Sunday, 27 October 2013

STEEL IS REAL



It was with great pleasure that I accepted the challenge of finding an appropriate bike for a potential member of Team Carlos-Weltschmerz. This is because he ‘wanted a bike like mine’ – a steel bike, with character. The idea came to him after hearing of our participation in the London to Brighton, and now he wants to climb aboard and join our outfit.
I was surprised how many bikes there were; I found him at least three candidates, of an appropriate material and size, in a little less than a fortnight. Some idiot kept stringing him along when my friend tried to buy the most convenient, so he ended shipping in a Dutch Van Herwerden from mainland Europe instead. It’s a better bike anyway – the right choice – and it’s induced in me a mild bout of bicycle envy. Van Herwerden is actually the name of the shop that would have had it badged and sold; the bikes themselves were normally made by Chesini or Zullo. Whatever the origin of this particular bike, it’s an absolute beaut, although I have yet to admire it at close quarters.
            I’ve already been passing on ideas for what jersey he might like to wear for next year’s London to Brighton. Easterbrook is a man with his own sense of style, and he’s proved most receptive to the type of togs I’ve suggested: 80s replica kit from Prendas Ciclismo, mostly. That’s an exciting proposition, but one too early to consider right now.

  
 
 

 
 

I’ve also been thinking about adding to my own collection (of one). I have no intention of letting go of the Romani, as it’s always been my intent to own two velocipedes (the size of my quarters precludes expansion beyond that).
I’ve been working in central London of late and my walk from Waterloo to the Grays Inn Road is riddled with bicycles. Just the other day, a gun-metal Peugeot really caught my eye, so after contemplating carbon and envisaging aluminium, I now think I’ll end up sticking with steel.
The Peugeot in question was probably a Premiere, but my research has pointed me towards higher end models; the Perthus, Galibier or Aneto. These bikes have chromed forks and their frames are forged from a higher grade of steel than the Premiere; Reynolds 531 usually, as opposed to Carbolite. I thought I’d found one these for sale on Gumtree. The seller resided in Brighton. I requested the measurements and the model, which would undoubtedly have been registered on the seat end of the top-tube. It took three emails before I garnered a response, finally suggesting a time I might like to come and view the bicycle. I explained that I lived in London so would need the measurements of the seat-tube, top-tube and head-tube, and a few choice photographs of the most vulnerable areas, to reassure me that the bike was worthy of my cash and the day-trip I’d need to make if I decided to action a purchase. He told me that he wasn’t prepared to put in the work to furnish me with such details. What a lazy specimen of a human being, I thought. I received nothing back in reply to the email I sent him conveying this sentiment (via the medium of sarcasm).

 
 


Economically speaking, the timing isn’t convenient anyway. Penury persists, and it’s almost winter – what’s the rush? So I have attended to a few issues that have been bothering my incumbent ride; the rear wheel, which needed truing, and a wobble in the bottom bracket. I went to Sigma in Kingston to fix the former, and the Vintage Bike Cave – from whence the Romani was purchased – to remedy the latter, figuring that if the bottom bracket needed replacing then they would probably have something appropriate to hand.
Initially, I thought that Sigma had done a decent job with my wheel, but no sooner had I ridden 20 metres and the chain fell off – they hadn’t replaced it consistent with the gear the bike was left in. Moreover, the rear wheel had not been properly realigned. I took it back and the situation was resolved, albeit in a blasé manner. To be fair, they did tweak the rear brake whilst at it, which would have cost extra had I realised it needed tweaking.
The Vintage Bike Cave represented a far higher quality of service. It turned out that the integrity of the bottom bracket was very much in tact, but after releasing the tension of the chain, excessive play within the axle was indeed observed. So I was sent across the road to drink coffee whilst they gave it the once over.
It was tightened accordingly, I wasn’t charged for the privilege, and the ride home was a delight; my gear changes were the smoothest they’d ever been, and the bike felt solid and reliable. Let’s hear it for the Vintage Bike Cave, folks. Sure, you’re going to pay a little extra for a bike down there, compared to what you might have to hand over to someone selling on eBay, Gumtree or, say, LFGSS, but your new bike will come fully serviced, with new tyres, inner tubes, bar-tape, brake blocks, and cables (if required), and their after-sales service will be committed and genuine.
In this day and age of people wanting something for almost nothing, it’s prudent to step back and consider what the meaning of ‘value’ really is. If that burk in Brighton selling his Peugeot on Gumtree had been bothered to take measurements, and it had turned out that the bike was what I was looking for, then he’d have got shot of it by now. Instead, it’s still up there on Gumtree. I assume people have come to see the bike and have deemed it unfitting or unworthy. The seller, therefore, will continue having to invest more time, writing emails, organising appointments, and entertaining potential buyers (although I am sure he’ll sell it eventually). All because he felt the use of a tape measure was somehow beneath him.


