THE BUGLE The Annual Brooks Journal Issue 09 . 2017
DESIGNED FOR CYCLING REFLECTIONS ON A CYCLE
REFLECTIONS ON A CYCLE Placing cyclists into categories is categorically a characteristic of those categorised as “cyclists”. First adopting, then personifying and finally proselytising, the myriad members of two-wheeled tribes avow to have little in common, aside from the dangers imposed by gravity, or the actions of careless motorists. Yet even then, some cyclists may not apply. Among its adherents, Brooks has long counted perhaps the broadest swathe of these tribalists, both old and young, male and female, astride and atop almost every article of conveyance. Speaking to such a wide public has always been a challenge, but one gladly accepted, as we have always embraced the wonderful diversity of ‘the cyclist’ in all its endless meanings. Our lack of categorisation as a brand, too, has engendered the belief that all cyclists are created equal. Yet tribalism among cyclists remains, often to the detriment of the enjoyment of each. So we set out with this year’s Bugle to challenge contributors to tangle broadly with themes that we believe to be universal. Like birth, death, and taxes. Or in the cyclist’s case, punctures. Well, actually we didn’t do punctures. But we did examine matters eternal in the hopes of drawing forth new insights from the everlasting inspiration each tribe holds common. And in turn, give a small offering back to the bicycle, the wonderful creation we all hold dear.
This Inventive Isle
A Change of Pace
Business is Blooming
Georgia On My Mind
A Creative Connection
Style and Suppleness
The Nine Tube Puzzle
BROOKS ENGLAND LTD
Downing St, Smethwick, England, B66 2PA
DESIGN AND ART DIRECTION Fabio Fedrigo
The Brooks Bugle is printed on recycled paper.
THIS INVENTIVE ISLE Words: Guy Kesteven Photo: Antony Cairns
he Brooks company might revolve around sitting down, but it certainly hasn’t evolved by sitting still. Looking at the history of innovation this relentless, restless urge to improve is seemingly a very British characteristic. Combine it with a Titanic (and I use that word deliberately) sense of self-importance and unshakeable confidence, and you’ve got an ideal mix for invention.
who built the first ever electronic, programmable, second world war-shortening, code-cracking computer, only just stopped it being dismantled by other scientists at Bletchley Park, who claimed it was “a waste of valuable valves”. It seems even paying for help doesn’t always buy an inventor loyalty. The indomitable Yorkshireman George Cayley designed a self-righting lifeboat, caterpillar tracks, a clockwork-powered drone with metal rotors and a pistondriven combustion engine that would have beaten Daimler to the punch by almost a century if he’d found something less explosive than gunpowder to use as fuel. His crowning glory – a fixed wing glider based on advanced aerodynamic calculations he started in his school books – also successfully flew across the dale outside his Yorkshire home 101 years before the Wright Flyer. However, legend has it that when it landed smoothly on the first ever tension spoked wheels – another Cayley innovation – the coachman who was acting as his pilot undid his seat belt – yet another Cayley innovation – and promptly resigned on the spot. Marching off and relinquishing his place in history alongside legends like Bleriot, Lindbergh and Armstrong.
How else could a tiny island peopled by a mash of original Celts, plus Nordic and Germanic immigrants and some French aristocracy, eventually manage to superimpose its language – and a culture based on stewed leaves and cricket – across the world? Anglo arrogance sees our rockstars strutting global stages with disproportionate popularity, dominating high tech sports like Formula One and claiming curry as a national dish with no hint of irony.
Image: Reproduced from The Brooks Compendium of Cycling Culture
This individualistic, self-righteous, often downright belligerent independence flows through the story behind most famous British inventions too. Actually that’s too polite, most of them have the kind of bitchy, cat-fighting back story that would make a teenager’s Snapchat account look tame.
While things haven’t always gone smoothly and most of our major industries from a century ago are extinct, Brooks remains a shining beacon of that particularly English persistence and success. That’s why our small workshop in Smethwick is celebrating its 150th anniversary, more feted and famous than ever - despite the ridiculous conceit of selling saddles that in many cases are downright uncomfortable until you’ve persevered them into personal shape.
Newcomen hated Watt because he not only proved that his condensation-based steam engine really did suck, he literally blew it away by reversing the process and using expanding rather than cooling steam to power his engines. Geordie Stephenson built his famous steam locomotive to put the proverbial Rocket under Cornishman Trevithick’s competing designs. Conflict and exterior opposition have a large part to play too. John Kay and James Hargreaves built and operated their Flying Shuttle and Spinning Jenny machines in total secrecy in Lancashire, before literally having to flee south to Nottinghamshire overnight due to the hostility of traditional, local hand spinners. Tommy Flower meanwhile,
Read Guy Kesteven’s full essay on British invention in the Brooks Compendium of Cycling Culture, released to celebrate our 150th anniversary year. The Compendium is available to buy through the Brooks website, and from all good book sellers.
“CYCLING IS INTEGRAL TO OUR BUSINESS, IT IS A MARRIAGE OF PRACTICALITY.”
