Italian Mobster Shoots a Lobster


Club Run, Saturday 12th December, 2015

My Ride (according to Strava)

Total Distance:                                    99 km/62 miles with 602 metres of climbing

Ride Time:                                             4 hours 18 minutes

Group size:                                           22 riders, 1 maybe-FNG

Weather in a word or two:               Benign to blizzard

Main topic of conversation at the start: For some utterly bizarre, unaccountable reason OGL rolled up to the meeting point bang on 9.00. When questioned, even he couldn’t give a rational explanation for actually arriving on time.

Crazy Legs told us about the rider who’d turned up in shorts for our very chilly Club Run a couple of weeks ago (A Winter’s Blast, Saturday 21st November). Having taken pity on this criminally under-dressed rider (a bit of a shameful, recurring theme this week as well) Crazy Legs cut short his intended run to ride escort duty directly to the warm sanctuary of the café and avoid the potential onset of hypothermia.

Once there however the rapid change in temperature caused the riders exposed legs to erupt in swathes of itchy and vicious bright red chilblains, becoming so uncomfortable he was forced to take his coffee out into the garden in an attempt to cool down his super-heated skin and find some relief from the crazed itching.

As Crazy Legs described it, his skin had “erupted with loads of mini-Vesuvius’s”   I queried whether the correct term shouldn’t be “Vesuvii” and while debating this fine, etymological point, Taffy Steve helpfully pointed out that, on the good authority of a Marine Biologist, the correct plural of octopus is in fact octopuses, not octopi, as the word is of Greek, not Latin origin.

For some bizarre reason we then ended up wondering what a Mafia-style octopus would look and sound like, given the national stereotype for Italian’s to talk with much exaggerated arm waving: “Bada-bing, badda boom!”

We also found common ground in our complete and utter disdain for Paloma Faith. Who? What? Why? When? How? Really?

3 of the girls turned up in formation wearing what looked like identical red jackets, and, as if on cue, parted to reveal the Red Max … wearing blue! Huh?

Main topic of conversation at the coffee stop: The criminally under-dressed students huddled together as close to the fire as they could get, staring fixedly at nothing and trying to control their shivering, while we tucked into cake, supped wonderfully hot, bitter coffee and wondered aloud about the merits of being a young racing snake, devoid of that extra lardy layer of insulation you need to stay warm.

Of course, there’s no reason you can’t be both lean and mean and comfortably warm, but this requires careful wardrobe choices and a degree of common sense, which seems to be in short supply. Kids today, eh?

Carlton pondered aloud why we didn’t all move somewhere with a better, warmer and more benevolent climate, at which point the maybe-New Guy, originally from Galway in the far west of Ireland, piped up earnestly, “Well, that’s what I did.” Everyone paused long enough to perform a swift double take, checking out the horrendous weather through the window, before we were engulfed in gales of uncontrollable laughter.

Captain Black admitted joining the Hall of Shame, having lent his one and only spare inner tube to a fellow rider in need and being caught out when he later suffered a puncture himself. He thus earned himself a notorious black mark for becoming stranded at the side of the road with a simple mechanical that’s easily avoided.

Red Max didn’t really help, continually dipping into his magical, ever expanding backpack until he had half a dozen spare inner tubes lined up on the table.


 

ride 12 dec
Ride Profile

The Waffle:

For the first time this year I set out for the meeting point in near darkness and had to use the lights while I waited for the sun to creep up and add at least a semblance of warm colour and daylight to the blanketing cloud cover.

Despite this it was, seemingly for the first time in weeks, benignly mild with, temperatures well above freezing and a barely noticeable wind. Given the BBC forecast was predicting frost and sub-zero temperatures at dawn I was pleasantly surprised. Even taking into account the light and possibly sleety intermittent showers due in the evening, it looked like being a great day for a ride.

I had dressed accordingly for the forecast, but strangely absent cold and predicted overnight frost: light and heavy long-sleeved base layers, winter jacket, buff, gilet, tights, thermolite socks and heavy overshoes. On my hands I went for a new pair of Planet X lobster mitts, which were incredibly warm, but felt a little odd and took some getting used to. I even remembered to pack a spare pair of gloves in the unlikely event these mitts somehow got soaked through.