Thursday, 24 October 2013

A PLASTIC BOTTLE THROWN FROM A MOVING VEHICLE

 
 



Was 'An Appropriate Bicycle' supposed to run for a limited time only? Yes it was, but it might be nice to continue something in a similar vein; musings on bikes and related paraphernalia.
I’ve been fairly active since the London to Brighton in this respect. I take specific pride in a ramble out to Chertsey I've developed; expanding on my route to Walton-on-Thames and back, I now drive onward to Chertsey, then turn back on myself and ride on through Weybridge, Hersham, Esher, and finally to Kingston.
To mix it up, I might take a different turn at the roundabout that unites Chertsey Road, Woburn Hill and St. Peter’s Way. I will select Chertsey Road/the A318, follow it as far as Byfleet, and then head east along the A245, which takes me over the A3, then through Cobham, back over the A3, before re-joining with my default path in Esher. Depending on the twist and turns – and including the roll home via Richmond I often tack on the end – it’s anywhere between 25 and 30 miles; nothing epic, but mostly free of traffic control – lots of roundabouts instead of light-administered junctions – and so I can cycle mostly unchecked. I rarely bother with rides into London town anymore, let alone Ealing or Chiswick.
I also managed a 35 miler out to Staines and Virginia Water. That was Mommersteeg's idea, although he turned up hung-over and the loop up to Windsor and back was spontaneously excised from our pre-planned route.
On the final run in, back through Sunbury, a man reclining in the passenger side of a red van – dragging behind it a speedboat – threw a plastic bottle at Mommersteeg in an act of gratuitous indignation. I tried to chase the van down – almost succeeded – but we met again at the junction where Ham High Street and Hampton Road intersect. We were told that we 'didn't own the road.' Why the driver thought we thought that we did own the road can probably be explained by his obvious contempt for cyclists first, rational explanations later. I was in a mellow kind of mood and answered back literally: I didn’t think that I owned the road. I then pointed out that he was the guy who had thrown a bottle at my colleague: ‘You’re the guy who threw the bottle at my colleague,’ I said. The guy who’d thrown the bottle at my colleague told me to 'shut up'. Mommersteeg suggested that I 'leave it', which I did, and that was that.
I've resisted any calls to arms against these types, but you can see I’ve the ammunition, should I ever I need it.

