Tuesday, 9 December 2014


Consider the web-forum. I disapprove of these convergences mostly, the less focussed (Yahoo or the BBC’s comment-enabled features, for example) really seem to bring out the worst in people: participants taking side-swipes at each other, venting spleen blindly, making no effort to hide heartfelt prejudices. Nonetheless, these ‘chat rooms’ can be a decent resource if one has a genuine interest in something and can readily resist the temptation to get too involved. Encompassing by their very nature, sorting the frivolous threads from the more substantial can be a little tiresome, which is why I try and keep my own participation to a healthy minimum. The forum I frequent from time to time concerns itself with cycling. Above all else, I'm there to look at the classifieds. Inevitably I am brought into superficial contact with the forum’s members, which isn't so bad because some of them can be quite amusing. Sometimes a name is all it takes. There is a forum member who calls himself ‘Spacey’, whose avatar is a picture of the actor Kevin Spacey, and I thought to myself wouldn't it be wonderful if it actually was Kevin Spacey showing an interest in the 2009 Bob Jackson Vigorelli with the Reynolds 631 frame, and pondered the likelihood. Turns out the guy looks a bit like the American actor and deemed this alias to be as good as any (or so he says).
            The internet is a beast of capricious appeal, and I suddenly found myself reading up about Kevin Spacey on Wikipedia. Aside from the revelation that Kevin began his career in entertainment as a stand-up comedian, I also discovered that his father had worked as a technical writer (and data consultant), which aroused my curiosity. I'm vaguely aware of what a technical writer is and does and once worked in the not altogether dissimilar role of ‘transcript writer’ myself, but followed the link anyway and was greeted with Kurt Vonnegut’s take on the trade:

"[technical writers are] trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writing. This makes them freaks in the world of writers, since almost all of the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about themselves to the reader."

I’d been musing on related concepts and was not sure I agreed with Mr Vonnegut’s assessment. As a transcript writer, I was once admonished for using the word ‘eschewed’ after transcribing a disciplinary hearing at some financial institution located in Canary Wharf. The interviewee – who was in effect giving evidence against a purportedly awkward work colleague – had been evasive and avoided suggestions the interlocutor felt compelled to make. To provide some texture, and avoid the sort of ‘he said, she said’ reportage such content often forwarded, I ended up reaching for the verb ‘eschew’ in an effort to provide some sort of vocabular relief. When my work was later edited, I was told that this word would not do as some people might not know what the word ‘eschew’ actually meant, even though I considered it a fairly ordinary word in itself, and what are synonyms for if not to relieve the tedium of an inquisition that endlessly repeats itself?
In any case, I've not worked in such a word-focussed capacity since. That said, in my current administrative role I am having to form sentences on a regular basis, and the objective is still pretty much the same: clarity, economy of language, imperturbability. This is the lingua franca of the work-place, utilitarian and functional in an effort to bridge the gaps between operators of different language, class and culture. In this sense, Mr Vonnegut is correct: revealing anything about oneself is not the point. But does this preclude such vernacular from possessing any sort of prosodic features whatsoever? Does language even allow for it?
It got me thinking about those strange vignettes that pop up throughout David Lynch’s Inland Empire, sketches that Lynch originally conceived as a nine part ‘sitcom’ consisting entirely of anthropomorphised rabbits – actors wearing rabbit costumes beneath regular clothes – non-sequiting to each other in a drab and sinister living room. (“I have heard those things being said before”; “I will bet you are both wondering”; “I have misplaced it”.)

I decided to cut-up a selection of sentences and paragraphs from random emails I’d sent to various customers to create a sort of disjointed dialogue. I wondered if such statements held any value when placed in isolation – or juxtaposed against each other at least. Stripped of their original context, could they function as something else entirely, even if that thing was non-specific, vague, as ostensibly non-functioning as Lynch’s strange masques? Can words and sentences in and of themselves convey something about the author’s self, even when the intention is that they should not?

‘I think you have misunderstood my colleague. He is not asking you for payment yet, he was asking for a formal purchase order. What you have provided looks like an internal purchase requisition. We can use this as a de facto purchase order if you like, but it appears to us to be a document intended for your own internal purchasing department.’

‘I have adjusted our schedule as requested. Be aware that there will come a stage when we can make no further alterations to these delivery dates: stock already exists to fulfil certain shipments, but is being manufactured for others. Please find amended documents attached.’

‘I have referred you to the quote for 1,000 pieces already – twice in fact: once in this email, and again in another. I have also re-attached it here. But I don't think it's a quote that you are really after. We can't accept payment based on a quotation. We need a purchase order from you for 960 pieces, using the cost that we quoted for the 1,000 pieces, and then we can issue a sales order and a pro-forma invoice. You can then make payment via the links acting against information we will subsequently provide.’

'Please note, we are unable to include your banking fees as part of the invoice. First, such fees are not necessarily fixed and may amount to more (or less) than the sum you were charged for the last transaction. Second, the invoice has to be representative of the services we have rendered: our product and the shipping of it. We are not charging you for the transference of monies, the banks are. As such, to factor this into an invoice would be misleading, and may even contravene financial regulations.’

