Gah…another fiver down the swanny

The latest issue of BlokesEtc is out, and it’s pretty much as you’d expect (but with more machismo, more listicles and fewer exclamation marks). Intelligent, informed, incisive, amusing…it is none of these things. And I’m afraid my overwhelming sense of ennui prevents me from saying any more about it.


I’ll be back on Monday with some thoughts about Cycling Active, or Pro Cycling. Or something.

@TranquilloTommy

Gizza job. I could do that!

Well, it looks like my handy guide to getting a job as a cycling journalist is going to be more handy than you thought. Yes, there are jobs up for grabs at Time Inc, publishers of Cycling Weekly and Cycling Active. They want a Fitness Editor and a Fitness Writer, a News Editor, and a Tech Writer.

In case you missed the announcement, this is what they’re after:

Fitness Editor, Cycling Weekly/Cycling Active

This key role involves leading a team of writers to produce brand-centric, media-neutral  fitness content tailored to each of our channels. The ideal candidate will have a strong knowledge of heinous recipes involving beetroot, brown rice and lingenberries.

Key requirements:

  • Proven back-stabbing and arse-covering experience
  • Strong knowledge and understanding of all aspects of office politics
  • Ability to sub your own copy because we got rid of all the production staff
  • Understanding of middle-management report-creation protocols
  • Idea generation to initiate, create and develop industry-leading click-bait
  • Good planning and organisational skills (you’ll need them to get to Farnborough)

 

Fitness Writer, Cycling Weekly/Cycling Active

Our fitness writers produce massively complex fitness and training plans that no one will read or follow, across print, online and video. The ideal candidate will need to be able to fill in for the Fitness Editor while he/she develops their TV presenting career prior to moving somewhere less awful than Farnborough.

Key requirements:

As above

News Editor, Cycling Weekly

The successful candidate will lead a team of writers to produce breaking, informative, up-to-date news content from around the world (stop sniggering at the back!)

The ideal candidate will be experienced in cutting and pasting from cyclingnews.com and cyclingtips.com, curating the latest press releases from the advertisers, and producing videos that aren’t quite as good as GCN’s.

Key requirements

  • Vague understanding of domestic and international cycle sport
  • Unwillingness to ask the tough questions
  • Understanding of content needs of different advertisers
  • Good planning, organisational and butt-kissing skills
  • Clean driving licence (Really? What the hell is one of those?)

Tech Writer, Cycling Weekly/Cycling Active

Working as part of our road tech team, our tech writers test bikes and products, report on new launches and provide authoritative buying advice to our readers, visitors and viewers (coz we is brand-centric n media-neutral, innit).

The successful candidate will be passionate and hugely knowledgeable about cycling technology. Strong seplling and grammer is essential, while previous writing experience would be frowned upon.

Our tech writers move effortlessly between our canteen, the gents and the pub print brands, website and video, developing a strong understanding of how different content types and approaches work across different channels.

Key requirements

  • Some knowledge and partial understanding of cycling technology
  • Strong spleling and grammer
  • Ability to turn stuff in two days after deadline
  • Understanding of content needs for different platforms: print, video, mime, interpretive dance
  • Idea generation to initiate, create and develop industry-leading vacuous drivel

So there you have it. Jobs for everyone, triples all round! Except, of course, that the jobs are in Farnborough (apparently that’s somewhere near Southampton). I can just picture their sad little faces at the meeting in Leon House:

Gary Coward-Williams: “Listen up, everyone. You’re moving out of Croydon!”
CW/CA Staff: “Yaaaay! After years stuck in this shit-hole we’re finally allowed into the Blue Fin building!”
Gary Coward-Williams: “Well, not exactly. We’ve flogged it. The bosses and fashionistas are staying put, but you lot are relocating to….Farnborough!”
CW/CA Staff: “Er…where?”
Gary Coward-Williams: “Farnborough. It’s in…um..Berkshire? Surrey? I dunno…somewhere like that. And the good news is that an annual season ticket from London to Farnborough is only 60% of your salary. Woo-hoo!”
CW/CA Staff: “Fuck it…I’m leaving.”