BUSINESS IS BLOOMING S
tartup culture is running rampant in London, bringing with it a flood of novel ideas and a fresh perspective on what living in a city should be like. We have been delighted to see bicycles at the centre of some of these startups’ philosophies, and can point to a couple with whom we were impressed enough to partner.
we’re nothing. Without beautiful flowers it doesn’t matter what good value you are.” Instead of using them for the day-to-day running of their business, Buzzbikes makes bringing bicycles to the masses its main objective. The subscription-based service has already put 200 bikes on London streets, with their ‘owners’ paying a monthly fee in return for not just a natty single-speed bike, but also all the kit and equipment an urban rider needs. Not stopping there, each bike gets a free annual service, performed at a place of the owner-rider’s choosing, and is finished with a Brooks Cambium saddle.
Petalon is an innovative startup that delivers beautifullyarranged bouquets to customers exclusively by bicycle. The company has been up and rolling for more than four years and the business has blossomed from ten deliveries a day – all dropped off in person by company founder, Florence Kennedy – to the point where they have a staff of dedicated deliverers and supply blooms for weddings and other events.
Buzzbike’s founders are now working on getting more of their bikes onto the streets, with demand for those original 200 machines far outstripping current supply.
The fact that 100% of the deliveries are made by bike is of course, much friendlier to the environment, but has the slightly more surprising benefit of being cheaper for the customer too. In a congested city, bicycles take less time than motorised transport to cover short-to-medium trips, as well as neatly sidestepping costs for petrol, parking or central London’s congestion and ’T’ charges.
“We’re not trying to go big as quickly as we can, so much as create something that’s high-quality and feels like something you’d want to be a part of,” says Tom Hares, CEO of Buzzbike. “It’s working so far. We have 3,000 riders on a waiting list already, and that’s without any marketing in our first year – just through word of mouth and via the companies we’re connected to.”
But is this a business that appeals only to bike riders? Kennedy says no.
Clearly, they have an idea people like, that they can latch onto.
“Cycling is integral to our business but it’s a marriage of practicality. Cycling in London is simply the fastest and most efficient way of getting things from one place to another. Everyone responds to that, not just the cyclists who know that it’s a magical way of getting around as well as being so practical!
That same kernel of inspiration is something appreciated among all riders of bikes – the passion for innovation, as well as sustainability and creativity. At Brooks we laud this spirit, and hope to see much, much more of Buzzbikes and Petalon – as well as similar startups in other world cities – in the coming years.
“People use us because we’re fast and can do same day delivery at short notice, but in the end without our style Words: Tom Owen Photo: Liz Seabrook
A CREATIVE CONNECTION Words: Owen Morgan Photo: Michele Alberto Sereni
f the bicycle’s pleasing geometries – triangles, circles, arcs – lend themselves to interpretation in pieces of art or design, this formal appeal is matched by its rich and varied symbolism.” writes Amy Sherlock, deputy editor of art and culture magazine, Frieze, in the Brooks Compendium of Cycling Culture. She continues:
An assortment of Brooks saddles adorned one wall of the space, offering a reminder that The Bike Connection is one that transcends not only eras, but borders. Despite the juxtaposition between Brooks’ quintessential Britishness and Pegoretti’s futurist roots, it is a nostalgic affinity for the handmade that is shared. Though geographically distant, Brooks and Pegoretti are ideological neighbours – Dario’s work displaying the same attention to detail that J.B. Brooks himself paid to his craftsmanship more than 150 years ago.
“In the face of the social volatility of the early 20th century, the bicycle was adopted by the continental avantgarde as a symbol of hope, modernity and prosperity.” It is this notion that Dario Pegoretti has gently grasped with both his consummate craftsman’s hands, adding to it a layer of intricacy, care and detail befitting the modern era. The renowned frame builder and painter’s latest collection, displayed at Studio La Città in Verona, offered an insight into the evolution of the relationship between bicycles and art.
Michela Raoss, communications director at Brooks, said: “The Bike Connection is important for us because it celebrates this interplay between art and cycling. Brooks is a brand that produces beautifully crafted objects with a functional purpose. The saddles and bags we make are extremely practical, but also carefully considered from an aesthetic standpoint.”
The centrepiece of The Bike Connection, a series of steel bicycle frames, represents a collaboration between Pegoretti and American painter, Jacob Hashimoto – a seamless amalgamation of the Italian’s timeless minimalism and contemporary colour and texture; futurism with a twist. The inclusion in the display of influential 20th century pieces, such as Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni’s Sella, delves deeper still into the roots of Pegoretti’s obsession with the aesthetically gratifying.
While Hélène de Franchis, owner of Studio La Città, explained the origin of the show: “The Bike Connection exhibition was actually born by accident. I met Dario Pegoretti because one of my artists, Jacob Hashimoto, had a Pegoretti bicycle. Jacob kept talking to me about this legendary frame builder, explaining he was the number one in his field. When Dario moved his workshop to the area, the idea of doing an exhibition about the link between bicycles and art was born. Brooks supported the exhibition, and the result was thrilling – worthy of the largest contemporary museum!”