In other news, I've been inspecting long-sleeved jerseys. The Urban Cyclist recently ran a feature on autumnal apparel and I was very taken with a Santini jersey they included. They said that I could buy this remarkable vesture from Prendas Ciclismo for a mere £65. Beautiful it was, but Prendas don’t sell it, for £65 or otherwise. I managed to establish contact with the Urban Cyclist collective via their bookface account, and they conceded it was a misprint. In fact, it sets one back a penny short of £120 from a company called Fisher Outdoor Leisure, and I can’t afford that right now.
            A fresh faced British company called Vulpine do a nice little Merino wool number, kind of along those minimal lines that Rapha like to lead. The ‘Alpine Jersey’ retails at £95, so still exceeds my present budget. Moreover, it appears it’s perhaps not rough and ready enough to satisfy my needs. It is referred to as ‘stylish and comfortable’ – it’s probably been featured in the Urban Cyclist at some point. I have nothing against this more relaxed approach to cycle-wear, but it’s not for me; I need gear that I can martyr myself in, which doesn’t stretch and won’t catch on the impedimenta with which I invariably fill my jersey pockets.
            Sportful do a more affordable and utilitarian alternative – the ‘Pista’ – and at £50 it may well have to do. I’ve tried it on and it’s a good fit, but I’m actually thinking along the line of arm-warmers as well now, for these will allow me to continue utilising my short-sleeved jerseys throughout the winter.

I ended up selling my Solo Heuvel jersey at a small profit and buying an original mid 1990s ONCE jersey with the proceeds. ONCE were a Spanish team founded in 1989, who slowly metamorphosed into Astana, by way of Deutsche Bank, Eroski, Liberty Siguros and Würth (don’t ask me). ONCE actually stands for Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles, meaning the National Organization of Spanish Blind People. I think I have the 1994-1997 version, made by the Spanish sportswear manufacturer Etxe-Ondo and co-sponsored by Look (the make of bikes Team-ONCE rode) and Macario (no idea). Mavic, as opposed to Macario, had their name on the jersey before 1994, and after 1997 their kit was made by Castelli and their bikes by Giant. Because ONCE’s team colours were predominantly yellow they wore a pink version during the Tour de France, but I have the yellow and black designation, worn for their three consecutive triumphs in the Vuelta a España and a number of Spring Classics besides.
            I’ve also added to my collection an all-green vintage jersey with faded lettering across its front and back spelling ‘Cassa Rurale Ed Artigiana Popolare Palm-Mont’. I have no idea what that means but it looks and sounds good, and it only cost  a tenner.
            I’ve got my eye on a Caja Rural jersey too, because I would quite like a contemporary jersey and Caja Rural’s top is by far the pick of the modern-day crop. If I do end up with that then I will own a total of five jerseys (long-sleeves don’t count), in complete contradiction to the Trinity Theory of Jerseys that I’ve been proposing. Oh well.






Finally, I’d like to say a word about this year’s Tour of Britain. Last year’s Tour of Britain felt a little bit cheap and nasty; it really suffered in comparison with the Vuelta a España that preceded it. This year’s Vuelta was cracking, but after the predictably pedestrian first few rain-soaked stages the 2013 Tour of Britain exploded into life on the fourth leg, from Stoke-on-Trent to Llanberis. The stages that followed were good too, especially Stage 6 from Sidmouth to Haytor – and that’s not just by Devonshire bias speaking.
            I managed to spectate at two of the Tour’s stages: a few members of Team Carlos-Weltschmerz and I saw them pass through Dorking on the Saturday, and then on Sunday my colleague accompanied me to watch the riders lapping incessantly around central London. It was a lot of fun.
            Bradley Wiggins was victorious overall, although it’s not considered a particularly prestigious title. However, after a troubled year it would have done his confidence a world of good, and perhaps helped him in securing second place in the time trial at this year’s World Championships. That was an impressive showing, all things considered, and it was more the imperious of form of the German Tony Martin that sealed the deal, as opposed to Wiggins getting his game-plan wrong. And then there followed the road face, which went badly for Team GB, although nobody is quite clear as to why.
            Which sort of brings the cycling season to a close…