@TranquilloTommy

Pick Two

“Ex-riders live their lives in slow-motion. Eddy Merckx. This man has been signing autographs for 200 years. He has a certain look. He looks straight at you but his eyes somehow stop looking two metres before they reach yours. You both glare at the void between you and him.”

This is classic Rouleur material. As Keith Bontrager never said: “Poetic. Pretentious. Insightful. Pick two.” But this is what you get with Rouleur. It’s not easy, and it’s not comfortable, but it is thought-provoking and rarely boring.

The opening quote was from part 2 of their big interview with Jan Ullrich, conducted and photographed by The Danes. The first part left me scratching my head and wondering where they were going with this interview, and by the end of part 2 I’m none the wiser. It is both hugely disappointing and at the same time hugely engaging. If you wanted to know anything about Ullrich the racer, you’re better off waiting for Dan Friebe’s book (The Greatest That Never Was) to come out. But if you want a glimpse beneath the skin of one of cycling’s great enigmas, this is a good place to start. This isn’t so much an interview as the story of a journalist failing to get the interview, but not minding too much and at the same time showing us the ordinary man behind the earring.

Even before you get to the Ullrich “interview” there are two things to mention — Martin Proctor’s excellent cartoon look into the future of pro cycling, and a gorgeous photo of Mount Tiede under the stars, taken by Michael Blann. Both marvelous in their own ways.

The piece on the Mur de Huy is really more about the nature of pain and suffering on a bike than about a steep hill in the Ardennes, but is not bad. The cod psychology at the end is a bit too cod for my liking, but it’s not terrible. However the article about the demise of the Colombia Coldeportes team, and the struggles faced by all lower-level teams, is really good. The gulf between the haves and the have-nots seems to be getting ever wider, and this article shines a bright light on just how hard it is to keep a Continental-level team going. Fascinating, if slightly depressing, stuff.

Next is an article about Fabian Cancellara. He was in London at the end of last year, and every man and his dog conducted an interview with him. To be honest, I didn’t really want to read this, but I’m glad I did because it’s the bits between the quotes, the bits by Andy McGrath, that really allow this piece to shine. And I assumed the following piece about Endura and Moviestar would be a piece of PR puff, but it was more interesting than I expected.

Following on from this is an interview with Ryder Hesjedal. I didn’t bother, I’m afraid. It’s a Q&A, which always feels a bit lazy and doesn’t allow for the insightful gap-filling we got in the Cancellara interview. And it’s Ryder Hesjedal. I don’t care. But the Tour de San Luis article was great, mostly because I know very little about this race, the pictures are lovely, and it contains the least subtle accusations of doping that I’ve ever read. Normally I hate covering races, but the Tour de San Luis sounds brilliant.

And that’s it. Generally a good read, containing some beautiful words and photos, and a tenner well spent in my book. As usual there’s some stuff in there I don’t really “get”, but overall I enjoyed it. And nary a listicle in sight.


 

I probably won’t be blogging tomorrow on account of a pair of these having turned up, and I’ll probably be far too toroidal to concentrate on blogging.

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@TranquilloTommy

Just a quickie

Sorry people…work is getting in the way of bloggery, so I’ll just leave you with some stills from GCN’s latest plug for their sponsors. I have to say that from a GCN point of view, the timing of this is not great. Even the bike press has finally woken up to the fact that Canyon can’t deliver anything when they say they will, or else they just randomly cancel your order.

Canyon are blaming a change to a new factory, or new IT system, or their hamster ate their homework, or some such cobblers. The fact is that Canyon have had problems for years; it just seems to be even worse at the moment. So GCN putting out PR puff piece on Canyon is not going to endear them to a lot of people.

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However, one of my spies has scooped up some footage from the cutting-room floor and I am delighted to be able to tell you that I’ve tracked down your bike.

canyon 3.jpg

Oh wait. No, that’s not it.

canyon 5.jpg

No, that’s not it, either. Hold on…

canyon 4.jpg

Nope, not there either.

canyon 6.jpg

Back tomorrow with thoughts on Issue 60 of Rouleur.

@TranquilloTommy

 

Back on track?

A quickie today, as I have bicycles to ride, places to go, coffee to drink.

The March issue of Cyclist is out, and it has a nice sunny cover. So that’s good. And they have girls on the cover, in a good way, which is a refreshing change, even though we’re already well into the 21st Century.