Sella, a tube-mounted saddle atop a semi-spherical base, is a piece from the 1950s. It perfectly captures the fidgety optimism of the later part of that decade. After the difficult post-war years, Italian design was beginning to come into its own. Pegoretti’s was born in the 50s, and his virtuoso work now carries the torch lit by his predecessors.
“EACH JOINT, EACH FILLET, OFFERS AN OPPORTUNITY TO GET IT JUST RIGHT, OR FOUL IT UP”
THE NINE TUBE PUZZLE
ustom frame building allows discerning cyclists, sated by the miracles of mass-production, to look beyond for something more personal, distinctive and individual. It’s the old-fashioned way and one that, for the frame builder, offers challenges matched only by the rewards to be had from handing over a lovingly crafted machine to its new owner.
and hold the rear wheel correctly aligned with the front… and so it goes on. Each joint, each fillet, offers another opportunity to get it just right, or foul it up... The fillet that needs just a touch with the abrasive cloth to get that seamless transition, the void- and blob-free lug shoreline, the bottle cage boss cleanly silver-soldered without a trace of excess; every time is immensely satisfying.
The immediate challenges are those familiar to every skilled craft worker: achieving accuracy, consistency and a high level of finish. Intrinsic to custom frame building, however, is the ability to create a bicycle that matches the wants and needs of the customer in a way that off-the-peg production may not be able to match. Ultimately, it is this interaction with the customer that makes frame building and, indeed, assembling a complete custom bicycle, so highly satisfying.
So, too, is filing the edge of a lug to a crisp, curvaceous shoreline, or feathering to perfection the transition between rear stay and dropout. Such details aren’t strictly necessary, since they don’t materially affect structural integrity or handling and may not attract much attention; they are done for the sheer pleasure of the work by people with a deep love of cycling.
I decided to learn to build frames so I could play around for myself with some technical aspects of road bike construction. To do so, I engaged as tutor an old friend and one of the legends of British frame building, Cliff Shrubb, who learned his trade at the old Claud Butler factory in London – and in retirement made a small number of frames each year in his lock-up garage.
Words: Richard Hallett Photo: Jim Holland
Being in possession of the requisite frame building skills and equipment is like having a fast bike and fresh legs on a balmy, sunny day; you need somewhere to go, ideally via a demanding but inspiring route. Bespoke bicycle customers have a knack of providing just such a route, or at least offering the builder the chance to plot one out. It was the desire to explore intriguing techniques that got me into frame building, but like all builders I enjoy the wider picture, from advising on aspects of the build such as frame geometry, tube specification and, if asked, component choice, through to putting the finishing touches to the complete cycle. I also like taking a hacksaw to a lightweight, very expensive and very thin bicycle frame tube.
Cliff liked to call it the ‘nine-tube puzzle’ – one of them being the bottom bracket shell. It is easy enough to put them together and there are plenty of ways to do it, but brazing involves heat, heat expands metals, and metals don’t always stay the same shape as they cool down. The art lies in brazing up the main triangle in such as way that its seat and head tubes are dead in alignment as it cools – and that it comes out at the desired frame angles. The rear triangle, in turn, must be in line with the main triangle
“IT SEEMS THE MODERN IMPULSE IS TO RECORD EVERYTHING.”
HIT RECORD I
t seems the modern impulse is to record everything. In the age of the smartphone, as soon as we see it, we snap it. There is something that cries out within us to capture a piece of the moment, sometimes, oftentimes, to the detriment of our enjoyment of that very moment. Is this a meaningful pursuit, or a meaningless interference?
definitely a subject that attracts – and deserves – thorough documentation.”
John Watson, founder of The Radavist, believes it is not a question of meaning at all.
“Personally, I hate the terms like ‘influencers’ and ‘ambassadors’. Companies should support people they see as creative – not influential – creativity will influence, through inspiration. Personally, I tend not to follow or engage with the ‘all about me’ influencers. Is it about the culture, the world and the environment, or just about yourself?”
There is clearly a difference between valuable documentation and the narcissistic pursuit of ‘likes’. Watson finds the latter particularly empty.
“I think looking for meaning is a moot pursuit. There’s nothing philosophical or even sociological about it. This is the new norm for life in the 21st century and I can only imagine it’ll become more instantaneous and more engaging.”
For Leddin, the future lies in a greater diversification of those lead archivists, the ones to whom others look for inspiration.
It’s true, the impulse to archive shows no sign of waning, but while we create hundreds of photographs, videos and stories every time we leave the house, platforms like The Radavist still provide a valued focal point for cycling culture.
“Editing Cycle EXIF for seven years has taught me every country in the world has a rich cycling heritage, comprising frame builders, landscapes and riders. The US has, of course, the biggest incidence of all of them, but, like local wines, every locale has its own flavour. We need to see more from other countries, not just America.”
