has overturned a preservation order so they can hack down a tree that is impinging on a garage which a few residents are lucky enough to use. Well, I say they’re lucky, but I’ve never really envied them: the garage is only accessible from two adjacent roads and there are always parking spaces outside the main entrance anyway (see below) – which, to me, rather seems to defeat the point of the whole deal.

The garage only has a limited number of spaces for bicycles, so the management company installed bike parking stands along the pavement a few years ago to cope with the increase in cycle usage.

Sadly, a lot of the bikes are regularly vandalised or stolen – although the local ruffians seem to have overlooked one bike which is sporting an exclusive Harrods saddle cover, fashioned from the finest type of plastic bag the Knightsbridge emporium has to offer.

A classy piece of kit – but I digress. I was, you may remember, pondering the nature of the car club, and while I have no intention of uncovering its purpose, I strongly suspect it is some sort of vehicle-sharing scheme. It’s probably a well-meaning initiative, but like a flat white (translation: yet another combination of milk and bean juice) or a soundslide (an audio recording with photo slideshow), it’s just a phrase for a concept that has more or less existed in another form: everyone, after all, will either give someone a lift in their car or briefly lend it out at some point in their lives. New phrases and words emerge because we have a basic human desire for change; effecting actual change is much harder.
And what’s really needed in this case is some co-ordination between the council and the estate management company so that everyone benefits: turn the residents’ garage into a cycle park, thereby saving a tree, let motorists take up the spare parking capacity on the road and get rid of the unused Car Club. Oh, if only outcomes were as easy to create as phrases and slogans…

The DYNAMITE! Five: The week in cycling, remixed. Issue #12

August 12, 2011

5 UP A dog in a jersey
Look! It’s a dog wearing a British National Champion’s jersey! And his name is Bradley Waggings! Or Grrr-aint Thomas! Or maybe – ha ha! – Ni-collie Cooke! That’s right! Look at the picture of the doggy which Cycling Weekly tweeted! Not at the news – the doggy! Don’t even think about bike shops being looted, races being called off at Crystal Palace and Hillingdon or that chap from the Telegraph getting knocked off his bike and robbed – just LOOK INTO THE LOVELY, CALMING, UNTHREATENING GAZE OF THE DOGGY! Bad thoughts gone away? Equilibrium restored? Good. Now we can get on with our usual weekly whimasathon…

4 UP Nicolas Sarkozy
The burden of the pretend pro, or “no-fessional”, is a heavy one. While their chums are stuck in an office, perhaps reading a sporadically amusing cycling-related top five run-down to help them get through the day, these aspirational amateurs must focus on one thing and one thing only: cranking out huge mileages, and perhaps tweeting or blogging about it afterwards. But the scope of their obliviousness – which mainly involves paying no attention to a dwindling redundancy fund and an irked spouse – pales in comparison to that of French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who last week ignored the entire eurozone almost going down the crapper so he could go for a pootle on his reasonably-priced B’Twin. To restore British honour, The DYNAMITE! Files is calling on David Cameron, our own pedalling premier, to lead an Armstrong-style Twitter ride through the locality of the next inner-city conflagration while it’s still going on. It is the only way to show the French that we are better than them at blind indifference.

3 DOWN George W Bush
Staying with World Leaders On Bikes News, issue 25 of Rouleur contains a brief appraisal of George W Bush’s crash history, courtesy of an admirably frank exchange between two staff members at Trek’s Wisconsin headquarters. “Bush had, like, eight [bikes] come through,” reveals paint technician Patrick Sullivan. “He just kept wreckin’ ‘em. He’d take ‘em round to his ranch and stuff, and I dunno how the hell he does it. I haven’t ever wrecked a bike in my entire life. Maybe he fell a lot.” Well, the former US president always did seem to be a few spokes short of the proverbial full Ksyrium, so maybe he was as clumsy with his Treks as he was with his words. Or perhaps he did what some careful owners of carbon dream machines would secretly love to do if they didn’t have to pay for them: ride the bike into the ground and then simply get a new one. We’ll just have to wait for Bush’s memoirs before this mystery is solved.

2 DOWN Pendragon – Le Col – Colnago
“Eritrean Halie Dawit was refused a visa, while Libyan Ahmed Belgassem was stuck in his revolution-affected country.” Not the sort of sentence you usually get from Cycling Weekly, and not the type of thing you expect to happen to riders signed by a British racing team. But apparently that was part of the “catalogue of circumstancial [sic] situations” that affected Pendragon – Le Col – Colnago, which announced yesterday it is disbanding at the end of the season. If only The DYNAMITE! Files had a few quid to keep the south-west squad going – then, one day, we might get to read about, say, a plucky Afghan tearing it up around Smithfield, or an Egyptian standing on the podium of the Tour Series. We can but dream.

1 DOWN Artcrank
An urgent announcement for “velophiles” everywhere: mobs of confused, pitchfork-wielding lunatics have been known to drive paedatricians from their homes, so for the sake of your own safety, you may want to find a less unusual term to express your bike lust. In the meantime, an organisation called Artcrank is selling some nice posters next Friday at Look Mum No Hands! which, according to the event’s promotional blather, is the home of all things velophiliac. It’s possible, of course, that the American organisers are living up to the “crank” part of their name by using the made-up word “velophile” in the hope that it will be adopted by a café full of gullible twerps. And, hey, anything could happen after necking a few Slags (the Look Mum unofficial house beer) – although you’d have to be really sozzled to make sense of the Yanks’ assertion that “bicycles now ply the busiest areas of the city”, as if there were once swathes of central London where cyclists never rode. “Riding a bike is like an invitation to be creative,” says founder Charles Youel – a bit like writing a press release, it seems. (The DYNAMITE! Files is going for a lie down now. It’s feeling a bit Artcranky.)

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