After the usual news and new product stuff (puffa jackets? Really? On a bike?) we have an interesting little interview with Vin Denson about his part in Fast & Furious 6 being Tommy Simpson’s super-domestique. It’s a nice little piece, as is the following article about fast fueling during a ride. The piece about the Etixx training camp was a bit of PR puff for the team and failed to address the really important questions, such as why can’t the riders tie their shoelaces quicker. They spend all this time practicing lead-outs, sprinting, weight-training, and so on, yet they haven’t mastered the one thing that will get you an invite to a hellish sandpit in the middle-east — brisk shoelace tying. For the Qataris to complain about lack of respect while simultaneously working hundreds of migrant workers to death building football stadiums seems a bit rich, but it’s their money and they can put it in whichever brown envelope they like.

This month the High Grand Wizard of the Velominati is talking about riding in bad weather, but it’s just regurgitating oft-told stories of Bernard Hinault and Andy Hampsten and saying it’s OK not to ride if it’s icy. Meh.

The Big Ride this month is on the Croatian island of Hvar. And it’s fine. Susannah Osborne is a travel writer and does these things well, but it’s 15 pages long and the photos aren’t all that (why the occasional black and white? And too much contra-jour and lens-flare). The other issue I have is why Hvar? Yes it’s pretty. And yes it has some nice enough roads. But so do so many Mediterranean islands. And Hvar isn’t a big island, so is anyone really going to ship their bike over there to spend two days riding? I don’t know. I wouldn’t, but that’s because I’ve already been there by boat and know that there are only really two roads on the island.

So last month Cyclist did a ride outside San Francisco and this month it’s in Croatia. For me, this is not the way forward. I really only want three types of riding articles:

  • Stupidly hard Gran Fondos that I will never ride but which puts the journalist in a world of pain (Etape, Marmotte, etc).
  • Beautiful iconic rides which are achievable for most of the readers (Alps, cobbles, Pyrenees, Dolomites, etc).
  • Ridiculous tales of derring-do in weird places (cycling up K2 on a unicycle).

And while it’s nice for journalists to get a free holiday somewhere sunny, it doesn’t necessarily give the readers what they want (or maybe it’s just me).

Moving on, next is a good piece about dealing with extremes of temperature while riding. It’s an interesting sciencey article that neatly finds the middle ground between advice for newbies and degree-level biochemistry. This is about imparting useful, thoughtful advice rather than treating us all like idiots or showing off how much the author knows. Good stuff.

I generally don’t like racer interviews much, but the profile on Lizzie Armitstead was more interesting than most. I generally find that women racers tend to be more interesting and forthcoming than their male counterparts, and this seems to be the case with Armitstead. It would have been interesting if she had been asked about the dichotomy posed by being excited about her Team GB kit while at the same time living as a tax-exile. Monaco is full of British sports stars who are proud to be British but are unwilling to pay tax in Britain. But then I don’t know much about non-dom tax affairs, so let’s move on to the UK Ride…Trevor Ward’s Scottish road trip. He flogged a piece to CA about cycling the islands and now he’s punted a piece to Cyclist on the joys of cycling in the Highlands. It’s a nice story, with nice photos, and it’s a lovely part of the world. What’s not to like?

The story about Demon Frameworks is also pretty good, and reminds me why I ride the Pig-Iron Pista rather than something made from plastic. Demon is a proper one-man-band fabricator and makes some lovely frames. I like stories like this, and this one is well executed. Almost Rouleur-esque in some respects.

Next is a story about the Trek team press officer, which is an engaging look behind the scenes at a part of a team that rarely gets any recognition. Being a press officer must be a total nightmare most of the time, and this piece gives us a glimpse of what it’s like. Poor buggers. I enjoyed the Bianchi Gran Fondo piece too, mostly because it reminded me why Italy is still my favourite cycling country. Roll on summer and my annual pilgrimage to the Appenines.

Bikes tested this month are a Hersh Disc (which is really a Sarto Ernergia), a Cervelo S5 and a Chesini GP. All quite interesting in their own right. The Equinox carbon wheels are also interesting, albeit pricier and heavier than many at this level. And finally, Felix is telling us all about who has moved to which team and what sponsors they have. This is clearly written for people who have used up their data allowance and haven’t had internet access for the last month.

