Posts Tagged ‘Rouleur’

Is cycling rock or pop? (Answer: it’s pop.)

March 14, 2014

I like pop. Big pop. Enormopop. The type of pop it’s usually not OK to like – the synthetic, bright, ebullient kind which sounds as if it could’ve been assembled on the sort of machine you are reading these words from, because it usually is. I like voices – typically, women’s voices – that sound as if they have rocketed across oceans to reach your heart, and in an age where a song could have been recorded anywhere, they probably did. I like Sia, Robyn, Scherzinger, Gaga, the Aloud, that sort of thing. And as a committed bicycleperson, that puts me in a very small minority. Possibly a minority of one.

One of the shortest conversations I had in the Rouleur office was about the 2009 Eurovision song contest, even though I was raving about the spiralling, doomed romanticism of Patricia Kaas’s Et S’il Fallait Le Faire, which I thought would be right up their rue. A few years later at a Dynamo Christmas do, a fellow member asked me, in a manner which suggested he wanted reassuring that this was the case, if my frequent tweets about the X Factor were meant ironically (they weren’t). I can understand his concern: cycling, at least the type of cycling I enjoy, has more in common with the appreciation of rock, which hardly makes it the ideal environment for a TV-talent-show-loving nincompoop like myself. There’s an old belief, the lead singer of the Kaiser Chiefs recently noted, that you’re not in a bona fide band until you’ve gone “up the M1 500 times”; similarly, there are those who believe that you’re not a proper cyclist until you’ve got a few thousand miles in your legs (which, of course, have to be hard miles, up hills and mountains). Road cycling is about paying your dues and observing tradition: drop handlebars, 700c wheels and a diamond-shaped frame are its guitar, bass and drums. Cycling wears a serious face in monochrome, often amid a remote, enveloping natural landscape, like Joshua Tree-era U2 (a sullen aesthetic which, Raphaistas should note, even the world’s most ludicrously earnest band eventually had to abandon). The message, as crushing as a powerchord, is clear: cycling has a deep, inscrutable meaning; cycling is tough; cycling is 4 Real.

Or is it? Throughout my musical life, I’ve often felt excluded from the seriousness of being a rock fan – its various modes of rebellion, the accumulation of arcane knowledge, the penetration of the obligatory veil of mystery. The world of club cycling, on the other hand, I’ve found to be welcoming and jolly, despite – or maybe to mitigate – the physical pain you have to endure to be any good at it. And whereas rock can often feel like an exclusive club in which its members are obliged to venerate the ‘right’ artists and the ‘right’ albums, cycling won’t show you the door if you can’t tell your Coppi from your Bartoli, although it might point you in the direction of a detailed, hardback tome.

Watching a key moment in a race, such as Froome attacking Quintana on Mont Ventoux, gives me the same rush I get from pop. How could it not? Because, at its very core, cycling has a throbbing pop heart.

For a start, cycling, like pop, is a bastard form. Pop is a magpie nicking ideas – sounds, melodies, riffs, looks – from whatever genre it can find and repurposing them in a new form. Cycling did this when it pinched the downhill tuck from skiing and came up with the aerobar. The manufacturing know-how that produces many of the groupsets in the peloton came from golf and fishing equipment. Some of the training principles that put the current champion of the Tour de France on the top of the podium in Paris originated in swimming. Pop is manufactured, and so to is the constantly-evolving object at the core of cycling, the bicycle. There is no room for a blues-like purity in such a modern, inquisitive sport.

On an immediate, visual level, cycling is also identifiably pop. The rush of colours that constitute the pro peloton has an unabashed, gaudy, Roy Lichtenstein look about it. From a less artistic standpoint, the Tour’s post-stage shows became the inspiration for the Radio 1 Roadshow after station controller Johnny Beerling stumbled across them while on holiday in France. And, fundamentally, cycling shares pop’s commercial instincts: even though a race can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, it nevertheless exists primarily as a sponsors’ billboard.

Pop’s message, if it has one, is that the most thrilling place to be is the present. And is that not the feeling you experience when you’re completely immersed in a race – any race? Whenever I come across enthusiasm for a relatively obscure non-European event, I’m struck by how the more committed type of cycling fan exists at an emotional frequency as high as their pop counterparts. Compare this to football, where pre-season friendlies – the equivalent of the tour of Oman or Dubai – are considered so uninteresting that the great Danny Baker recently suggested that they should be held behind closed doors.