 

bada bing
“Bada bing, bada boom!” – you don’t mess with Don Calamari

 

By the time I made it to the meeting point I was slightly overheated and beginning to regret dressing for near Arctic conditions as I stowed away the gilet and buff. If the fact that the BBC Weather got the predicted temperature so wrong was perhaps warning of more forecast unreliability to come, it went sadly unheeded.

Encouraged by the first spell of decent weather in a while, there was a good turnout of around 22 lads and lasses, our numbers bolstered by some of our students who had returned from University, most notably Chilly Willy and Plumose Papuss. As an indication of just how decent the weather looked, there was also a lone FNG sighting, or at least a maybe-FNG, someone I didn’t recognise from previous rides.

At exactly 9:20 we were ready to ride off in the absence of the Prof, who had earlier declared via Faecesbook that he would be out, but was apparently running late. Having been jilted and left behind by one of the Sunday runs starting bang on time, OGL was particularly – some might uncharitably suggest unusually – eager to cut the blather and set out smartly.

We hadn’t gone far when beZ caught and overhauled us to let us know his old man, the Prof was trailing behind and I heard OGL cackling hysterically with glee. We did slow enough for the Prof to catch on and ride up to the front to check-in with OGL and take his medicine like a man. Cue more maniacal laughter as vengeance was duly served.

The Prof’s sojourn with us didn’t last long however as he was soon stopped by a mechanical. We rode on a short way to find somewhere safe to pull over, and were waiting there when another club passed and relayed the message that the Prof’s mechanical was terminal and he was heading home. Apparently his wheel bearings had objected to the abuse of constant immersion in the floodwaters last week and were rattling like a hand full of marbles in a spin drier.

While the front of our bunch pulled away to resume the ride, those at the rear had to wait for yet another club to swish past before tagging onto the back. A little further on roadworks and traffic lights stopped everyone, and so it was the three clubs got compacted into one mass peloton of around 60 or 70 riders.

We now effectively, if unintentionally formed a massive rolling road-block, maybe 100 yards long, with me as tail-end Charlie, sitting right at the back with some of our youngsters.

From here I was in the perfect position to watch numerous, impatient and death-defying RIMs trying to force their way past us in the most insane places, including blind bends and hill brows. This was the cue for crazy, wild-driving accompanied by madly revving engines, wild evasive manoeuvres, flashing lights, braking, swerving, cursing and incessant horn leaning.


 

peloton
I’m not sure massive groups of cyclist ensure safety in numbers, or just encourage REALLY stupid driving

 

Miraculously no one came to grief, despite several heart-in-mouth moments as this pseudo-Demolition Derby come Wacky Races played out, but this was solely due to luck and not good driving abilities or instincts. Where are all these people dashing to that they have to risk life and limb (not always their own admittedly) to ensure they’re not a scintilla late?

It was while trying to keep at least half an eye on irrational, unpredictable motorists that I noted with incredulity that half the group we were stuck behind were riding in shorts! At least I was incredulous until Plumose Papuss cheerfully informed me they were from a triathlon club. Ah, that explained everything….

As we hit the long drag up Berwick Hill I could sense the triathletes dropping off the pace and I think the race honed instincts of beZ and Josher immediately took over. I was already accelerating in anticipation, as they surged around the slowing group, and was able to sit on their wheels for a tow up, as they easily bridged across to the front.

At the top of the hill and with the triathletes behind us, the other club swung off to the right and we reformed and pressed on, only until icy rain began to fall and we called a halt to don rain jackets.

Far from being one of the intermittent and passing “light rain showers” forecast for later in the day, it was soon raining in earnest, lashing down until everyone was soaked through and everything became a little grim as we pressed stolidly on.

We swung up the Quarry Climb, pretty much in formation, but at the top all bets were off and, despite OGL shrilly screaming for calm, the race to the café was on as the Red Max shot away with Plumose Papuss in close attendance.

I stuck with the front group as Max faded, hopping from wheel to wheel wherever I could and riding well within my limits. Swinging round the junction for the final run down to the Snake Bends Taffy Steve took off after Plumose Papuss to contest for honours, while I was contend to push along at a steady pace, somewhat surprisingly either holding off or passing G-Dawg, Son of G-Dawg, Captain Black and Crazy Legs along the way.