While there’s no denying this urge to record is a global phenomenon, the milieu of cycling seems especially predisposed to the archiving instinct. Adam Leddin, founder of Cycle EXIF, a cataloguer of beautifully-made bicycles from around the world, says the rich, multifaceted landscape of cycling is at least partly responsible.
It’s through this diversity, Leddin says, that a canon of cycling culture will eventually be established.
“There are so many aspects to cycling that it’s a natural magnet for ethnographic observation. It’s hard to find a more culturally-rich activity than cycling. Consider how many genres there are, and they’re all connected by the joy of riding this two-wheeled beautiful machine.
Words: Tom Owen Photo: John Watson
“I think there needs to be more coverage specific to each country or region. There are far too many stories that need to be told for the small number of voices that are speaking right now to get across. The world is getting smaller. Now, more than ever before, it’s easier to travel to and explore these places – and websites and blogs become important networks for unpicking the mysteries of each locale.”
“There’s an abundance of material to collate. I think even football – thought of as the World’s Game – would struggle to equal cycling in terms of the variety of stories. It’s
“THE WORLD FLIES BY. YOU FEEL EVERYTHING”
Words: Laura Scott Photo: Tino Pohlmann
I was not prepared for my father’s death.
Even when that was trying to cycle across continents. I remember telling him about the Transcontinental. He asked me how far it was, and when I told him it was approximately 4,000km, he responded saying “pfff Nothing – you’ve got that Laura.”
In January my Dad was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at the age of 61. I packed up my bike and a backpack full of clothes and left London for Canada where my family lived.
In the weeks that followed his death, I wanted nothing more than to curl up in the foetal position and hide from the world. But I knew my dad would not have wanted that. I had to force myself to keep going, and the only way I knew how to do that was on my bike.
I discovered cycling almost five years ago now, and I immediately became obsessed. I loved everything about it, the culture, the camaraderie, the ability to explore and push my limits. The latter in particular became a fundamental part of my obsession with cycling. I wanted to know just how far beyond my perceived limits I was able to push myself.
In the depths of this grief, I haven’t always been able to find a way to describe or even understand what I am feeling, but cycling has become a practical outlet for processing my grief. It is a reminder to live in the present, to find joy in the simple things and to reconnect with a world that feels so foreign and strange to me without my dad.
This year I had been planning on attempting to break a world record, as well as competing in the Transcontinental Race. But when I found out my dad was dying, suddenly all these events that I was preoccupied with seemed so trivial.
The record attempt date had come and gone, and I eventually pulled out of the Transcontinental as well. As much as I wanted to take part still, I knew my head wasn’t in the right place to take on these kinds of challenges There were times I felt invincible; I felt as though I was channeling all the hurt and pain I had experienced over
Despite the fact I was lucky enough to have six months with my father before he died, the resulting grief floored me. I was left in a world without my mentor, the person who always helped me make tough decisions, the person who had always encouraged me to follow my dreams…
the six months my father was sick. The next day I would have to pull over, unable to see through my tears, rendering myself completely useless on my commute to work.
Moments later I throw myself down the descent – wind howling in my ears focusing on the line I’m going to take and pushing to see just how fast I can go before my nerves try and kick in. The world flies by and – unlike in sitting meditation where the focus is on being still – you concentrate on the intensity of the movement. You feel everything. It is this state which is helping to bring a sense of calm and peace to my world again.
Regardless, cycling is helping me to bring my physical, cognitive and emotional energy together in a way that is allowing me to try and make sense of the loss of my father. I have spent hours out riding alone to the point of total exhaustion, challenging my emotional pain with physical pain. There has been more than one occasion, I have suddenly realised I have tears streaming down my face as I push myself along familiar lanes.
While I work through my grief, I have become aware that cycling provides therapy for troubled times, no matter what shape or form that might be.
Most of the time though, cycling allows me to reach an almost meditative state. With every pedal stroke, I’m given a chance to empty my mind, focus on my breathing and connect with the nature that surrounds me. As I approach a climb, I fall into a familiar rhythm, focusing on the pounding of my heart. When I hit the crest of the climb and my legs suddenly stop screaming at me, there is a split second of relief, when every fibre of my body feels at peace again.
People keep asking me what’s next, what races I will take part in next year, and honestly I have no idea. At the moment cycling for me is no longer about seeing how far I can go or trying to break records. For now, cycling is providing me with a way to heal, to grow strong again, and to help me get through the hard days which still come far too often. I am still trying to learn what life looks like going forward, but what I do know is it involves a lot of time on my bike.
STYLE AND SUPPLENESS Words: George Upton Illustration: Laura Quick
ouplesse is the unteachable, unattainable quality that makes a bike rider beautiful to look at, and it just so happens to spring from the same roots as the English word ‘supple’, the defining characteristic of a quality leather saddle.
about more than simple pedalling style. It is a philosophy, an approach to the sport which is unique to all but some of its greatest champions – an effortlessness that belies a constant struggle, an ease that hides pain and suffering, and the ultimate expression of the beauty of cycling, of man and machine in complete harmony.
