the setback post

A new #gnarrative

Bike Park WalesBikePark Wales

Regular readers* may have deduced by now that I don’t generally get much gnarlier than humiliating myself in the odd ’cross race, but since the career-related Great Leap Forward, all that is changing. Henceforth TSP will be all about the shred. It’s going to be wall to wall wheel size discussions, sick edits and freeride flicks.

[*Do I have any that aren't related to me or masquerading as my friends? Not sure.]

To get things under way, Saturday was spent at BikePark Wales, attempting to follow much quicker riders with actual talent down trails sculpted for the express purpose of making buttock-clenching fast-fast. I learned that:

  • motorway service station Costa is heinously expensive
  • egg and bacon McMuffins, whilst delicious, are terrible pre-ride food. Also blah blah evil corporate overlords etc.
  • Doddy is a tall, tall man who rides long, long bikes
  • I look hilarious in mtb kit, especially when I try to mitigate the effect with token Rapha

I was riding one of these:

norco fluid 7.2Fluid 7.2 – Photo:Norco

…which did a fine job of not breaking as I ploughed through, over, and occasionally, between obstacles. I’m fairly certainly I’d have died on a hardtail.

Naturally, the next stage is curating a range of utterly bullshit-based opinions about the merits of 27.5″ wheels and the correct orientation of flat-brimmed caps.

Let the broviation commence.

It takes a village

If you’re wondering why things have been a little slow here this week, it’s because being an industry insider a douchebag is quite literally a full-time job. With, like, hours and uh… work.

However, some stories are just too important not to mention.

For those of you who didn’t grow up on a diet of loose leaf tea and middle class radio: the United Kingdom has a station called Radio 4, and on that station lives a beloved soap opera called The Archers, broadcast since 1950. It started life as “an everyday story of country folk”, and it’s entire 64-year narrative arc is best summed up by the following image:

bull mountingPhoto: Boston Public Library*

From time to time, celebrities do cameos on The Archers, and to the delight of cyclists and sideburn enthusiasts everywhere, Sir Bradley Wiggins is to appear on the programme on March 21st.

“Wiggo” will attend Ambridge to judge the winner of the village’s Sport Relief charity event.

“It’s not every day you get to star in the world’s longest-running soap opera,” said Sir Bradley.

“When I was asked to record a Sport Relief special for The Archers, there was no way I could turn it down,” he said. “I grew up with it on the radio in the house.”

While in Ambridge, the cyclist will also have an “amusing encounter with Lynda Snell and her rusty old bike”, according to programme makers.

When I heard the news, I was all:

The real question is, will he call her a cunt?

*If you were annoyed by the fact that all the visual cues in this photograph point to the United States rather than rural England, I recommend this game.

The patron’s taint

chamois-creamPhoto: Anand

Yesterday, for the first time in years, I went on a proper ride (that is to say, not a quick jaunt across town) without slathering my undercarriage in that most mystical of roadie salves, chamois cream.

And you know what? I was fine.

I’ve always been susceptible to saddle sores and I’ve been using products like Udderly so religiously that I’ve come to assume they were mandatory. I can’t remember when I adopted the balm ritual, but it seems likely it was around the time I first wore padded shorts.

The problem was, my first few pairs were bargain basement crap that chafed as much as they helped, so naturally I sought perineal succour in the form of traditional cyclist’s ointments.

But do I actually need them for every ride? Am I a victim of the Big Unguent marketing machine?

Watch this space. [Indicates crotch.]

Shimano 105 5800 11 speed

What was here, is no longer here.

If you’re looking for news about Shimano’s new 105 5800 groupset, I recommend Bikeradar’s excellent coverage.

The wood, for the trees

Campagnolo-Derailleur-wood-527x600Photo: BikeRumor

I missed this first time round.

Despite my mixed feelings about Campagnolo, I share most cyclists’ aesthetic appreciation of the company’s componentry. For the most part though, artistic representations of mechanical devices leave me pretty cold. The reversal of function and form offends my sensibilities, because I’ve generally held that when form follows function, beauty is inherent. Beauty of some sort, at any rate.