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

ASPECTS OF LONDON





Waterloo Bridge has no greater significance beyond the many other bridges that span the Thames. Every vault has its own history, and that any particular recapitulation may be considered more vital than another is surely moot – a matter for taste or self-interest. That said, Waterloo Bridge was rebuilt by a largely female workforce during the Second World War, which to some might seem remarkable. For those who lived through that conflict it would appear less so. In stark contrast to our Teutonic enemy, Great Britain embraced the potential of its female workforce and invested in them with all sorts of heavy, menial tasks. What is worthy of remark is the fact that, on officially revealing the reconstructed article, there was no mention of the 25,000 female workers who'd put their back into rebuilding it. None the less, it is known to many Londoners as 'Ladies Bridge', which is an appreciation of sorts.
Hewn from Portland stone – a material respected for its ‘self-cleaning' properties, the process of lithification peculiar to this rock offering a resilience to the elements that appropriates its use in more urban settings – it is a graceful, contemporary bridge, cantilever in design. Its situation – breaching a north to east meander in the river – offers contrasting views. The riparian aspect to the south-west has changed very little in recent times. The London Eye has rested upon the south bank of the Thames for 14-odd years now, its initial five year planning application having long been forgotten, renewed, and the matter presumably taken over by the GLA or the LDA. I'm not sure I like the London Eye being there – I like it, but maybe not there – but have come to accept it. I am grateful for the buildings that lie beside – the Royal Festival Hall in particular – for they are just about capable of bearing the responsibility of ensuring that this ridiculous Ferris wheel doesn’t completely detract from its surroundings.
The bank of the Thames that faces the London Eye represents a completely different proposition. Compromised of Whitehall Court, the Norman Shaw Buildings, and Portcullis House, it is a spiky, perpendicular Gothic apparition very much in keeping with London's mythic pre-blitz past, and one that jars with the neoclassical Ministry of Defence building, and the Shell Centre (more Portland Stone) on the other side of the river (post war developments both). This architectural disparity evokes visions of some of the formerly Soviet cities of central Europe – Budapest springs to mind. One barely notices the towers of Battersea Power Station, or the panelled, glass-clad buildings beyond that are coming to define present-day Vauxhall.
In any case, we have an amalgamation of architectural style that appears to seek concord with a vision of London as a low-rise city. Forget the towers – Elizabeth and Victoria – that protrude from the Palace of Westminster: they are mere aberrations, and not all that tall anyway.
Looking east offers an entirely different perspective. It is to The City that I point this charge: The Gherkin, the Walkie-Talkie, Leadenhall Building, Heron Tower, CityPoint, and the many other developments that have filled in the gaps in and around Liverpool Street, St. Pauls and Fenchurch Street. The depth of field is deceptive, and it’s not as clustered as it looks, but from Ladies Bridge it appears a symphony of glass and height. Add to this the Blackfriars Bridge development, with its fragmented solar panelled roof, and the illusion is complete: the City of London is beginning to resemble some sort of Oriental metropolis, like Beijing or Singapore.
A similar thing happened to Docklands not so long ago, but without the ancient physical characteristics that have been forcefully assimilated into this new City of London. Docklands was a waste-land by comparison, and seems less exotic; there’s more of an American flavour to it, laid out along perpendicular lines.




There are other areas of London that exhibit their own distinct architectural flavour, although this distinction in character is not always so perceivable from street-level. If The City represents some sort of futurist Eastern vision with English Baroque elements, and the west a comfy tribute to both Europe’s Napoleonic and Soviet past, then Southwark offers up yet another schizophrenic tableaux. The South Bank extols the Brutalism that took hold after the Second World War: Bankside Power Station in the guise of the Tate Modern, and the whole of the Southbank Centre. Yet the area behind is a mix of Victorian terracing and low-rise tower blocks, and glass fronted buildings are intruding at any given opportunity. I like the atmosphere in and around Southwark, although it’s hard to put a finger on.
I wonder how much of this is deliberate. I speculate as to whether those in charge of town planning really know what they are doing. I entertain the thought that the whole of London is one circumstantial accident, and that its visual impact is entirely arbitrary. It probably is, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. My concern, however, is that over time these separate architectural enclaves will segue into one another, as land is sold and built upon in whatever style happens to be à la mode. And then one could stand on Ladies Bridge and whichever way one looked would reap only indistinguishable, homogeneous rewards.