“He’s dancing on the pedals in a most immodest way!” Of course, it should be noted before getting too carried away, souplesse does not necessarily have any bearing on success on the road. After all, Eddy Merckx – off the bike handsome, suave and impeccably tailored – pounded the pedals into submission with brute force, while Fausto Coppi was the complete opposite – an ungainly bird on land (his nickname was il Airone, the heron), he would glide up climbs, a picture of lightness and grace. The famous Texan, who, as has been well publicised, did not care much for the way in which he won, and far less for the romantic traditions of the sport, rode with a choppy, muscular aggression, but his lack of souplesse damaged little else than his popularity with the French. And yet, while a certain Kenyan’s awkward style, bent over his bike, elbows akimbo, did not stop him winning a historic double, his Spanish gunfighting rival’s rhythmic out-ofthe-saddle climbing helped him secure the final mountain stage of his career, and certainly cemented his position among the greats in the annals of cycling’s history.
It’s Bastille Day 1987 and the Norwegian rider Dag-Otto Lauritzen is winding his way up the Pyrenean mountain of Luz Ardiden, on his way to becoming the first of his countrymen to win a stage of the Tour de France. Captivated by Lauritzen’s smooth, metronomic pedalling style, head barely bobbing despite his struggle against the gradient, the veteran commentator Phil Liggett finds himself exclaiming, almost instinctively – both coining the phrase ‘dancing on the pedals’ for generations of commentators to come and introducing the concept of souplesse – the ancient art of riding your bike gracefully – to legions of uninitiated Anglophones. Although attempting to find an English translation for such an abstract concept as souplesse would be to miss the point, many, in the search of more perfect pedalling, have tried. But souplesse is not something that can be easily understood, let alone taught. Certainly, you could train yourself to pedal with a balanced, circular motion – legs powerful but fluid, ankles light and supple, and the upper body, in perfect contrast, unmoving, the hips and back steady, the head resolute – but souplesse, at its core, is
Perhaps the best proponent of souplesse, Jacques Anquetil – the first of the illustrious five-time Tour winners – certainly made a career out of his beautiful style on the
“HE’IS DANCING ON THE PEDALS IN A MOST IMMODEST WAY.”
bike. Fans would flock to the side of the road, not for the competition, but to see the artist at work in races such as the Grand Prix des Nations, the time trial he won nine times. As Paul Fournel describes in his book on the maître, Anquetil was “a dancer in a sport of lumberjacks… No man was ever better suited than him to riding a bike – he doesn’t grimace, bare his teeth, jerk his head as he struggles. He simply turns pale.” In 1956, it would be this steady, controlled style – so well-suited to going fast in a straight line – that would earn him the most coveted prize in cycling: the hour record.
a talent that could not have come in a pill, that was a gift solely of birth rather than chemical means. Untaught and unlearnable, souplesse has endured scandals, technological advances and the ever-greater commercialisation of the sport. And as much as it evokes a bygone era – before directeurs sportifs were sporting directors and riders were followed from race to race by a vast caravan of support vehicles – riders with souplesse remain as mystical as they ever were; bestowed with a transcendent grace, charm and even, as Phil Liggett discovered on the slopes of the Luz Ardiden, an arresting sensuality, that is at the very core of what it means to be a cyclist.
Part of the allure of Anquetil’s souplesse is down to the fact that, racing in an age when cyclists doped openly, here was
PEDAL BOARDING Words & Photos: Chris McClean
ver a breakfast of porridge and coffee we pore over the map. The swell wasn’t quite getting into the spot we’d camped at. The night before had shown promise, but that promise had disappeared with the wind as it swang more to the west. Heading south and into 50mph winds wasn’t a thought anyone relished so we decided to head north. Our Scottish surfing adventure, with bicycles to carry our boards, would take us to a remote part of the UK, where we would taste the salt and peat of this far-flung corner of a country we always felt we knew.
solid headwind was the worst stretch of the journey. We were dying of thirst when we pulled into the gas station in Barvas and bought ice cream and beer. We sat for an hour on the kerb, savouring a can of Stella. As we woke on that first morning on the Isle of Lewis, we felt the east wind, grooming and blowing over the waves creating the perfect, light offshores that surfers love. The swell was small, but for summer in Europe we were lucky. A piper played the Star Wars theme tune as the sun set out to sea, a bizarre yet fitting reward for a beautiful run of surf and sun-kissed days.
Lunch is a feast of beans and lentils in the ferry waiting room on Berneray, sheltering from the wind and rain, as we wonder what the hell we’re doing. We arrive on Harris in the Outer Hebrides later that afternoon. As we head north, thick, stout clouds roll overhead and the hills seems to get bulkier. We make quite a scene rolling into the carpark of the Harris Hotel. It’s raining and we have the biggest infectious grins on our faces.