It was black bin bags all around in a remarkably quiet café, where our two students Plumose and Chilly sat in mute sympathy, huddled as close to the fire as they could squeeze with glassy, thousand yard stares, shivering intermittently as they tried to warm up and dry out. I’m not sure if they ever made it out of the café with the rest of us – for all I know they could still be there.

As we sat there at our leisure, talking trash (as opposed to trash talking, which is a completely different thing) the Prof rolled up, having been home to change one unfeasibly small-wheeled cycling contraption for another unfeasibly small-wheeled cycling contraption. Meanwhile the weather outside gradually worsened and the temperature started to dip alarmingly.

Nothing was either particularly dry, or particularly warm as we kitted up for the return journey, although I briefly felt some smugness pulling on my spare gloves. It was at this point we were subjected to one of the strangest sights ever, as the Prof decided to don his monstrous lobster mitts before his jacket, reasoning that this would provide the best seal between glove and sleeve. The only trouble with this plan was that the jacket sleeves were too tight and, as well as being too bulky to pass through them easily, the mitts were a clear impediment to his manual dexterity.

In desperation he somehow corralled, coaxed or bribed one of the waitresses to help and we were met with the unedifying scene of this young girl first having to drag and pull and heave each mitt through the sleeves, before zipping the Profs jacket up to his chin for him, while he stood around like a sullen infant being dressed by an over-protective mother for a sledging trip.

Finally all ready, we sidled out of the café, mounted up and tried to get arms, legs and brains all working again, and warm ourselves up despite the debilitating, leaching effect of the cold. We hadn’t made more than two or three miles before my smugness evaporated and the substitute gloves became completely soaked through with sleet and freezing road spray and my fingers turned numb.

As I split from the group and turned for home the sleet became very serious, very wet snow that started to lie on roads previously washed clean of all salt by the incessant and heavy rain.

I stopped to swap soaking wet gloves for equally as wet lobster mitts. After a bit of a struggle, I somehow managed to cram my cold, wet fingers uncomfortably into some semblance of the right holes. Despite the stream of cold water that was forced out every time I pulled on the brakes or gripped the handlebars too tightly I found they were considerably better and my fingers began to warm up again.


 

PXLGWL_P2
Live long and prosper – with the impressive Planet X Crab Hand Winter Glove

 

Thankfully I was feeling a lot fresher than in previous weeks and cruised up the hill past the golf course still in the big ring. As I climbed higher and higher the snow got heavier and soon everything was coated in a soaking wet layer of white.

I had to discard the specs as the lenses became “all bogeyed up” (a technical expression learned from Daughter#2, who always seemed to have terrible trouble with swimming goggles) and the snow started to cling to my front and collect in the creases of my clothes, swiftly turning black to white.

Fittingly having last week descried megalomaniac despots and their ill-thought out invasions of Russia, this ordeal was swiftly beginning to remind me of Napoleon’s disastrous retreat from Moscow, as I tried to find the balance between covering any exposed flesh with my buff and retaining some ability to see through the thickening snowfall. I was though spared marauding Cossack hordes, presumably they were all Christmas shopping in the MetroCentre with everyone else.


 

cycling-in-snow
Last weeks talk of invading Russia, was followed by the inevitable retreat with the onset of winter

 

Luckily my skinny tyres were doing an effective job cutting through the fresh snow and down to the underlying road surface, so grip seemed better than some of the fish-tailing, wheel-spinning cars were experiencing. Nevertheless I took the long descent down to the river extremely gingerly, filthy brakes grating horribly on the wheel rims and a streamer of icy melt water squeezing out of my mitts.

Approaching the climb back out of the valley I found a combination of numb thumb, restrictive gloves and stiff STI lever was just too much and I had to stop at the side of the road to change down to the inner ring.

I finally reached the bottom of the Heinous Hill to find the traffic going up completely grid-locked and a large white BMW slipping down slowly, slipping down sideways toward me.