So let’s abandon the mythologising, tradition-heavy, rock-like paradigm we use to frame our perception of cycling. Pop is unhip. Pop requires no chin-stroking expert’s permission to exist. And those, to me, are the qualities that are at the very root of why we love cycling.

The centenary that’s not quite a centenary

January 24, 2014

I had a gander at Guy Andrews’ Twitter last week and found a baffling response to Road.cc’s review of his company’s latest venture, the Rouleur Centenary Tour De France. To bring you up to speed: a photographer by the name of Dan Kenyon considered the writing “lacklustre” and the photography “poor”, pointing out that the £40 book only contains one picture of the race’s winner – and a partially obscured one at that. “It’s putting the art before the sport,” he concludes. In response, a few photographers – including, oddly, one he actually praised – have tetchily pointed out that Dan got some of the technical aspects of their craft incorrect, which I suppose reveals one of the great hidden truths of publishing: the only group more sensitive than writers are the snappers.

Being one of the former tribe, as well as once being responsible for ensuring Guy’s magazine contained reasonably comprehensible English, there was one line in Dan’s review that leapt out at me: “Someone at Rouleur doesn’t know the difference between a hundredth edition and a 100-year anniversary.” This was a reference to the book’s title: the centenary of the Tour de France – it’s 100th anniversary – was in 2003, not 2013; last year’s race was the 100th edition, the two world wars accounting for the total of 10 years’ absence.

I should point out Rouleur is not the only journal of record to refer to the 2013 Tour as the centenary. And actually, Dan isn’t entirely correct: Chambers, the dictionary I’ve used for most of my professional life, including my stint at Rouleur, defines “centenary” as “a hundred” or “a hundredth anniversary”.

chambers definition of centenary

But 2003 was referred to as the centenary in the Tour’s own branding, and there was even a book about the ’03 race that had “centenary” in the title. So I think it is a mistake for Rouleur to name their book the Centenary Tour De France, simply because it confuses two editions of the race.

Guy’s response was to tweet the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of centenary, which is “the hundredth anniversary of an event”. Which, of course, is the point Dan was making in his review. Now, I would like to think that Guy could have been waving the white flag here, but I doubt it: having spent a good deal of time in his company, I know that the word “surrender” is not in his vocabulary. Maybe “centenary” isn’t either. Did he misunderstand Dan’s point? Or does the editor of “the world’s finest cycle racing reportage” erroneously believe that the Tour began in 1913? As I say, it is an odd reaction whichever way you look at it.

More to the point, does any of this matter? Rapha once put the Hungarian flag on its Italian jersey and the Dutch flag on its French one, but those gaffes don’t seem to have affected the company’s fortunes. It’s the great contradiction of road cycling: its fans set their own pernickity rules and seethe when they are broken, yet don’t seem to care when the more conspicuous and useful ones are disregarded.

Cycling confessions

November 2, 2012

What every cyclist needs: a confession booth

Currently, the mood in cycling is one of revelation: I took drugs, I was on the books of a notorious Spanish doctor, I couldn’t help noticing Lance thought Bobby Julich was a bit dull. That sort of thing. But it’s not just the pros who have had something to hide. I, too, have harboured dreadful secrets. And now, pausing only to offer sincere apologies to those I may have hurt by not speaking out sooner, I shall now unburden myself of the guilt that has wracked my conscience. In return, I ask you to find the compassion in your hearts to forgive me for breaking some of cycling’s strictest edicts…

I do not drink coffee. There – I’ve said it. Drinking coffee makes me more tired by the end of the day, and I don’t miss the hit or the taste. More importantly, I came to realise why coffee lovers talk about which brands they prefer without usually discussing the differences: it’s because all types of bean juice taste roughly the same. Seriously, they do. Starbucks and your favourite independent coffee house both leave, quite literally, a bitter taste in your mouth. It’s just a slightly different bitterness. So have a tea instead, guys! Any tea! Black tea, green tea, fruit teas – there’s a lot more variety. And greater variety means more opportunities to indulge in cyclists’ favourite pastime: arbitrary snobbery. You can’t lose!

I have never looked at a carbon Colnago with envy. They look fine. Perfectly fine. Not beautiful, stunning, amazing, awesome, just… OK. Like a nice fitted kitchen or a sensible hat. To me, they appear to be just another assemblage of carbon tubes, but without the futuristic wowness of, say, a Felt, or the old-school romanticism of a hand-built steel frame. They’re sit somewhere in between. With an Italian name. Total whatevvs.