On the return leg, we knew what we had in store. We knew the views and the wind direction. And where we could go to get some more of that fruitcake. Tired, hungry, sweaty, thirsty and covered in salt, we rolled into the tearoom carpark but immediately sensed something was amiss. Our hearts sank as the note on the door confirmed our suspicions. The tearooms were shut for the day. We sat in near silence on the tarmac out of the sun and doled out the remains of our supplies; a Clif Bar, a slice of Stornoway bread (a thick dense white bread). We boil some water for coffee, adding thick honey for sweetness. We know the hills await. Bellies filled, at least a little, we tackle the final ride.
My hands are sore from braking for the last three downhill miles, trying to keep the weight of the damn trailer from snaking – it’s such a relief to think about hot food. But our dreams are dashed – the hotel is full. The other diners can feel our pain through the glass windows as rain streaks down and we pedal out of the carpark and into the ferry port, where mercifully the Hebrides Hotel is still open. We have approximately two minutes and 39 seconds to order food.
The Isle of Harris might be the end of the road, but it’s not the end of the journey. A boat trip to Skye and the drive south await. Strangely, I want to keep cycling. I’ve enjoyed this new experience, this new slowed-down surf trip, no longer at the whim of the charts, tides and swell. I now realise it’s not the conquering of hills that counts, it’s that everything tastes better when you’re made to work for it. The coffee, the lentils and beans, the waves and even warm cans of Stella from gas stations – everything tastes great after a day in the saddle.
On the second day, for lunch we eat spiced Thai soup, Highland Brie and cranberry toasties, a slab – and I do mean a SLAB – of fruitcake, washed down with a long black. We find this feast in a local tearoom, just that day opened up for the summer. A delicious stroke of luck. The worst part of this 80km trek wasn’t the morning’s hills – we knew they were coming – it was when we turned into the wind after we skirted Stornoway. 20 kilometres with a
A CHANGE OF PACE Words: Stefan Amato Photos: Mat Waudby & Alex Turner
sharp right off the moonscape singletrack and across a patch of boggy moorland takes us to the open door of an idyllic stone building – a sanctuary of shelter in an otherwise wild spot. A short detour for us, but there’s no time for rushing. One-and-a-half days is how long Birmingham’s water takes to travel the 117km, from the source in the wilds of mid-Wales, to the city limits – an average pace of 3kph. Slow travel at it’s finest; gravity dictates how long it takes – it doesn’t need to go any faster, as long as it gets there. And it is this water, collected within the impressive infrastructure of the Elan Valley, which fills the tanks in the Brooks England Factory, where leather tops are soaked for suppleness before being moulded into shape for use in the 150-year-old company’s leather saddles.
to admire the moorland surroundings; to brew a hot drink around the stove; to munch some of the local cheese(s). “Crackers?” “Sure. Wrapped safely inside the sleeping bag in my handlebar roll.” “Of course they are…” It’s lunchtime on day two, and we’re flooding the dank stone bothy with the steam and smells from our slow-brew coffees and sweet potato/beans/cheese lunch. You can just about see our loaded bikes all leaned against the dry-stone walls through the tiny, quartered window – and one of the crew refilling the pot with peaty water from the stream, rushing from all the recent rain. We’re not the only ones there; we rarely are. But these are the encounters that make every trip unique. Sometimes one of the bothy dwellers has been thoughtful enough to get the stove lit in advance for us – our saviours in a storm. Slow travellers. Stargazing couples, wild swimming bessies, groups of friends meeting up after a long time with beers in tow. All out there escaping and looking for a change of pace. It’s a real blurring of the boundaries between the cycling and outdoor worlds; right up our track. By the end of the day, with 200km down, exposed to the British weather, peaty splashes from ford crossings, nicks from gravelly tracks and dry stone wall leans, aromas from the forests, fresh air and outdoor coffees, our Brooks saddles would be somewhat broken-in…
So, one-and-a-half days after our tour of the Brooks Factory in Smethwick it makes total sense that, after waking up at Pannier Camp near the English/Welsh border, we’ve spent the morning riding rough stuff around the remote Claerwen reservoir, and are headed further west into the wild for the final evening of our three-night ‘Borders Tour’. From saddle tops to moor tops, along a mixed-terrain route people have been quietly riding sections of since the invention of the bike. Boasting aside, 3kph is a tad slow for the Pannier 15kph Club. At our pace we can escape far enough while slowing down to ride alongside soaring red kites and meet wild horses, to unwind along winding roads, to skim stones and swim across rivers. To socialise, to switch-off.
The most satisfying thing about knowing our route is that after this lunch stop, I knew the best riding and pauses were yet to come, including my favourite of the tour: jumping into the cooling water of the River Irfon – enough to refresh body and mind and signal the start of last few kilometres back to reality. Taking the time to slow down is the best way for a short tour to feel long, challenging, and truly off-grid.