 

butkexsepia_clone
It’s always a good idea to dress … err … appropriately for the weather

 

I quickly realised that even if I could find any traction through the snow to climb upwards, I had no way of avoiding the out of control cars sliding down in the opposite direction toward me. I climbed off and took to the pavements, grateful that I swap road for mountain bike shoes during the winter, so I at least had some traction in a “two steps forward, one slip back” sort of way.

About halfway up the hill my Garmin crapped out on me, overcome with the cold and wet, or perhaps going into auto-shutdown because I didn’t appear to be moving anymore.

I also noticed that my bike had collected a thick crust of snow in the areas most exposed to the wind. From the thickest deposits I was able to surmise that I would get the most benefit from a new aero-seatpost and that I had perhaps discovered an affordable DIY way for the average cyclist to indulge in a bit of wind-tunnel testing. Weather permitting. Assuming they don’t mind getting cold. Oh, and wet.

As a measure of how bad it was by the time I’d dragged my soaked and sorry ass home, not only was I allowed to bring the bike into the kitchen to dry off, but Mrs. SLJ actually suggested this drastic course of action and even gave my trusty Peugeot a quick rubdown while I was huddled in the shower trying to restore feeling to my extremities.


 

www.fastmail.com
The Ice-Giant certainly left its mark on our back garden – as captured by Daughter#2

 

As the bike sat their dripping quietly onto the tile floor, perfectly moulded sections of the compacted snow and ice caught under the mudguards worked loose and slipped out. I swear they resembled nothing more than the smooth, discarded toe-nail clippings of some mythological ice-giant, perhaps the very one that thought it would be fun to lure unwitting cyclists out with the promise of a relatively pleasant day, only to conjure up a snow storm to really test them.

I hope it gets bored and slinks back to its lair for next weekend.


YTD Totals: 6,134 km/ 3,811 miles with 68,154 metres of climbing.

Random Rambles and Esoteric Observations # 4 – Planet X vs. Rapha – The Throwdown


A very personal viewpoint…

Trying to find some clever way of segmenting buying behaviour within the cycling market for a colleague developing a new business concept, I half-jokingly suggested we could measure attitudes to spending on a scale where one end was represented by Rapha and the other end Planet X.

Then the more I thought about it, the more I realised that perhaps my mad idea held more than a grain of truth, and the two brands do in fact occupy completely opposite ends of the price spectrum.


pxvr


Rapha is a brand that so desperately wants to be seen as niche and elitist that it almost hurts, and I suspect the overblown prices are very much part of its appeal to a certain type of customer. While I don’t doubt its products are high quality, well-designed and built to last, I do have trouble believing they are 7 or 8 times better than the competition, which is what some of the pricing implies.

Planet X on the other hand trumpets no nonsense prices and its website and stores are replete with some astonishing deals. In fact they first came to my attention through one of their clearance sales, when I picked up a pair of my favourite Vittoria Corsa tyres for £9.99 each instead of the rrp of £49.99. Everyone loves a bargain, right?

But it’s not just the product and price positioning that sets Rapha and Planet X apart, they also seem fundamentally different on many other levels.

Take the brand names for a start: Rapha sounds like a somewhat louche, semi-successful, minor British film star. One of those slightly posh, thespian gentlemen with limited acting ability, who carefully manage to just about play themselves for most roles and manage to retain celebrity B-list status only by dint of constant tabloid headlines earned for all the wrong reasons.

On the other hand, where do you begin with Planet X? It’s a corny, half-baked, creaky, black and white Sci-Fi movie that wants to achieve “so bad it’s good” cult status and cool, but is just ultimately cheesy and unremittingly nerdy.


Whenever I see the Planet X logo I automatically make this unfortunate association...
Whenever I see the Planet X logo I automatically make this unfortunate association…

Rapha borrows heavily (some would say steals cynically and unashamedly) from the iconic heritage of vintage, continental cycling, the epic pain and suffering of cycling’s classic races and hardmen racers, all shot in black and white: straining bodies, serious faces and nary a smile to be seen. It’s such an overly-serious, po-faced approach – where’s the fun and the joy that’s so inherent to cycling?

This is a mythological version of cycling as it never was, all suffering and gladiatorial combat – and to me it’s so obviously a parody and fake in its own right that I’m surprised it’s still being parodied by others – and all without even the slightest whiff of irony.