‘As per the sales order confirmation you were sent, we expect to make delivery toward the end of November, so any time prior to then to be sure. However, by such time you will have probably paid invoice 301626 and will be well within your credit limit. As such, assuming you pay on time, you need not worry about the pro-forma for the second shipment.’

‘I should add that we do charge a small handling fee to customers who wish to use their own courier – for packing the item, arranging the collection, registering the delivery on-line, and so forth.’

[Internal Memo] ‘It seems that the shipping charge will still re-set itself when we're changing quantities. I'm noticing inconsistency with this whole functionality, which is potentially more damaging than if it worked one way or the other. Can I clarify how it is supposed to operate?’

‘I believe the ship, once it has sailed, will take about a month to reach its destination.’

'As you can see from the product catalogue I sent, there is no motor with the same dimensions that operates at 6 V. Certain customisations are possible but that puts the price up, and you have already expressed that price is a critical factor. Moreover, in developing new adaptations, a customised motor would be subject to a minimum order quantity and a financial commitment up front. In any case, a motor is what it is for a given reason, so it might even be that a 6 V motor is subject to dimensional limitations - for it to be economically feasible, at least.'

'We have certainly sold to companies that concern themselves with matters of a dental nature, but there is no over-arching motor that seems to be popular in this field and nor have we involved ourselves with the development of any particular product; you yourself probably have a better idea as to which of our motors might be suited to such an application, or how a device of this kind might work.
If you have any questions regarding our own product then we would be happy to answer them, but any opinion we might be able to offer on the efficacy, or otherwise, of orthodontic vibratory stimulation would be mere conjecture.'

'The point I was trying to make was that the document for the first delivery is applicable to the second. If the 1,250 pieces from batch #2222, sent to you on order 450013000, were analysed and approved, then so too were the 489 pieces sent to you on order 450015000. All 1,750 pieces that comprised batch 2222 were analysed and passed as one batch; therefore one cannot be deemed analysed but not the other - the 1,250 pieces and the 489 pieces are of the same ilk and cannot be separated.
In any case, I understand that, for bureaucratic reasons, you need separate forms for each delivery, even though it is clear that both batches are part of the same bigger batch (they are the same). As such, please find a document designed exclusively to cover the second, smaller delivery.'

Sunday, 10 August 2014


The weather forecast was ominous, and had been all week. The remnants of some hurricane, blowing by the name of Bertha, were slinking across the Atlantic, scheduled to hit landfall early Sunday, reaching London later that morning. On Wednesday I'd shirked off this potential calamity, for the BBC are apt to mistake the forecast at the best of times – I often wonder why I even bother checking. Indeed, over the course of the next few days, Sunday was to be: constantly wet; a duality of sunshine and showers; fine until the later in the day, where upon it would become very wet and windy; or subject to any permutation along this theme you might be able to imagine. It was only Saturday's projection that ever really mattered, and even that was mere conjecture. But it was obvious that I needed to prepare for a saturating eventuality, although it was never going to be cold, which restricted me to a degree.
I contrived for sunshine and showers – all-encompassing weather conditions that should ensure I was appropriately dressed for at least some of the time. My torso dressed its self: a base-layer (by De Marchi), short-sleeved cycling jersey (by Etxeondo), arm-warmers (Santini), and a rain jacket (Castelli) that could be doffed and stowed in the back-pocket of my jersey.
Cycling shorts were obligatory, and any form of tight or leg warmer would be redundant anyway: if it rained hard they would soon become saturated and any warmth retaining properties would be lost.
I was more worried about the loss of traction anyway, which could have a potential effect on my choice of footwear. I considered reverting to toe-clips, removing my cleated pedals from my bike and wearing my Sidi touring shoes instead. However, the toe-clipped pedals I bought to tide me over – while I’d searched for cleats and accordant shoes – pressed down on my toes, which was tolerable over 40 miles but might not be over a 100 such measures. Further, those Sidis would not keep my feet warm or dry like my cleated pair of Mavics could, which was now the more determining factor. To be sure, I stretched a pair of toe-covers over my shoes, and to be doubly sure I applied gaffer tape over them, figuring this could be removed if and when the sun came out.