And that’s your lot. It’s a considerable improvement on the last couple of issues and even though it now costs £5.50 it’s still pretty good value. I would like to see a move back to more achievable Big Ride stories, but other than that it’s good enough to outlast the average lunch-hour.


 

Tomorrow, it’s issue 60 of Rouleur under the microscope. Until then, you can follow me here @TranquilloTommy

On the up

First off, I’m officially calling this: Vantablack is going to be huge in cycling. Yes, you read it here first. Vantablack. It’s the polar opposite to this (Vino’s hideous new bike):

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Vantablack is a paint made from carbon nano-tubes and absorbs 99.965% of light. They use it to coat the insides of telescopes. It’s so black as to effectively render anything you paint with it two-dimensional. If you paint a piece of crinkly silver paper (below) with it, it appears like a kind of black hole. How cool it that? It’s the ultimate matte-black stealth paintjob.

Vantablack_01.JPG

Of course the downside is that it converts light into heat, so your Vantablack carbon bike will melt if you ride it in the sun. But my bike’s made from pig-iron and mahogany, so I don’t care (it would take the heat of a thousand suns to melt the Pig-Iron Pista).

Anyway, to the matter in hand —the March issue of Cycling Plus. I like the cover, it’s got light and shade, depth and movement. First Rides include the lefty-forked ‘dale Slate and an equally gravelly Bombtrack Beyond, the new Cervelo C5 (those of us of a certain age cannot see “C5” without going “aaaaaarrrrgh!”)

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Then we get to the news/new products mash-up, which is all fine. The first big feature is a test of bikes for middle-aged fat people “endurance” bikes for between £1500 and £2000. It’s a popular segment of the market, and we are told why these particular bikes have been chosen. There are even a couple of non-disc bikes in there, which is good. The test is fine, but what really struck me was the photography…it’s lush. Robert Smith has done a great job in what looked to be some pretty challenging conditions, and the result is some really nice imagery conveying a sense of speed and power, and giving the photos a sense of place. So much better than the hyper-lit frozen-motion shots we see all too often.

Next we have more odds and ends (shoes, computers, urban jackets and Garmin’s weird radar system, which I was glad to see C+ were as mystified about as the rest of us). After which we get the Seven Deadly Sins of Cycling. It’s basically a different way of presenting some good, solid advice to the readers. It’s aimed at the newbies rather than experienced riders, but it’s a decent read nonetheless.

The pedals test didn’t do much for me, but then I’ve found my perfect pedals and have no intention of changing them any time soon. I was slightly surprised to find £180 Dura-Ace pedals in an “affordable pedals” test, but then maybe compared to Speedplay Nanograms (£600 a pair) they are pretty cheap.

The piece on the Three-Peaks Cyclo-Cross Challenge is a good read. Like many of these things, I will never, ever take part in one, but I enjoy reading about other people’s misery and suffering on two wheels. Except the event doesn’t seem to need wheels because it’s basically a cross-country run with a bicycle slung over your shoulder. Entertaining idiots!

I liked Warren Rossiter’s piece about the Bianchi l’Eroica and the Specialissima very much, not least because Warren himself rode for the photos and I like to see a slightly chunky middle-aged man having fun on two lovely bikes. And Warren writes very well. Good stuff.

I should have put my prejudices to one side and actually read the piece about power meters. But I didn’t. I have zero interest in power meters because anything that requires a temperature compensation algorithm has no place on my bike. But this looks like a pretty reasonable look at what’s available, even if there is a distinct lack of data in the piece.

The How-To section contains a handful of rather lightweight advice pieces, but one in particular caught my eye: Descend Like a Pro. Really? 300 words from Tiffany Cromwell and you’re descending like a pro? Gimme a break. For a start, no one should do anything like a Pro, let alone descend (have you seen Thibault Pinot riding down hills?). Pros are not role-models, so don’t do anything like one. Don’t eat like a pro, don’t sleep like a pro, don’t ride like a pro. Seriously, these people are not normal and you don’t want to be like them.