Planet X on the other hand is all gruff, straight talking, down to earth stuff. A spade will always be a spade, never a lovingly hand-crafted, ergonomically designed earth shearing, turning and excavation tool, forged from high impact, low carbon tensile steel with a close-grained, oiled and carefully pollarded English yew shaft that’s been lovingly nurtured to maturity in the ancient and Royal Forest of Dean. Phew! And breathe. Planet X is the Ronseal of the cycling world – doing exactly what it says on the tin.

Rapha colours are unremittingly flat and dull, relying heavily on over liberal and much imitated use of black (as the new white, brown, grey, orange, black etc. – just delete as appropriate). They are minimalist to the point of bland. Their signature; the single, contrasting coloured band on the sleeve, leg or whatever, no longer looks clever to me (was it ever?) – just strangely unimaginative and rather tired looking. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Planet X designs on the other hand have none of the studied cool of Rapha and tend toward the garish and over-the-top – check out their Carnac team kit and bikes as a prime example.


Carnac Team Kit
Carnac team kit – you can’t say it’s not distinctive.

Once stalwarts of the British pro scene via the RaphaCondor outfit, Rapha have moved up to the big time and are now the kit providers of choice to the elite of the elite pro teams, the one with allegedly the biggest budget in the peloton, and a team that is perhaps as divisive as the Rapha brand itself.

You don’t have to stray too far into the troll infested backwoods of the Internet to find that Sky are unremittingly seen as the bad guys, sucking the soul out of cycling through (shock! horror!) meticulous planning, innovative methods, spending as much budget as they can prise out of sponsors hands, employing the most talented riders, structured training, organisation, attention to detail and riding to their strengths, (all ladled with lashings of dark, innuendo about cheating and drug-taking.)

Rapha themselves have managed to take one of the duller team kits in the pro ranks and somehow make it even more boring and bland, (or understated, cool and minimalist, depending on your own point of view.) Oh, and then they’ve added those shudderingly hideous national flags to the sleeve cuffs for good measure … well, only one sleeve cuff, obviously.


There may be people out there who like this - but I'm not one of them.
There may be people out there who like this – but I’m not one of them.

Planet X on the other hand are unheralded sponsors of a host of domestic, young, up-and-coming, teams and individuals, kids, men and women, all flying pretty much under the radar, all in real need of support. They appear to do this with the sole intent of nurturing the grass-roots of the sport, although, if they’re really clever, perhaps they might be able to squeeze some small marketing return out of their investment.

Rapha are the perfect, text book example of how to build a premium, niche brand and as a marketing man I should be much, much more appreciative of their tight control over product and image and how they’ve created a brand with a real and enduring cachet. Their heritage may be at best overstated and at worst manufactured – but it’s obviously working for them and their target market.

There’s a lot to admire about Rapha – they are a relatively young, dynamically growing, internationally recognised and highly successful British brand that is seen as world leading and is much loved and valued by the only people who actually matter – their customers. I’m sure on many levels their devotees (Raphalites in my jargon) enjoy the scorn of their detractors as much as the product and brand image they are actually buying into.

From the outside Planet X sometimes appear a bit disorganised and all over the shop, willing to jump at any opportunity and conveying the wiles and opportunism of a wheeler-dealer market trader, a Del Boy made good? They appear content to be seen as bumbling along with no particular destination in mind and without any kind of blueprint for world domination.


vans


It’s difficult to imagine anyone actually coveting a Planet X product, and if they do the value for money pricing means it’s an itch that’s fairly easily scratched. Many, many people however will be more than happy to buy and use and endorse their products wholeheartedly.

Both companies have owners who profess a love of cycling, but for Simon Mottram of Rapha it’s the pure and unalloyed love of road racing. His avowed aim is to promote the sport he loves, and he wants it to be as big as football. It’s an interesting point of view, but I’m not sure it’s remotely attainable, or more importantly, even the least bit desirable.


“I think road cycling is the most beautiful sport in the world, and the toughest sport in the world, and I think it should be the biggest sport in the world. I think more people should do cycling than watch football.”
“I think road cycling is the most beautiful sport in the world, and the toughest sport in the world, and I think it should be the biggest sport in the world. I think more people should do cycling than watch football.” (Photo from Cycling Weekly)

I also struggle to forgive him his man-crush on Marco Pantani, who Mottram sees as a tragic icon of style(!) and the epitome of cool, while I just think of him as a fragile, ungainly, rocket-fuelled cheat, deserving as much approbation as a certain gentleman from Texas.