I awoke at 3.45 a.m. after four, maybe five hours’ sleep (despite hitting the hay at just gone nine – it's hard to slumber when you need to be up that early). I felt okay, actually, and there was no sign of this Bertha from out the window.
Two hours later, in the back of a cab approaching the Olympic Park, the rain was beginning to threaten, small spots of the stuff dotting the windscreen of our taxi. By the time I'd arrived, this idle precipitation had relinquished.
I had shared a cab with my neighbour, who was scheduled to start riding an hour earlier than me. That I needed to be in position to ride the LondonSurrey 100 half an hour before the start assured I had plenty of time on my hands for coffee and a bacon sandwich. And then the waiting – about an hour of it.
It remained mercifully dry for this period of lingering but became wet very soon after. It could have been worse: it was drizzle, and my rain jacket could deal with that, as could the gaffer tape wrapped around my shoes. I was more concerned at this juncture about pacing myself, yet found that I was comfortably maintaining speeds of around 20 mph without due strain or attention. My circumstances bode well.
This all changed upon reaching Hampton. I didn't want to stop at Hampton, but I needed the toilet and there were facilities there. I'd also emptied one of my water bottles already, so refilled that. Next I decided to eat another energy bar, the first of my three having been consumed out of boredom while hanging around earlier. Having done all of these things, I was just about to get back on my bike when something resembling a tropical downpour unleashed itself. Just a shower, I thought, what good timing, I'll sit it out under this here tree.
And it was just a shower. Unfortunately, the next downpour was not just a shower. I was in Molesey, barely a mile on from Hampton, and the rain that now fell upon me continued to lash down for the next three hours, pausing duplicitously every so often, but never abating.
I soon saw a crash happen in front of me – quite a nasty one wherein a toppling cyclist’s bike bounced upward into the path of another cyclist, who subsequently stacked it in a spectacular fashion. Just moments after an ambulance sped passed me to attend to someone I soon caught up with lying on the floor, unconscious and with an oxygen mask strapped to their face. The passage through Walton was a joke: water inundated every surface, the spray from my bike, and everyone else's, washed over me, and the rain harassed my face incessantly. The descent down Caenswood Hill, which I ordinarily enjoy, was treacherous, and thereafter we entered the countryside and it all became a blur. I could now see sense in the re-routing of our ride to avoid Leith and Box Hill (although on reflection I'm not sure why Box Hill had to go: its rake is so much milder than Leith's). People were attending to punctures all about me. Every person who overtook my drenched form would turn their head, offer a wry grin and make some sort of sarcastic comment about how much they were enjoying themselves.
I'd only wanted to stop the once, but found myself pausing at the next hub, again to use the toilet but also to drink a warming cup of coffee.
Somewhere after Dorking the rain eased off to an acceptable level, allowing me to up my game a little. I literally have no recollection of passing through Leatherhead, but I do recall puncturing on the approach to Esher. From there onwards it was all okay. The sun even came out as I rode up Combe Lane, persuading me it was worth the bother to stop and remove the rain jacket.
Come the finish and I still had a fair bit left in the proverbial tank: the removal of those hills, the peril of flooded roads and the poor visibility having robbed me of the opportunity and the impetus to attack this course in the way I'd intended. 5 hours and 50 minutes it took, although only 5 hours and 10 minutes of that was spent actually riding my bike. In any case, had it been dry then 4 and a half hours would not have been out of the question.
I had planned on this being a one-off but already I'm feeling a strange need to enter next year's ride; a case of unfinished business, perhaps. This is contingent on the laws of probability ruling out similar conditions, of course.

Saturday, 2 August 2014


The RideLondon Surrey 100 looms large...
I cannot really look forward to something like this: training disrupted, cleats to get used to, logistics to be surmounted, the possibility of physical collapse on the day. That final prospect has the potential to be the most devastating, but it troubles me the least. My training, such as it is, has so far just about passed muster, despite the fact that my commuting velocipede has been off the road for almost three weeks. Last Sunday I actuated a 45 to 50 mile round trip to Windsor, building upon a 35 miler I'd ridden the previous weekend. It was tough going, but might not have been if I hadn't lost my way, adding a six mile dalliance to a route that had been designed to give me options: if I felt good by time I reached Chertsey then I was to push on toward Byfleet, Cobham and Esher and ride the full 50; if I started to flag I would cut through Walton and satisfy myself with just the 45. In the event, after straying from my intended path and then attempting to regain some ground – the equivalent of sustaining a puncture and having to race back up to the peloton, maybe? – I found myself wavering through Virginia Water. My 45/50 mile dilemma had been upgraded to a 50/55 one, so I took the Walton-on-Thames route, hung off the back of a Barnes Cycling Club five man jolly as far as Hampton and covered 51 miles in just under 3 hours (not including the time that stopping at the Belvedere Arms for coffee incurred). It's not ideal, that I felt incapable of pushing on any further, but at this point in time it's not so unsettling either.
Indeed, my predicament could be trickier. I don't anticipate not being able to finish in the allotted time, or even of suffering to the degree there's the potential for. I'm injury free and there'll be little excuse for not having built enough power come the day, and I am confident I can keep the calories flowing.
Nor am I expecting any significant mechanical transgressions: my bike is relatively new, it is light and well appointed. I've had to remedy two punctures of late and replacing the inner-tube proved to be a breeze in both instances. It's nice not to have to worry about these things.
But something was troubling me still…