Moving on…John Witney is writing about turning his brother into a MAMIL. I don’t know whether John comes up with these ideas himself, or whether he’s just clearly the right man for the job, but it’s good stuff. Like his bunking-off-on-a-day-trip-to-Mallorca piece last month, John has a light touch and it makes for a good read. The illustrations, though…downright wrong!

The Big Ride feature claims to be about somewhere in Scotland, but clearly isn’t (there was sunshine and people with all their own teeth). Actually, it’s the Isle of Arran. Maybe the weather’s different there. Anyway, it’s a nice piece about a lovely part of the world. Interestingly, Trevor Ward (the author) managed to squeeze the most out of his Scottish trip by flogging a piece to Cyclist this month as well. Now that’s smart freelancing.

At the back, Ned displays some shockingly poor parenting skills. He advocates keeping your kids away from bike racing on the telly, but in reality they add to the enjoyment, particularly if they are already getting to grips with football as well.

Me: What do you think of Astana?

Kids: Shit!

Me: What do you think of shit?

Kids: Astana!

All: We hate Vino and we hate Vino, we hate Vino and we hate Vino…etc

And my middle son’s first words? Djamolidine Abdoujaparov (at least that’s what it sounded like to me). So get the kids involved early on and while away those long transitional stages with sweary songs and firing darts with suction tips at the TV when your least-favourite rider appears on the screen.

And that’s it for this month. All told, a good effort by the C+ team. I didn’t think this would happen, but I am increasingly finding more to interest me in C+ than in Cyclist these days. I’ll be back on Monday with a few thoughts on Cyclist.

@TranquilloTommy

 

 

 

 

 

The song remains the same

Apologies for the silence over the last couple of days…bikes to ride, places to go, electric motors to fit, etc.

But we’re back with a new crop of the monthly mags, and first up is Cycling Active. In classic magazine publishing style, winter issues need blue sky and sunshine on the cover, so CA have a photo of riding in Mallorca. It’s nice enough, but of all the beautiful mountains and vistas there, they chose a flat and not very interesting piece of road for their cover photo. Curious.

The front section of the mag is the usual news and new products stuff (Canyon Delivery Date Delay Disaster, and so on) before we come to the monthly columns. As ever, Simon Warren hits the nail firmly on the head with his piece about how ridiculous structured training plans are for most of us. Unless you’re a BC licence holder, you really don’t need to be doing this stuff. But what is really interesting is that CA publish these columns, because this isn’t the first time Simon has effectively said “don’t believe what you read in this mag”. I actually think it’s very brave of the mag to publish pieces like this, and I applaud them for allowing a dissenting voice to be heard. And clearly I’m going soft, because I even enjoyed Brett Lewis’ column about climbing the Madone.

The first ride piece is about a sportive around Rutland. I skimmed it because there are so many prettier places to ride your bike. The following piece, about riding in Mallorca, is good. Nice photos, decent words from someone who clearly knows the island well, and about a great place to spend a week cycling. Good piece.

The £1500-£1850 steel bikes test was also pretty good, containing a decent cross-section of what’s available and making some good points. I do think that the mag could scale back the full-page riding shots and give us some more in-depth words, but overall it’s a reasonable job.

And so we come to the “superbikes” test…three top-of-the-range racers, from Bianchi, Look and Scott. Personally, I wouldn’t allow anything as ugly as the Look 795 in my magazine, but that’s just me. Several things struck me about this test…why these three, why no riding shots, and why no analysis of what constitutes a superbike? Basically CA have treated this test just like every other test they do, devoting less than half a page to each bike. It’s a crying shame because there’s no attempt to get under the skin of these things, to convey the sheer joy and delight of riding a World Tour level bike, or to get into the minds of the designers. On the first page CA says these are cutting edge, and yet the Bianchi is not aero, has rim brakes and a mechanical groupset. Why? I want to know!

And this is the thing that really pisses me off about the bike press…why does it all have to be so formulaic? Where is the imagination? In a previous life I worked on an automotive magazine, and when one of the manufacturers launched a mentally fast and expensive flagship machine we tested it as usual, but we also gave it to one of our Joe Average readers to test. While the journos blathered on about torque curves, engine-mapping, and such like, the punter brought the piece alive by basically saying “oh my feckin god…I have never experienced anything like this before”. For the journos it was just another (albeit very good) product. For the punter it was a life-changing experience, and he was able to express the excitement, the thrill, the fear, in a way that experienced journalists are rarely able.