Monastery ruins, dams, fallen trees and lonely telephone boxes provide waypoints for us on our point-to-point touring route, which winds across wild moorlands, threads through forests and skirts remote reservoir tracks, but it’s as much about the breaks from riding. In the same way the loud bell rings above the chaotic clanging in the Factory to signal time-out, a silent one rings in a travelling cyclist’s head. Time for a pause: too intrigued to not find out what’s at the end of the boggy moorland track; to ease the fatigue;
The Pannier Borders Tour will be heading out from the Brooks Factory in Spring / Summer / Autumn 2018. Don’t have an adventure-style bike, or kit? You can hire the whole bikepacking setup from Pannier. Get more at: @panniercc
GEORGIA ON MY MIND Words & Photos: Stefan Rohner
“WE WOULD COOK OUR DINNER AND SLEEP ON THE FLOOR. NOBODY WOULD EVEN KNOW WE HAD BEEN HERE.”
that we couldn’t find a place to put our tents and we just wanted to sleep on the floor.
For the Romania trips, Google’s Street View function helped me find some nice non-tarmac roads, but this isn’t possible in Georgia – no Google car has been there.
Either because he understood what we were miming, or because he simply realised we were no trouble, Leon smiled and reached into his bag. He brought out some cheese, bread and a bottle of ‘chacha’, a strong spirit made with the grape residue leftover in the winemaking process. All too soon the chacha was flowing freely and after a little bit too much, Ad had to run outside to ‘visit the garden’.
fter riding about 5,000 kilometres around rural Romania in 2015 and 2016, the idea of touring Georgia by bike was like some bigger dream becoming reality – a chance to go a bit more ‘exotic’.
Soon I discovered the spectacular mountain road I had seen in pictures was the Abano Pass – 2,960m high, with 2,400m elevation gained over 40 kilometres of riding.
We slept very well that night.
I showed my friend Ad some pictures too, to get him inspired and enthusiastic for a trip to Georgia. He joined me for two weeks of my three–and–a–half in the country. Have you ever heard of ‘chacha’?
In the morning, with chacha conoisseur Ad looking a little peaky, we left the refuge. The day before I had said, “I am going to stop the next 4x4 we see going to Omalo and ask them to take our panniers up to the top for us.” As we left the stone hut, a 4x4 appeared as if by magic.
When we arrived halfway up the Abano Pass we were pleased to find a refuge, usually used by road maintenance crews, to rest our heads. The door was closed with a simple metal latch, so we let ourselves in to find seven beds and a makeshift kitchen.
We stopped him and explained what we wanted him to do – take the bags up ahead and leave them somewhere we would find them. “Da, da.” he said. He would leave the panniers at the Ranger Park Office. We tipped him and off he went.
From the moment we started climbing the pass, we had seen no flat land on which to pitch a tent, so we quickly decided to spend the night in this little stone house. We would cook our dinner and sleep on the floor. We would be no trouble. Nobody would even know we had been here.
Extremely pleased with our scheme, the world’s first ‘pannier taxi’, we climbed the rest of the pass – having to get off and push at some points. The green valleys, the rivers, the mountain peaks were as spectacularly beautiful as the road was spectacularly steep.
And that’s how we met Leon. He opened the door of the hut and looked in, clearly very surprised to find a couple of dirty cyclists just finishing up their evening meal. We did our best to explain with gestures what we were doing,
The view got more and more impressive, breathtakingly so. Late in the afternoon we arrived at Omalo, even without panniers it took us five hours to cycle the 42 kilometres – the last six we averaged 3.5km/h.
The next two days we did a couple of wonderful, short trips without any luggage, from Dartlo – Girevi and Bochorma – Dochu, over high peaks and green valleys beside rivers.
From Akhmeta it took us one day to the beautiful Zhinvali Reservoir on the Military Road, surrounded by high mountain peaks. We spent half a day cycling between big trucks, huge excavators and other massive road-building machines. Epic dust clouds, lots of climbing again and high heat. At the end of the ride, the cold beers and freshlymade, delicious Khachapuri – a traditional Georgian dish of cheese-filled bread – was very welcome!
The Georgian Military Road
Although riding the Georgian military road means car and truck traffic, after days of gravel we wanted tarmac too badly to find an alternative. The military road is about 212 kilometres long and runs between Tbilisi (Georgia) and Vladikavkaz (Russia). It follows the traditional route used by invaders and traders throughout the ages – hence the name.
The next day we cycled over the Jvari Pass, up to Stepantsminda, all along the Aragvi and Tergi rivers, the last 30-40km beside a impressive line of static trucks, all waiting to get into Russia.
From Vladikavkaz, the road stretches southwards up the Terek valley, before passing through the Darial Gorge (which marks the border between Russia and Georgia). It then passes Mount Kazbek and Gergeti Trinity Church, before heading south-west through the Georgian region of Khevi to the Jvari Pass, where it reaches its maximum altitude of 2,379m.
The arrival at the border bringing an end to this particular adventure in Georgia, a truly exotic place and yet remarkably close to us here in Europe. Go, but don’t overindulge on the chacha.