I don’t want to ride the Etape. One of my favourite pieces of cycling-related prose is Bill Strickland’s pithy, insightful and funny article on the Etape du Tour, which appeared in Rouleur’s 2008 photo annual. Bill evokes the event as a kind of living trance, where the landscape and your fellow riders recede from your immediate perception, thereby provoking a reckoning with yourself. And I can relate to that; I’m just pretty sure I don’t want or need that experience from a sportive. I think sportives should be pleasant jaunts around unfamiliar locales, and the Etape always looks far too over-populated and bloody serious to provide that sort of ride. Also, for me, riding a stage from the actual Tour de France without the speed or ability of a pro would be like running around Wembley Stadium while pretending to kick an invisible football. For these reasons, I am never going to ride the Etape.

I’m not that bothered either way about disc brakes or electronic shifting. I think I’m supposed to feel strongly one way or the other, aren’t I? I just can’t muster the effort, fellas. I’m sorry. Look, if the industry wants it to happen, it will happen. One set of aesthetic values will shift to accommodate another. And if you’re a diehard fan of rim braking or analogue gears, then you’ll probably be able to stick with them. Bicycles will still be able to start and stop. Them wheels will keep on turning. Let’s all have a group hug and try not to fight about it, OK?

A couple of intriguing magazines

October 19, 2012

Can you recall, as a child, plunging into a picture book and immersing yourself in a strange new land? I got a similar kick this week after issue 20 of VNA magazine popped through our letterbox as part of Jen’s mailout from Stack, the ever-dependable independent magazine subscription service. VNA (which stands for Very Nearly Almost) is about street art, a distant, magical and sometimes nightmarish world of which I know nothing, save for a brief visit to the paint-strewn streets of Brussels a few weeks ago which you may or may not remember me gabbing on about.

What I like about VNA is that it is packed with lots of interesting, amazing stuff I had never seen before – which is what we all want from a magazine, right? – and the writing is engaging and focused, placing a varied collection of artists in their own particular artistic context. My favourites were Guy McKinley’s ornate, fantasy-inspired portraits and the imposing symbols of cover star Retna, who Jen informs me is apparently quite famous. There is also a painting of a child’s face seemingly embedded in a wall in Granada that caught my eye.

VNA is in a nice compact format and it only costs six quid, which isn’t bad for an indie mag. So why not give it a go? I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll like in it, and I can’t say that about many magazines.

Another new visitor to our magazine rack is a new publication simply entitled Cyclist.

Essentially, it’s adapted the Cycling Plus format of clear, informed product reviews, added a dash of pro peloton features and delivered it in a stylish, upmarket package with a not unreasonable £5 cover price. Some of the photography and their feature on the Colnago factory are reminiscent of Rouleur (interestingly, Rouleur’s publisher used to be a suit at Dennis, which publishes Cyclist, and both magazines are advertising in each other’s pages).

I think what may set Cyclist apart from other cycling mags is that it feels more current – issue one included a neat spread on the trend for all things fluoro, a feature on electronic shifting and a look at disc brakes as part of the Colnago piece. More importantly, it is packed with facts, which makes it sound a bit dull, but I think clearly presented information is what cyclists value above all else in a magazine.

The writing may need to be warmer, and it will be interesting to see how it develops its own voice. The only thing I really didn’t like was a column by Velominati rule bore Frank Strack, but that’s a long post for another day. Overall, I think Cyclist has made a solid start, and you shouldn’t ask for anything more from a new magazine. Issue two is out this week. I bought my copy at Pearson Performance, so maybe you’ll find it at your local bike shop too.

Bye bye, Bike Tart

March 27, 2012

In a world where appraising bicycle-related exotica often means yakking on about history and tradition in an overtly Eurocentric manner, one man has dared to be slightly underwhelmed by a Pegoretti and enamoured by an Australian frame builder. Now Rich Gearing has hopped it to a new life Down Under with his fiancée Wendy (there they are, pictured on the right at their farewell do in a Whitehall pub) and a substratum of London’s cycling scene will be a poorer place for his absence. Rich is a fellow member of London Dynamo, a unique club whose past and present members have given us For Goodness Shakes, Rouleur and Look Mum No Hands. And I like to think Brain Farts Of A Bike Tart follows that Dynamo ethos of taking an original idea – in this case an inquisitive and highly personalised take on bike bling – and making it part of cycling’s cultural landscape. So I’d like to take this opportunity to wish him and Wendy all the best. Here’s to many more farts, pal!