So I was massively disappointed with this test. If you can’t round up all the major players to participate in the test, then do something a bit different with what you’ve got. Make us yearn, make us laugh, inspire us.

Next is a selection of product tests — aero helmets (not bad), sunglasses (quite good), bar tape (don’t care) and overshoes (too lightweight). And then there’s a really good piece about gravel bikes. There’s no byline, but whoever the author is he/she has done a good job of analysing this sector of the market. And rather than toeing the industry line and spouting the marketing bollocks, this piece actually takes a proper journalistic look at the phenomenon and talks to an elite-level CXer about what is and isn’t necessary for a drop-bar off-roader. We need more stuff like this.

Needless to say I skipped over the training plan stuff (I’m firmly in the Simon Warren camp here), took a quick look at the training with a power meter piece (and gave up at the mention of “junk miles”…there’s no such thing, every mile on your bike is a good mile). I generally skip over the cookery section, but the piece on recovery drinks gave me pause for thought. And that thought was “if only Time Inc hadn’t culled so many staff then someone might have noticed that the SiS product got a double mention.” Doh!

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But I liked the piece about Emma Barraclough, sports nutritionist at Science in Sport. She has some interesting things to say and I would have liked a bit more of this. It’s certainly more interesting than eight pages on training with a power meter.

And that’s pretty much it for this month. I think CA is generally heading in the right direction and there are a couple of good pieces in the mag this month. But it does feel very formulaic and I’d like to see it mixed up a bit more. And the problem with devoting 12 pages to a forthcoming sportive, or eight pages to power meter training, is that if you’re not interested, that’s 20 pages wasted.


I’ll be back tomorrow with thoughts on Cycling Plus. In the meantime, there’s this: @TranquilloTommy

 

All aboard!

The gravy train now standing at Platform 5 is the 8.15 to Listicle Central, calling at Content Churn, Clickbait, Minimal Research, SEO Junction, and Content Solutions.

Yaay…there are a couple of jobs going at Bicycling magazine, news I almost missed on account of my brain now being programmed to ignore any Tweet coming from Bicycling. Indeed, the only reason I noticed it because it wasn’t pointing out new and innovative ways in which my bicycle is trying to kill me.

Not having visited the Bicycling website for a while (about three years) I went and had a look to see what it is like these days. And it’s pretty much like this:

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Or, to put it in layman’s terms: it’s vacuous shite. It’s hard to believe, but the entire site seems to be populated with this sort of bollocks. I read recently that 20% of American male cyclists have some kind of eating disorder…reading crap like this isn’t going to help, that’s for sure.

And if Bicycling isn’t obsessing about food, then it’s ways in which your bicycle (or someone else) is trying to kill you.

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But it’s not all bad news, because Bicycling is also obsessed with cycling dogs…

dogs.jpgAnd lycra leg-overs…

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Oh dear. It’s a bit like the MailOnline…there’s a kind of awful curiosity that lures you in and before you know it you’ve wasted half an hour in the Sidebar of Shame. And afterwards you feel like you need a shower.

I blame Lance Armstrong. Until he fessed up to cheating, Bicycling (and Bill Strickland) was pretty much the cheerleader for all things Armstrong, featuring endless be-like-Lance articles. It was pretty nauseating stuff, but at least it felt a bit more substantial than 10 Reasons Your Bike Hates You, and What Your Wife is REALLY Doing While You’re Spelunking in Your Pain Cave!

So if you want a job churning out endless hysterical listicles involving cycling dogs and injuries, Bicycling is the place to apply. I’ve had a sneek-peek at the application form, and I would advise you to prepare an article of not more than 150 words about a couple who ruptured their medial cruciate knee ligaments while preparing a super-food recovery smoothie when a cycling dog rode through their kitchen on a gravel-grinder (dogs struggle to use hydraulic discs due to their their lack of an opposable digit…there was bound to be an accident).


I was going to bang on about the awfulness of Bicycling’s website, and the general crapitude that surrounds the web, but then the latest issue of Rouleur landed on the doormat. So instead I am retiring to my day-bed where I shall read about Ullrich, Spartacus and the Tour de San Luis.

@TranquilloTommy