And then it wasn’t. It boiled down to nothing more than putting in the hours, which I subsequently did. I made Tuesday ‘3 laps of Richmond Park’ day. I followed up my Windsor excursion with a pleasant and fast 45 mile round trip to Sunningdale, and the Sunday after I rode 51 miles, again up to Staines and this time back through Addlestone, almost making my route up as I went along. Finally, on the Sunday before the event – with four consecutive Richmond Tuesdays under my belt – I rode out to Leith Hill with my fellow cyclist, Mommersteeg. Mommersteeg doesn’t go in for all this stopping for coffee business, so it was 52 miles straight, completed in well under three hours (after which I had coffee alone and added another 6, just for the hell of it).
            Most crucially of all, having finally sorted out the steel bike, I was able to return to riding cleated more than two weeks before the event: for those rides out to Addlestone and Leith Hill, and for three of my sessions up at Richmond Park. And I think this was what had really been eating away at me. After taking to cleats really rather quickly, I returned from London to Brighton with cleat fear. There is no reason why this should have been the case, but I had become wary of them. And yet, as soon as I forced them back onto my bike (in more ways than one - it was a real struggle getting the toe-clipped pedals back off), I very quickly regained my trust in them. Yes, I'm quite looking forward to riding this thing cleated, and don’t think I could now do it any other way.

Sunday, 6 July 2014


I recently suffered a terrible and bizarre mechanical incident not two miles into my commute to work. Pulling away at the set of lights that regulate the traffic where Sheen Road – the A305 – and Church Road – the B322 – intersect each other, I observed that my bike was in an inappropriately high gear. I moved to remedy this situation but quickly reneged after realising that I'd need to overtake a Swiss Family Robinson dawdling along a road that's a major arterial for commuters of all vehicular types – bikes, buses, cars, vans, lorries. My bike did not take kindly to this expeditious gear reversal. The chain detached from its moorings and somehow twisted back on itself, violently intermingling with spokes as it did so. The situation was not helped by the need to brake fairly suddenly, rather than coasting into the gutter, where the Swiss family pedalled on obliviously.

After carrying my bike home I managed to extricate the chain from the spokes. Closer inspection revealed the rear hanger to be newly bent inwards. The rear derailleur was more than likely damaged too. That my chain should need replacing was a full gone conclusion. The free-wheel might also be ruined.
My immediate concern was the rear hanger, which is attached to the drop-outs and connects the rear derailleur to the frame of the bike. It was welded there when the ‘Brev’ Campagnolo drop-outs were forged in the first instance. It could not be replaced and straightening it carried risk. I would need someone of skill to attend to this.
I was also troubled by the reduced hours of cycling that would now follow. Preparation for the RideLondon-Surrey 100 depends on a couple of commutes a week to set me up for longer rides come the weekend. I'd already had my Saturday run cut short by a puncture sustained whilst cycling along Esher Road – the A244 – and encountering a smattering of green glass in the gutter. (I'd moved to avoid this, but the evidence was conclusive: a rhythmically intermittent slapping noise emanated from my rear wheel demanding my immediate attention. Good practise, at least – the first puncture I've had to redress on my carbon bike.)
Finally, I was wary of the amount of time that would be required to fix the thing, if indeed it could be fixed at all. The replies to my investigatory emails concurred that any move to straighten the hanger might resolve in it snapping off. I felt that maybe I'd overplayed the extent of the deviation, but I didn't want to waste time taking the bike into London for this to then happen, so I called in to talk to the guy who plies his trade in Richmond Station, hiring bikes mostly but repairing them too, and he agreed to take on the job.

The hanger was comfortably realigned but the derailleur was damaged and could not be repaired. I asked Vintage Bike Cave if they had any derailleurs of a suitable age and specification to replace it. They were slow to respond, as is their way, and in the meantime I pondered alternative training solutions. I concluded that I should remove the cleated pedals from my Look 566 and install the clipped ones for commuting purposes, to ensure that I covered some miles in the coming weeks. This I did, and then tried a new run-out to Staines, using Thorpe Lea Road and Thorpe Bypass to redirect me towards Chertsey and the familiar fast roads through Byfleet, Cobham, Esher, and then home through Kingston. Only 36 miles, but fast miles and physically satisfying. (I have now devised a route out to Windsor that should involve similar terrain but will cover over 50 miles.)
Losing patience with the Vintage Bike Cave, I found a replacement rear derailleur for £15 plus reasonable postage. The guy who works at Richmond Station will install it, as the gears will need re-indexing anyway. Otherwise I may have worked it out myself.