Rolex Daytona Cosmograph 1652-3Photo: Charlie J

When it comes to photography, I tend to subscribe to the view espoused by Ctein and others, that nobody cares how hard you worked. You can enjoy making your process more thoughtful and inconvenient if you think it helps, but ultimately it is the results of your labours upon which you will be judged. With an object of craft like a wooden rear derailleur, I’m not so sure though. Something about the patent futility of painstakingly hewing a complex mechanism out of a material as ill-suited to the task as wood appeals to me.

I may not care that you got up at 4am and dragged your view camera up a Scottish hill because the light was looking especially post-industrial, but I will kneel before your mastery of the Dremel.

Braking news: harmjoy edition

It’s not nice to take pleasure in others’ misfortune. In fact it’s so not nice, the Germans invented a word for it: schadenfreude, which literally translates as harmjoy*. So when I post this job ad from SRAM, please rest assured that I am not amused:


I’m especially not amused by this bit:


And this bit:


Because, ouch.

This presumably means that the poor bastard in charge of SRAM brake development fell on his sword, which would be quite upsetting if it weren’t a “transitionary” mechanical sword with only half the disembowelling power of the recalled hydraulic version.

In all seriousness, this sounds like a pretty cool job, at least until the next round of recalls.

[*This would be an awesome name for a bike by the way. I should trademark it and then find someone to sue.]

Gwen Stefani’s favourite fruit

Forgive the lull, but change is afoot – the good kind. To get yourself in the mood, pop a relevant song on and look at this awesome cutaway of a banana I made which has nothing whatsoever to do with bicycles.

banana (1 of 1)Just look at it!

Although, having said that, bananas could be used as evidence of the existence of a higher power. And if God really is behind them, I think it’s safe to say He’s a cyclist, because bananas are ideally shaped for jersey pockets and taste of ambrosia and joy after a few hours in the saddle; unlike those cheap supermarket cereal bars I still buy for some reason, which taste like recycled cardboard.

Being rather picky, the only difficulty I have here is that I like my bananas at the greener, crisper, chalkier-tasting end of the spectrum and after fifty miles in a sweaty lycra pouch, even the most vibrant of fruits can look a little tired. [WANG JOKE GOES HERE.]

All this banana talk is really just a convoluted setup for this link, which makes banana refrigeration (yes, really) seem like a far more compelling subject than you might think.

I like mine at ripeness level 4, by the way.

The faithful companion

After the unqualified success of my recent foray into internet feminism, I’m allowing myself another off-topic post. If you’d rather read about cycling, I recommend not talking about shaving.

canons95-lev (1 of 1)

If you’ve ever thought that cycling is a hobby of avarice and obsession, photography is at least as bad. Where cyclists wax anal* over the perfect stable of bikes, the ideal tyre width or the colour of their cable outers – photographers debate the relative merits of different cameras and lenses with a vehemence and fervour that might surprise the uninitiated.


There are holy wars over brand loyalties and endless personal quests to reach a mythical state of technological contentment, one that remains persistently elusive in a realm of breakneck obsolescence. The need to expand and rationalise one’s shooting kit even has names of its own like LBA (Lens Buying Addiction) and GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome).

Influenced by this teeming world of mutual enablers, I experienced a classic modern photographer’s evolution.

1. Acquire DSLR.

2. Acquire various lenses for [1], starting with the notion of ‘covering the bases’ (i.e. focal lengths) and then diversifying to include any number of fast primes and retro curiosities.

3. Acquire film bodies to take above lenses, start developing film.

5. Acquire multiple other film cameras because suddenly a whole new world has opened up and it’s shiny and exciting.

6. Realise scanning film to share personal ‘vision’ with wider world is one endless, time-consuming ball-ache.

7. Acquire compact digital camera to carry everywhere. Enjoy, but long for better manual controls.

8. Acquire nicer, far more expensive compact digital camera to carry everywhere.

Somebody once said that the best camera is the one you have with you** and it’s a maxim I’ve taken to heart, the reason I’ve ended up at [8]. Once I’d admitted to myself that the DSLR was just too heavy and too bulky to keep about my person at all times, and that shooting film, for all its hipster cred and arcane pleasures, was a great way of ensuring that most of my photos never saw the light of day, a small and capable digital camera was the most natural place to end up.

[**This line is widely attributed online to Chase Jarvis, but I have a suspicion it's been around rather longer than that would imply.]

The Canon S95 was that place.