Coboc - Soho One Cooper Bikes - Revival
o the left, we have the UPPER from Open Cycles, a prodigiously talented go-anywhere steed with disc brakes and a performance-oriented selection of components. The CHPT3 special edition of our C13 saddle used on the UPPER benefits from an engineered all-rubber construction â€“ to help take the worst out of whichever gravel roads you set it to tackling. Sitting somewhere in the whirling vortex of gravel, all-road, adventure and bikepacking, this bicycle is difficult to classify, but very easy to love.
top). Inspired by the sartorial aesthetic of 1960s London, it features a brushed aluminium frame and complementary accessories at the handlebars and saddle. The latter is a rust-coloured Cambium C15, while the bars are wrapped in matching Cambium tape. And finally we have the Revival from Cooper Bikes (above, bottom). Cooper has lovingly paid homage to the lightweight steel tourers that swarmed all over British roads in the early part of the 19th Century with this handsome and pacy machine. The final cherry on the cake is a Red Brooks Swallow saddle, fashioned from highquality leather for that perfect dash of classic panache.
Brooks is nothing if not multi-faceted, and so we come to the remarkable city-slicking e-bike from Coboc (above,
Dealer of the Year
Employee of the Year
Basis, bringing the many forms of cycling and style to the people of Stuttgart.
For 2017, we were unable to separate two of our dedicated Smethwick workers; so we decided to break with tradition and announce a joint award.
Created with a philosophy of uniting like-minded people with a passion for the life two-wheeled, the Basis bike shop in Stuttgart was founded by Christopher Tuma & Sebastian Meyer. Not so much a traditional shop as a “living room” for kindred spirits, they stock a wide range of Brooks products alongside other premium and aesthetically refined products – all devoted to the love of cycling.
Beverley Ilic is enjoying her second spell working for Brooks; her first employment began when she joined us as a sewing machinist after leaving school, helping produce the array of different bags Brooks offered at the time. Her second and current employment is in the packing department where, again, she has progressed to the level of department supervisor. As well as training and settling in new starters, Bev also performs a number of different tasks in our production process when the need arises. It’s this versatility that makes her such a valued member of the Brooks team. Over her two periods of employment with Brooks, she has amassed 19 years’ service.
Applying an innovative and modern approach to something so timeless as the bicycle, Tuma and Meyer have brought the Brooks brand to more people this year with their innovative and beautifully-designed pop-up at the Flux Concept Mall in the heart of Stuttgart’s Stadt Mitte district. Whether the pop-up, or their permanent Blumenstraße storefront – Basis is a place to browse and bask in the wide array of options, just as much as to purchase that one essential item you’ve had your eye on for a while. Truly, a pedaller’s paradise.
Anthony Crosdale has been with Brooks for five and a half years. He works in the solid riveting department. In that time he has mastered the difficult operations within his department, having been trained by – among others – Eric “The Chamferer” Murray. Like Bev, Anthony has other strings to his bow, and is always happy to help out in other departments when called upon. And also like Bev, he is a well-liked and important member of our workforce.
Basis can be found at Blumenstraße 15, 70182 Stuttgart, Germany.
THE BROOKS COMPENDIUM OF CYCLING CULTURE
n 2016 Brooks celebrated its 150th anniversary year. As birthdays go, it’s one we felt deserved a proper and fitting celebration, and so we set about searching for a suitably ambitious project to mark this milestone.
and idiosyncratic view of the wide-ranging impact of the bicycle. Its pages bristle with unconventional, interesting, curious, short stories and essays, not to mention exquisite art and design.
The Brooks Compendium of Cycling Culture was born out of a desire to contribute something more to the wider diaspora of cycling culture than a braggadocious brand book or dusty company history. We hope that instead it celebrates and showcases Brooks’ values and culture, through the work of hand-picked creatives, who are as passionate about their work as they are about their cycling.
Perhaps the legendary fashion designer Paul Smith put his finger on the interplay between the bicycle and a wider life of creativity and fulfilment in this extract from his piece in the Compendium. “But until the age of seventeen I only thought about being a bike rider. Then I crashed badly, and the injury stopped me racing. I met these art students in the pub who taught me about strange things called ‘Bauhaus’ and ‘Kandinsky’... I soon realised I could use inventiveness to make a living.”
We are lucky to have a richer history than most brands, and one that is shot through with ingenuity, manufacturing and cycling – all of which are relevant in the modern history of Britain. However, with this said, the purpose of the book is to appeal not only to avid cyclists, but those who share similar core values to Brooks.
Would that we all had as much inventiveness as Mr Smith. Or a certain Mr J.B. Brooks. The Brooks Compendium of Cycling Culture is available in a collector’s edition, including a limited edition print of a signed Martin Parr photograph taken inside the Brooks England’s factory. There are 50 numbered prints, partnered with the Compendium in a special fold-out case.
With the help of contributing writers, artists, journalists, designers, photographers and illustrators (including Martin Parr, Sir Paul Smith, David Millar, George Marshall and Bella Bathurst), this volume, which we affectionately refer to as ‘the Brooks Book’, depicts our company’s unique
Reflections on a Cycle