Sunday, 15 June 2014


Team Carlos-Weltschmerz recently partook in the London to Brighton for the second year running. Long may this continue.
The expanded team of seven (plus two auxiliary members, who were never formally inducted) allowed for more contact throughout the 'race' and, thus, more intrigue. Indeed, I pushed the in-team competitive element to the fore this time around, giving up on any pretence that this was merely some charitable jolly (although funds were raised this year, unlike last).
            Other events conspired to make this a closer contest, in particular a tragic accident near the village of Gatton. After passing under the M25 – descending at some speed, one assumes – a cyclist collided with a telegraph pole, was seriously hurt, and the ride was temporarily halted. On reaching this neutralised zone I had to wait approximately 10 minutes before the road was reopened, and then fight my way past 50 odd metres worth of cyclists whilst fending off about 30 metres of the same from the rear.
Up until this point I felt generally that the London to Brighton hadn't been congested as the year prior. The team had departed grandly at exactly the same hour – Moomersteeg hadn't been held up with mechanical issues, but instead new recruit Easterbrook arrived late – so there was no apparent reason for this to be so (although a late night World Cup football game involving the English national team could have played its part).  Whatever the reasons for this decongestion, the conditions allowed for rapid progress.
All that hard work had been undone now, and there were people to get in front of again. With regard to my team, I wasn't sure who was where. I had ridden fast to get ahead of the crowds but had not been aware of overtaking any of my cadres. I last had contact somewhere between Carshalton and Chipstead, and could be fairly certain that Mommersteeg was ahead of me. Beyond that, who knew?
Confident that I'd covered some ground, I paused to remove my outer layer and took the opportunity to consume my only 'energy bar'. Once I'd remounted my bike, I started to think quite seriously about stopping at one of the many refreshment centres along the way to refill my water bottle, and maybe even for a quick coffee.
I decided against it after realising there were less than 15 miles to Turners Hill, reasoning that, given I was cruising at near to 30 mph, I'd be there in no time at all. I was riding full gas, so it came as quite some surprise when, just four or five miles away from Turners Hill, I spotted Easterbook ahead of me. Easterbrook is a fellow aficionado of steel and owns a bike similar to my own. How had he got so far in front? My disrobing and gorging had taken just a few minutes, and, like I said, I’d been flooring it; he must have been too.
But Easterbook was to pay for his impertinence. He didn't have it in him to match my pace going up Turners Hill and I rolled in ahead. Predictably, Mommersteeg awaited. And Cavanagh too – another London to Brighton/Team Carlos-Weltschmerz debutante. We were unable to establish which one of them arrived first so the points were awarded evenly.
Within 15 minutes everyone was there.

Stage 1 (Medium Mountain Stage)

Mommersteeg / Cavanagh - 30
Evans - 22
Easterbrook - 19
Gowland - 17
Oakley - 15
Ross-Gower - 13

Our pause for lunch was fairly succinct. Turners hill was awash with cyclists, the fallout from that nasty incident in Gatton earlier, no doubt. We were ready to leave within 45 minutes of our arrival; last year’s leisurely lunch had taken us well over an hour.
The second stage was swift. By the time I reached Ditchling Beacon I'd peaked. The hill was a real grind and I came close to walking the last quarter. I'd made the error of shifting down gears too far in advance, which really didn't help, but my chain had slipped off as we exited Turners Hill and I wasn't taking any chances.

Stage 2 (High Mountain Stage)

Mommersteeg - 20
Cavanagh - 17
Evans - 15
Gowland - 13
Easterbrook - 11
Oakley - 10
Ross-Gower - 9

This time around the weather was kinder atop that hill, but only just. There wasn't the rain that rolled in last year, but it was overcast, rather cool.
The drier conditions meant for a steadier ride across those hills on a stage that descends gradually, and then very abruptly, into Brighton itself, which is then pancake flat all the way to the finish. It was Easterbook's turn to suffer a mechanical mishap – his chain worked its way free just as he was about to fly down that really steep bit – but he dealt with it expeditiously.
In the meantime, Ross-Gower and Oakley had gotten away quickly, although they did not necessarily intend this. Such was the congested nature of Ditchling Beacon, we'd been unable to depart as one, and the team had gradually spread out. There was the possibility that someone unlikely could snatch the stage win and take points that might affect the overall standings. Aware of this potential, Gowland, Easterbrook, Cavanagh and I made a collective effort to make contact with our fortunate leaders. Ross-Gower was soon dispatched, but Oakley was nowhere to be seen. How had he managed this, another London to Brighton debutante riding a bike tailored for the delivery of groceries?
We concentrated on our own endeavours, the four of us, hoping that the traffic lights might bring favour and allow for some sort of breakaway. Easterbrook got close but pulled back at the last minute for fear of being broadsided by cross-town traffic. Then I tried it on, but the next set of lights remained resolutely red, and Cavanagh and Easterbrook soon caught up again – although Gowland was seemingly dropped.
At Grand Parade the passage narrows. Cyclists are kettled into lane and it becomes increasingly difficult to overtake. One is not supposed to overtake, in actual fact: this is not a race!

Easterbook appears to edge into the lead, but I'm onto him; I'm hanging onto the back of his wheel patiently. He's persistent, finding his way into every gap imaginable. There's probably only enough room for four bikes to ride abreast, and whenever Easterbrook shifts diagonally into space it's very hard to keep with him – the circumstances do not allow for it. He could feasibly break free from here, so I take a different tack. I seek out my own passage, hoping that I can slip past him before we reach the final straight. This works for a while, and on the bend into the finish I find a channel on the inside and get myself ahead. Unfortunately, Easterbook somehow worms his way down the middle, and all I can do is try and slip in back behind him. There is no way around and Easterbook is riding too fast and hard for me to gamble on finding another channel back down the left-hand side. A steward roars at us to slow down, but it's too late, Easterbrook has beaten me. He's not got the stage win: Cavanagh found passage down the right and overtook the both of us with about 20 metres to go before the line.
            Turns out that Oakley had actually stopped to use public facilities some way back.