The DYNAMITE! Five: The week in cycling, remixed. Issue #19

September 30, 2011

5 UP Tim Vine
“See these Icebreakers? Don’t work. Tried to use one to start a conversation and the guy just walked away.” Boom, and indeed, tish! And so, with a chortlesome quip about a high-end brand of merino base layer, comedian Tim Vine began a short routine at the Pearson Performance store on Friday evening which united the two aspects of life most precious to this blog: cycling and light-hearted wordplay. Hurrah! The one-liner wonderman, who is a childhood chum of owners Will and Guy, made our week with his puntastic appearance in East Sheen, although we’re not going to quote the rest of his routine: this is our blog, and we make the jokes around here (even though they are sub-standard by comparison).

4 UP Newreaders
Staying at the launch of the excellent new Pearson store, one interesting nugget that we picked up which may already be common knowledge among the bikerati is that ITV’s Dermot Murnaghan and Matt Barbet of Channel 5 fame regularly go out riding together. Two TV anchormen, sat next to each other on their bikes, talking away for hours: you know what they probably get up to, don’t you? The pair of them (in The DYNAMITE! Files’ head, anyway) chat to each other as if they’re doing a news broadcast, live from the hills of Surrey. Let’s turn on the vivid HDTV of our imagination and watch… “Good afternoon and thanks for joining us. Coming up: a tight left-hander. Over now to Matt Barbet. Matt, tell us what’s happening.” “Thanks, Dermot. We’re getting unconfirmed reports of a major pothole. Oof! Yes, I can now confirm a pothole has been encountered. Back to you, Dermot.” And so on, for the course of 70 to 100 miles. Possibly.

3 DOWN David Harmon
Still at the launch night of Pearson Performance (can you tell this blog doesn’t get out much?) we were disappointed that the World Championships prevented Eurosport commentator and Richmond Park regular David Harmon from attending. One Pearson partygoer reckons the man behind the mic sounds a little different when off-air and isn’t immediately recognisable, so we had a great way to identify him should he have turned up: “accidentally” drop a glass of bubbly and wait for the one person in the room to say: “Oh no! There’s been a crash! Oh, disaster! This is terrible!” Would’ve worked a treat. Maybe next time, eh?

2 UP Pat McQuaid
The Dalai Lama. Barack Obama. Nelson Mandela. Men of character and wisdom, whose achievements are so great that they truly deserve to have an in-depth 15,000-word feature written about them in a publication of record. And now you can add, er, Pat McQuaid to that august list, because the UCI president is the subject of a Grand Tour-sized question-and-answer session in the forthcoming issue of (what else?) Rouleur. It’s all in there: the Armstrong donations, the accusations of nepotism and why, despite what any of us may think, it’s apparently quite important to have a WorldTour race in China. But perhaps the most intriguing revelation is that Uncle Pat used to lurk on internet forums to see what cycling fans have been saying about him. BikeRadar: your hotline to Aigle. Who would have thought?


1 UP Mark Cavendish, Champion Of The World
It’s something you probably never thought you’d see: “Peta, 24, from Essex”, purportedly quoting Goethe on page three of The Sun as she analyses the euro bailout (“Everything in the world may be endured, except continued prosperity,” apparently). Meanwhile, tucked away on page 62 of the same newspaper, there was a brief report on her boyfriend – someone called Mark Cavendish – being crowned cycling’s world road race champion, making him the first Brit to win the men’s title in 46 years. So judging by the difference in column inches between Cav and his girlfriend in Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper, it would appear that the giddy dream posited by an excitable question from the BBC – “Could cycling become the UK’s second-favourite sport?” – is a long way from becoming a reality. But let’s look at it another way: how, you may ask, is the question in any way relevant? Does the popularity of a sport automatically make it more successful or interesting? Because anyone who saw Sunday’s thrilling race in Copenhagen or read Richard Williams’ analysis in the Guardian would realise that British riders are now officially amazing – super-strong, tactically astute and ruddy fast – and they became brilliant while the majority of the British public wasn’t paying any attention. Which makes their achievement all the more special, doesn’t it?