On the other side of the coin, Planet X is owned and run by Dave Loughran. A bit of a mongrel in terms of cycling background, first and foremost a triathlete, and then a mountain biker who has dabbled in dirt bikes, mountain bikes, fixies, or anything else that’ll turn a profit. By all accounts Loughran is an abrasive, hard-nosed, salesman and a bit of a wheeler-dealer who admires Mike Ashley of all people.

This is a man with (judging purely from what I’ve read, you understand) so many traits I don’t admire that I can’t say I have an interest in meeting him and I certainly can’t imagine myself ever working for him. Despite this he’s made a good impression on me (ironically in an excellent article written by Jack Thurston in Rapha’s “corporate” magazine Rouleur) and I’m really interested in seeing what he does next. It was while being interviewed for this article that, almost in an aside about business growth really stuck and resonated with me.

I can remember way back in my university days trying to write a Marketing Communications assignment and weave into it the universal truths of Nietzche’s writings and the startling insight of W B Yeats poetry, wrapped around a lengthy discourse on the largely unreported hijacking, total control and manipulation of the free press by the military during the American invasion of Grenada. (Pretentious. Moi? Look there’s only so much you can write about J.K. Galbraith, Drucker or Kotler without becoming deathly boring to yourself and, surely your tutors too…)

Around this time I unerringly stumbled across a lecture by E.P. Thompson which either coloured my thinking, or simply gave life to already ingrained beliefs. Thompson argued that the establishment controls the frame of reference in which all the political discourse takes place and stifles true debate so that, for example, it becomes a very narrow argument about which political party can best deliver economic growth and never an exploration of whether the blind pursuit of growth is actually necessary, or in the best interests of the country and its populace.

He likened this to a car, “bumming down the motorway with an accelerator pedal, but no steering … we rush on, faster or slower, but can’t take exits, go somewhere else, or even stop and turnaround.”

In 30 years of working for and on behalf of dozens, if not hundreds of businesses, both massive and micro, corporate conglomerates to Mom & Pop family-run affairs, I’ve seen the same single-minded, determined obsession with growth and never yet encountered an organisation that strayed far from the strategy of making as much money and profit as humanly (and occasionally inhumanely) possible.

Every business and many other types of organisation too, seem to have a default setting that says they have to measure themselves purely on financial performance. Year on year they set themselves bigger and bigger growth targets, regardless of whether this is necessary or actually in their best interests, regardless of the mental and physical well-being of the workers and the management and ignoring if this will actually improve what they deliver to their customers.

Now, many, many years later I’ve actually found a successful business man with a different view and judging from the articles, growth for growth’s sake also seems to be a bit of a bugbear for Loughran too.

He’s quoted talking about the plans to sell off his company, “All I’ve had for the last three years is ‘what’s our growth plan’: growth, growth, growth, how are we striving for growth? Growth became a number. We grew phenomenally in the last year and it became a pressure cooker of: ‘How do we build 300 bikes a week, how do we build 350, how do we build 400?’ It was all because my management team was driving for a buy-out and they had to show to all the vulture capitalists a £10, £15, £20, £25 million success story”.

And then he capped it all with this piece of what sounded like very heartfelt, hard-won wisdom. “We can build 300 bikes a week now and everyone can have a great life and the mechanics don’t have any pressure and we can have good availability. If we strove for 500 bikes a week we wouldn’t have the supply chain, everybody would hate each other, it wouldn’t be a nice company.” (My emphasis).

He then went on to talk about setting up an employee share ownership system that will eventually mean the company is co-owned by staff and an independent trust set up to safeguard the workforce. Sounds great – I’ll be watching.

And there you have it, a very rambling discourse on why I’m more interested in what Mr. Loughran does next, rather than Mr. Mottram’s next step toward world-domination. It’s also one reason why I’m more X-traterrestrial than a Raphalite – you see it isn’t just because I’m as tight as a wallaby’s sphincter.