Stage 3 (Flat Stage Finish)

Cavanagh - 45
Easterbrook - 35
Evans - 30
Ross-Gower - 26
Gowland - 22
Mommersteeg - 20
Oakley – 18

(Mommersteeg/Easterbrook/Ross-Gower/Evans - Courtesy: Bethan Easterbrook)

Cavanagh was champion, then, and a deserving one. He’ll get to hold onto that trophy until next year, by which time the ranks of Team Carlos-Weltschmerz may have swelled further. It’s a team that now has nine official members and more have already registered an interest in riding under its appellation next year.
            In truth, those who ride for Team Carlos-Weltschmerz may not necessarily take their membership in any way seriously. Nor are they supposed to. That said, I’ve been thinking of forming some sort of 10 year plan. What started as a club may grow over time into a cult – that could take 5 years. By 10 we could be looking at a movement of sorts. I may need to expand on the team’s agenda to allow for these loftier ambitions. I’m thinking along the lines of ritual sacrifice, initiation ceremonies, secret handshakes, stuff like that.


Cavanagh - 92
Mommersteeg - 70
Evans - 67
Easterbrook - 65
Gowland - 52
Ross-Gower - 48
Oakley - 43

('Winner' - Courtesy: Bethan Easterbrook)

Friday, 6 June 2014


Get a kick out of philanthropy?
Does donating to good causes make you feel better about your self?
Or maybe you've done bad things and wish to smooth your path from this world into the next?
Physical reparation may be free, but why endure the agony when absolution can be bought - and at a price of your choosing!!!

On the 15th of June, Team Carlos-Weltschmerz will again be partaking in this year’s two-wheeled exodus from London to Brighton. For a cost, we at Carlos-Weltschmerz will atone for your sins so you don't have to. We’ll be up at 5.00 a.m. – come sleet, rain or hail – and we’ll spend the first hour or so of our odyssey jostling with a miscellany of cyclists, narrowly avoiding collisions with these mostly part-time exercisers. Later, some of us may sustain punctures. One of us might even crash. When the weather’s hot, people have been known to actually faint.
In fact, we'll probably have a lot of fun on the day. But that’s okay – it’s highly unlikely that your salvation depends upon the extent of our physical torment. So feel free to sponsor us having our ball: those who are without sin can take comfort in the fact that they will have helped make the world a more populous place; while the transgressors amongst you may yet avoid the horrors of Tartarus.


Thursday, 22 May 2014


Enthused with my new Look 566, and the prospect of some heavy cycling these coming months, I considered it appropriate to invest in new cycling apparatus. The need wasn't pressing; I behaved as if it was. Three items, essentially: cycling shorts, a base layer, socks. (I bought a set of cleated pedals too, but until I acquire compatible shoes this doesn't really bear my attention.)
I decided which jersey I would wear for this year's London to Brighton some time ago: my Etxeondo (pronounced Etchayondo, so I'm told – it’s a Spanish/Basque marque) Team ONCE shirt, a habiliment of consummate fit. Last year I wore a La Vie Claire jersey – a contemporary version of a 28-odd year old design reissued by its original manufacturer, Santini. The ONCE top, however, is the real deal. A garment of approximately 19 years, but looking good with it, I purchased it off of eBay.
I needed new white socks to replace my Mavic editions, which have a hole in one of them, and another pair of cycling shorts followed. I also felt I could do with a sleeveless summer base-layer, because they’re quite useful things and my short-sleeved, almost silver, Mavic base layer is not fitted enough to wear with the ONCE jersey.
My motives are probably of little interest, but to explain them helps convey an element of indulgence on which this introductory passage depends. It reads better if you think that I've been seduced into extravagance by something as essentially trivial as cycling apparel.
My cycling outfit at last year’s London to Brighton – Santini La Vie Claire top, Santini cycling shorts and Mavic socks – was never consciously coordinated, and was only slightly coordinated at all. This year shall be different. I have purposely targeted Etxeondo gear to match my ONCE jersey. The unifying thing is the Etxeondo logo, which is a strange looking motif. It fairly resembles an upturned acorn's cupule, painted in black and white like some disfigured yin-yang. This symbol features on the left breast of my cycling jersey, on the left haunch of the Etxeondo Bira cycling shorts I've just purchased, on the inside of the ankles on my new pair of Etxeondo Tarte socks – and it presents a pleasingly subtle cohesion to the whole ensemble. I like that – motif aside – the Bira shorts are totally black (as my Santini shorts also are). My white socks, however, aren't completely white: there’s a mysterious rectangular light grey stripe on the back of each ankle, which I find strangely satisfying as a visual aberration but can't fathom quite what it’s doing there. According to the pictures of the sock on the various websites that sell them, it shouldn't even be.
My latest base layer is not made by Etxeondo but an Italian company called De Marchi. I was looking for a discount on a sleeveless layer, couldn't find one on Etxeondo, did on Santini, and then again on De Marchi. Santini's offering resembled a string vest, which I didn't care for, so I went with De Marchi. This is my first De Marchi purchase and the early signs are good. Summer base layers are designed to 'wick' sweat away from the body, and they need to be tight to succeed in this. The material is as thin as it needs to be and all-white. There is, however, De Marchi's name italicized just above the chest in black cotton, which is almost as pleasing as those grey rectangles. A few years ago this Roman script didn't feature. Instead, there would have been De Marchi's cockerel emblem on a small, red rubber square, but they seem now to have eschewed this particular brand representation in favour of something less oblique.