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

March 25, 2011

5 UP – Fabian Cancellara
Funny old place, Switzerland. For generations, the benign dictatorship of Wonka-like chocolatiers which constitutes the Swiss government has been arming its soldiers with nothing more than bottle-openers-cum-screwdrivers in a bid to make the world laugh so heartily at them that it forgets the dreaded phrase “Nazi gold” – and now, in a new wave of comedy propaganda, the country has finally produced a language of its own, courtesy of its top cycleperson. That last bit is not strictly accurate, of course: everyone knows that the old story about Fabian Cancellara racing on a motorised bicycle was total bunkum because he’s not actually a person but an actual machine, soldered together in a top-secret Bern laboratory. Yet it is nevertheless true that RoboFab’s formidably complex central processing unit has fashioned its own tongue, which The DYNAMITE! Files likes to call Fablish. The distinguishing characteristics of Fablishness, as evinced in the mighty mandroid’s tweets during the last few weeks, are a preponderance of phonetics (“Littel nap bevor the tt”, “i taket back”), a creative use of plosives (“o’grady stolen my planket”), everyday expressions rendered as programmed instructions (“Go to bed for sleep”) and an emotionless deployment of double entendres (“Organzier think we are tools… up and down”). Meanwhile, in a different corner of the Twitterverse, there is another robot who has difficulty with his spelling, and the lonely little fella is looking for a friend. If only the friendly Fabster would team up with poor old dmuper so the lovelorn Popjustice droid might no longer feel “soalone”. Ah, if only…

4 DOWN – Testicles
It takes balls to unleash a radical new design on a doubting world – even more so if you happen to be Ken Link, whose gentlemen’s area must surely be in a sorry state if his patented noseless saddle is anything to go by. Despite being marketed with the intriguing slogan “testicles relaxing”, the crescent-shaped contraption appears to invite the user to dangle his precious cargo in the narrow gap between its rails, which would, one surmises, produce an unwanted yank should you suddenly decide to launch a devastating attack, which would surely be devastating for all the wrong reasons. Still, one industry expert seemed quite taken by the “bouncy” ride the saddle produced, and it looks like it would swiftly eject the rider should he hit a pothole, so this radical invention could theoretically ease saddle soreness because you would be too scared to sit on the ruddy thing. Problem solved!

3 UP – Ben Serotta
Nothing seems to surprise jaded hardman Guy Andrews, so The DYNAMITE! Files was tickled to hear that the world-weary Rouleur editor was taken aback when he returned to his Cyclefit stomping ground last week and saw for the first time its not-so-recent transformation into a doctor’s beige waiting room. Guy and his old Covent Garden mucker Phil Cavell had a lot to talk about, judging by the photo on the right, so spare a thought for Ben Serotta, the mild-mannered titan of the titanium world sitting in the background, who appears to be patiently listening to the two opinionated pals bantering in their usual forceful style prior to his sell-out talk. You can’t help thinking that Gino’s canine face must surely express what Ben is feeling on the inside. In other news, Cyclefit have yet to announce the winner of their caption competition. (Number of entries: two. One of them is reproduced above. C’mon – get on with it, fellas!)

2 DOWN – Floyd Landis and Paul Kimmage
Not so much a news item, more of an awkward confession, and the hardcore anti-dopers among you may want to sit down for this bombshell: over many, many weeks, The DYNAMITE! Files has tried, and repeatedly failed, to read the entire transcript of the infamous seven-hour Landis/Kimmage powwow. There. It’s out, at last: this blog is a lightweight. As if you didn’t already know. Now let’s move on, OK?

1 DOWN – A bicycle made by a big printer

It’s been coated in a special hi-tech anti-wind lacquer (not true), the version given to Mark Cavendish has been endowed with additional stiffness (probably not true), and it was the bike HTC’s Matt Goss rode to victory at Milan-San Remo on Saturday (definitely true, because it was on the telly and everything). With Specialized’s marketing strategy producing a stream of piffle peppered with the occasional fact, it’s unsurprising that the McLaren-designed Venge this week eclipsed another unique British innovation: the printed bicycle. A proper rideable bike, spat out by a kind of printer! Made from nylon! Fused by lasers! And as strong as steel! Hurrah! All thrilling stuff, although if you want to prolong your excitement, it’s probably best to ignore the noise at the end of its appearance on BBC Breakfast. Or just tell yourself it’s Bill Turnbull’s joints. Doing Strictly can really mess you up like that.

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