I’m not going to write a proper review, because the S95 has long since been superseded by newer, more feature-laden models not once, but at least three times.

What I will say is that it represents something of holy grail of features for someone like me. Camera design is an exercise in compromises like any other engineering endeavour and Canon have done a particularly good job in balancing things with the S95.

It has good manual controls, pleasant image quality (even at what counts as moderately high ISO for such a small camera) and most importantly, it makes virtually no difference to the weight of the bag I carry around, and also fits into the pocket of a cycling jersey when the need arises.

A significant proportion of the photos on this blog are taken with the S95, including action shots, box porn, hubs and more.

Sure, I’d like to be able to restrict depth of field more than the small sensor allows, and it doesn’t have the lightning responsiveness of a good DSLR, but by being with me nearly all the time, it is by definition the best camera I own.

Raleigh round kids, Gamps is tellin’ a story!

So 2007 called, and they want their blog post back.

raleigh blog

More like, it’s as smelly as it is dirty. It drinks as much beer as it is dirty.

Raleigh wants you to know that they get it:

raleigh gets it

Presumably “it” is corporate pandering to a subculture that was sort of cool five years ago. Of course, they’re pulling of a kind of double-pander* by netting the lucrative “aspiring bike messenger” and recent cyclocross convert demographics, which is no mean feat.

[*A position you'll go to jail for trying in China-land. #culturallyinsensitiveinnuendo]

Mockery aside, Raleigh are doing one thing right. Their ’cross bikes are just lovely, especially this blue beauty with it’s oh-so-butch-yet-beautiful-I-just-feel-so-safe ENVE disc fork.

©Earl HarperThe RXC Pro Disc. So hot right now. (Well, in 2012.) Photo: Raleigh

It doesn’t have thru-axles though, so Bikesnob would like it and James Huang will be Angry [sic].

I should point out, by the way, that this isn’t actually a new model or anything, I just wanted some yang to balance my grumpy yin. And you can’t actually buy one of these in the UK in any case, so Raleigh is in no danger of becoming cool here.

In other news, my ongoing project to become an industry insider douchebag has taken a small Great Leap Forward.

great leap forwardWhat is it with me and the Chinese today?

I’m not ready to go public, but I’m the guy riding the giant fixie cog across the ocean of success in this scenario.

44 stock photos that I don’t know how to react to

This is The Setback Post’s first ever off-topic post. Depending on the reaction, it may or may not be its last. If you’d rather read about cycling, I recommend some Luxembourgish CX or a bit of winter angst.

women-stock-photosImage: Getty/Facebook

A Buzzfeed link is doing the rounds of social media at the moment, featuring samples from image-giant Getty’s “Lean In Collection”, which purports to include “more than 2,500 photos of female leadership in contemporary work and life”:

The project began when Pam Grossman, director of visual trends at Getty Images, commissioned a study that would track the changes in the representation of girls and women in the media.


“This is such a big passion project for all of us, and cheesy as it sounds, by showing people powerful images of women, we thought maybe we could actually change the world,” Grossman told BuzzFeed.

Whilst I applaud the underlying intention, I’m struggling slightly with the idea of stock photography as a medium for social change. Getty is, after all, one of the world’s largest purveyors of women laughing alone with salad, not to mention any number of gender role-reinforcing scenarios.

And that’s kind of the point of stock photography; it’s not inherently evil, but it exists to supply a cosy, bland visual language to companies and content producers who want familiar, unchallenging tropes to illustrate their websites and articles. It’s the reason you can safely look for a hot woman wearing a headset* if you want customer service, and why university campuses everywhere are littered with the bodies of students who died of exposure from working outside:

students-on-grass1024Image: Google

Getty would probably argue their project acts to normalise the idea of women in non-traditional roles, but to me the act of using stock photography is itself one of tokenism.

Rather than buying an image of a Lean In woman for your corporate website, wouldn’t it make more sense to take photographs of actual female members of your workforce? And if you don’t have any, maybe you should be asking why, rather than using staged photos of strangers as window dressing.

*To keep things bike related and also undermine this post completely, I asked fellow blogger Jack Luke of to ’shop a headset of the more familiar kind onto a lady for comedic purposes. The result was this decidedly un-feminist and mildy NSFW image. You’re welcome/I’m sorry.