I wore all of this on a recent ride out to Box Hill. I cycled through Kingston, Surbiton, and then Chessington (South), getting lost along the way, before arriving to meet a fellow cyclist in Epsom. On towards Box Hill, we passed Ashstead and Leatherhead, where I observed the preponderance of trees. Along country lanes and down penumbrous glades, I considered the insouciance of cows, the texture of tarmac and the peril of potholes. I thought about the stiffness of carbon as a material, the arbitrary nature of country roads, and the folly of a winged descent. I pondered the suspended drama of hills, the stoicism of muscle, the perseverance of the sun.
            It took it out of me – again. My life is nothing if not inconsistent, and my vigour fluctuates as much as anything else in it. Less than a month to go until the London to Brighton, and still a bit of work to do. This 45 mile round trip to Box Hill is a start.

Thursday, 15 May 2014


Road cycling has defined for me certain environments. Or rather there are physical spaces that I relate to purely within a cycling context. Such psychogeographic relationships are particularly pertinent to cycling, a pursuit that demands mobility and encourages an acquaintance with one’s milieu.
            It is more to do with perpetuating a mind-set, rather than covering physical ground. The cyclist is restricted to the road, and certain roads at that: motorways are out of bounds, many A roads are best avoided, and cul-de-sacs, crescents and alleyways will rarely feature on any cyclist’s itinerary. The quotidian commute to work is particularly limiting, informed as it is by the need to move from A to B as swiftly as is feasibly possible, but wherever one cycles, and for whatever reason, there will always be constraints.
Geographical abandon is not what it’s about. It could be, if you liked, but cyclists tend to want to know where they are going, how much ground they might cover, and the time all this is expected to take. The physical dénouement is the thing, as opposed to an interrogation of the landscape for its own sake.
            For illustration, the first 7 miles of a 30 mile ride I take semi-regularly out to Chertsey are of no great consequence – I am too familiar with them and the attendant roads are trammelled with traffic, uneven surfaces and perpendicular junctions. It is not until I reach Marshall’s Roundabout and pull clear along the B375 that I begin to feel some sort of harmony with my location. Passing through Shepperton the road rakes upward. The approach into Chertsey itself offers a portside vista over the Thames which, on a hot day, is singularly reminiscent of some of the riparian features I've come across in Southeast Asia (I think it’s the boats moored along the Thames’ riverbank, obscured by reeds and framed by Dumsey Meadow to its north and Chertsey Meads south). And then, as one leaves Chertsey via the A317, there’s another roundabout, which is the fourth in a whole series of roundabouts that will ease my passage all the way into Kingston some 14 miles later.
            It is this corridor – from Chertsey to Kingston – that more vividly conveys these psychogeographic elements I wish to explicate. I mix my route up a bit once I'm south of Thames, which is not so easily done on the northern approach through Twickenham, Hampton and Sunbury. Occasionally I’ll head down to North Haw and Byfleet, but more often than not it is through and around Weybridge, Hersham, Molesey or Esher where I seek to venture.
            Chertsey itself is something of a dismal vicissitude, a necessary portal I must navigate to reach more fluid pastures, and through which I take the path of least resistance. I did venture to its heart once, intent on pausing somewhere for coffee, but very quickly actuated an about-face and didn't stop again until I’d made it all the way to Kingston.
Anyway, one needn't hang about: crossing Chertsey Bridge, I effect the first meaningful left turn and then take it all the way out the other side of Chertsey, almost bypassing the town entirely. Next, I attack the first climb – a steady 700 metre push that is Woburn Hill. This is my least favourite section of this second stage of my round trip. One is encouraged to diverge off the road and onto a cycle path that takes up much of the pavement. I might occasionally disregard an injunction such as this, but for some reason motor vehicles are want to floor it up this particular incline, and the road itself is fairly narrow. Then the road levels out again for the short approach into Weybridge – or the part of Weybridge known as Elmbridge – with its peculiar High Street and incongruous collection of boutiques. If I'm going to be impeded by traffic then I’ll expect it here. There are potholes to be mindful of too, and then the next climb – a sharp 300 metre kick up Monument Hill – where after I’ll pass Weybridge Green and start on the 3.5 km long stretch of Queens Road as far as the five spoked roundabout that grants access to Hersham. This might be the best part of the whole ride. The roads are in fairly good condition and are flanked by many trees. The air smells fresh along here. If it’s been raining then you might find yourself cutting through cool pockets of air – something to do with Walton Common being there, I think.
Weybridge is an odd place. I like passing through it but wouldn't want to live there. It epitomises some sort of suburban ideal, although I'm not sure whose. There's no sense of there being a central hub, and neither any distinct periphery. The merest hint of a town centre will dissipate no sooner than it’s appeared, but will then resurface again, apparently at random, despite the woods that intervened in-between. I do like the preponderance of trees but I'm not so keen on the fact that the general environment is so governed by groves, crofts, closes, drives, walks, and so on – residential avenues that lead nowhere, or do lead somewhere but forbid you from finding out. It is these gated communities (as well as the many golf courses) that seem to define much of Surrey, and Berkshire too. There's something of a castled mentality going on here. It might be why certain locals have recently been complaining about the volume of cyclists riding in the area, as if Surrey is worthy of some sort of dispensation. It is a terrible attitude, and completely unsustainable on countless levels. This is not something I want to get into here, suffice to say that such people might benefit from a little reflection: they have the home and the grounds, probably the car, and relative peace of mind. Meanwhile, the Levant festers and trouble cooks in West Africa.

(Chertsey Meadow - Courtesy: Alan Hunt. Southeast Asia can look a bit like this)

Eight roundabouts on from Chertsey – after having passed through Weybridge/Elmsbridge and Hersham (nothing doing there) – I enter Esher. There's an 800 metre climb up Lammas Lane before I decide whether or not to take the northerly route around Sandown Park or continue east through Esher town centre. Esher is only marginally more intriguing than Weybridge and I will invariably have to stop at traffic lights. Still, from there it's an almost uninterrupted run into Kingston along Portsmouth Road, 6 km of fast riding before negotiating Kingston's one-way system. I might stop for coffee here or may continue on to Richmond and the Hollyhock Cafe off Petersham Road, where familiarity nullifies the psychogeographic potential of not knowing exactly where I am.

Friday, 28 March 2014


My budget was increasing incrementally but was dependent on securing employment. I had cause for optimism – actual interviews – and set about securing a loan with which to actuate any potential purchase. I went about the business of establishing the Look’s credentials. I contacted Action Bikes who informed me that their Wimbledon branch held custody of the model consonant with my scale. I went down there on my bike – this was an exercise in reconnaissance and no purchase would be forthcoming; I’d yet to secure those much needed funds.
            They were helpful in Action and fitted pedals to the bike so that I could take it for a ride. It felt long in its reach, this bicycle, and the attending staff member declared that he was aware of this. He said that a shorter stem could be fitted, and implied that this would be done gratuitously. I left Action Bikes very alive to the idea that this was the bicycle I’d been looking for.
            Reflection supplemented this notion. The Look 566 was reviewed as being ‘comfort orientated’, in that an enlarged head-tube and shorted top-tube allowed for a more relaxed posture. My test-ride did not give this impression; it felt racier than I was being led to believe, which implied that the other bikes I’d investigated would be racier still and could not be purchased, therefore, without trying them out first (which was not possible given that they were available exclusively online).
            In an attempt at banter, I had asked whether Action intended on stocking whatever bikes Look at in mind for 2014. They thought not, for Look was not a marque that had sold particularly well; their customers were often unaware of the brand and were not reassured by the fact that Look was a French manufacturer. In their ignorance I assumed these clients to be incipient enthusiasts. Yet, with the Tour de France as the sport’s most distinguishing feature, it seemed strange to me that Look’s Gallic origins would be a matter for consternation. People wanted Specialized, Giant or Trek, mostly, and that was that. I doubt Bianchi, Colnago or Pinarello suffer such ignominy, which might say something about how the British perceive the Italians more favourably than they do the French. I have another theory: it’s in the name itself: I suspect the word ‘Look’ just comes across as being a bit odd, primarily because it’s more normally understood in its verb form. None of this bothers me – on the contrary, it all points toward this being a wholly appropriate bike.
I let it lie a while, just to see what my subconscious might throw up, and returned nine days later, with the funds in place, and took the now stem-shortened 566 for another spin. There was a noticeable improvement, not just in my posture but in my impression of the bike as an aggregate. On the one hand it didn't feel as radically different from my steel bike as I had expected, but on the other it felt much lighter (to be expected) and maybe more “responsive”. Reassuringly unvacillated, I bought the thing. Having parted with my borrowed cash, I took the bike home on the train – for it had no pedals – and my certitude held firm. I awoke the next day and remembered I’d spent £1,550 on a bike, but still my conviction did not waver.
Within a week I’d purchased a half-priced Look bottle cage off of eBay, a pair of pedals, and a bracket to house the saddlebag presently appended to my other bike. But, such were my circumstances, it would be another two weeks before I finally managed to ride my new Look 566 and had to content myself with admiring side-glances whenever I vacated my flat.