Archive for October, 2010

The Peloton: Le Temps Perdu

October 28, 2010

The Peloton, Timm Kölln’s mammoth work combining breathtaking portraits of a generation of professional cyclists with the thoughts of the riders themselves, is finally ready.

Rouleur’s Sofie Andersen gives you a taste of what went on behind the scenes in this extract from the forthcoming issue 21.

Throughout the spring and summer, a print-out of a spreadsheet had a space on the wall of the Rouleur office between the prints and posters more obviously dedicated to possibly relevant things (at the office of a cycling magazine, I mean) like bikes and people who ride bikes and such. This spreadsheet had a few hundred cells this way, and ten or fifteen cells that way, and it bore the words ‘Spreadsheet of Doom’ (we are, generally speaking, a very optimistic bunch), appended with, in a smaller but equally illegible hand, ‘Don’t panic!’ It would change every week, adding this rider or that print or this interview, or occasionally taking away the rider, print or interview. Each writer had a column, as had each biographer and each translator (if you’re lucky, you might be able to count those people on two hands). In fact, the spreadsheet continued to changed every week – or every day, or several times a day – until the print deadline. It changed a few times after that as well. In spite of the advice that would usually be scribbled on the spreadsheet within minutes of a new print (“Don’t, whatever you do, panic!”), it may have inspired a panic attack or two – and it certainly got to be a lot bigger than it was meant to.

When asked how long he thought it would take to finish the small matter of the design, Andreas Töpfer, the designer, said he thought it would take two weeks; when asked how long it actually took, he laughed and said that he had no idea. Unusually, Andreas also isn’t quite sure how much space the Peloton files are taking up on his harddrive – but he is confident that it’s more than any other book he’s ever designed.

No, The Peloton is not the sum of the logistics involved, but they were certainly involved. Then again, the peloton – the real peloton: the one that’s out there in the world and riding the Tour or the Giro or some impossibly difficult Spring Classic – is, you might argue, also more than the sum of the riders who are in the peloton and were in the peloton (and, conceivably, will be in the peloton) because the peloton that Timm recorded and documented is no mere concept, and it remembers things that no single rider can recall.

Order your copy here.

Of Steel

October 15, 2010

Preconceptions on settling down in a cinema can easily cripple enjoyment. So many products of Hollywood, given rave reviews by the press, turn out to be complete turkeys that you wonder if you have wandered into the wrong screen by mistake.

Take Inception, directed by the previously reliable Christopher Nolan, as a case in point: utter twaddle wrapped up in CGI effects, starring the abysmal Leonardo Di Caprio, and with a storyline so complex and fast-moving, only the highly intelligent or young (or both) could understand it. The emperor’s new clothes still work, it seems…

D’Acciaio, Ben Ingham’s film of legendary Italian frame builder Dario Pegoretti, seemed easy enough to work out beforehand. Ben contributes photos to Rouleur, so expect mean-and-moody, black and white, earnest. Photographers armed with movie cameras keep them still – no bad thing (think Anton Corbijn with Control) – so Ben would, no doubt, follow suit. Dario does things with a welding torch to make fellow frame builders weep: cue close-ups of bright flames and beautiful joins.

Oh, how wrong! From the off, Dario and assistant Pietro bicker and trade insults with such aplomb, such style, that you suspect they may have been married longer than they have worked together. And it is genuinely funny throughout. Not gently amusing, but proper, belly laugh funny. Which I admit to finding a little disconcerting at my first viewing, with both Dario and Pietro present, but they clearly love the film as much as those present did. Ben points the camera and away they go, talking with such passion about their calling, yet not once lapsing into pretentious pseudo-babble.

You have the chance to see this 15-minute gem with a whole bill of other (undoubtedly) equally fascinating short films, part of the London Bicycle Film Festival, at the Barbican this Sunday. Treat yourself.

And don’t be afraid to laugh. It’s okay, you know.

Winning Ugley

October 8, 2010

Riding north out of Elsenham in Essex we ran into the telltale signs that a time-trial was in progress: fluorescent triangular boards urging fellow road-users to exercise caution, followed by marshals in hi-vis jackets, and eventually parked cars, bikes leaned carefully against the sides. The faint whiff of embrocation still hung in the air, despite most of the field having finished their 10-mile efforts long since.

We had arrived in Ugley, the curiously named village and longstanding mecca for testers from Essex and East London. The Ugley Women’s Institute allegedly changed its name to the Women’s Institute of Ugley to avoid the jibes. Ugley Farmers’ Market, however, has stuck by its guns, good looks obviously being secondary to quality produce in its members’ eyes. Ugley itself is certainly handsome enough, despite the adjacent M11.

This junction on the village outskirts where the motorway passes overhead is home to a curious collection of bungalows, each built by a different East London cycling club in the 60s and 70s and, seemingly, unchanged since. It is tempting to think they have seen better days, but hard to say for sure. Yet they are an important focal point, acting as race HQ for competitors riding the nearby E1 course that hosts events most weekends from April to October, and providing a base for Londoners escaping the capital to ride the lanes of Essex and Hertfordshire.

The bungalow very kindly loaned by the Lea Valley CC for our photoshoot was, it transpires, not the original. Club president Don Keen explained that a large wooden shed with “running water…and that was about it” belonging to the now-defunct University CC had stood behind the present structure.

The brick-built replacement taken over by the Lea Valley ten years ago sits amidst a string of similarly quirky buildings constructed by members of clubs such as the Easterley, Crest, Unity, Shaftesbury and Comrades – clubs that formed a mass two-wheeled exodus of the bomb-scarred East End every weekend in post-war years in search of country air and good riding – not to mention some time-trial action on the E1, 28-spoked best wheels strapped to the front of the bike, only to be used on race day.

Camping on land in Ugley belonging to a Mr and Mrs Curtis was the order of the day, land bequeathed to the cycling clubs by the couple, and divvied up between what became the 32nd Association – an affiliation of clubs named after the milestone marking where races finished outside the Chequers pub. Bungalows gradually emerged on the site, a curious collection of structures set in ample grounds with a railway line to the rear and (now) the M11 to the front. Neither intrude unduly on the tranquil setting. Stansted airport is also just a stone’s-throw away, but the rural idyll that lured those Londoners out of town in cycling’s boom years in the aftermath of World War Two is rarely shattered by low-flying jets even now. And the appeal of the bungalows, despite their lack of modern decor and ramshackle appearance, remains strong.

“They are more used now than they were 10 years ago,” says Keen, a Lea Valley member since the early 70s. “They are kept together by the people that use them. Every now and then we have working parties up here, to tidy ours up and keep it in order.”

To step inside is to enter a time capsule, frozen in an era of saggy woollen shorts and nail-on shoeplates. Red leather banquettes appear to have come straight from a closed down East End boozer (they had, it transpires). The eight-track cartridge stereo seems to be in working order. Several tapes promising ‘Top 20 Hits of the Decade’ fail to mention which decade. The signs above the respective dorms read ‘Birds’ and ‘Geezers’. In this corner of Essex, birds are still birds and geezers, very much geezers.

The shower room is where the ad-hoc nature of the structure really hits home. All those unwanted spare bathroom tiles gathering dust in the garages of club members found a home in the bungalow: a run of twenty plain white here, joining a batch of beige flowery- patterned there. It is recycling of the highest order, borne out of necessity, running throughout the building. Whilst it is tempting to label the whole set-up ‘charming’, the word does not sum up what the bungalows are about. What these buildings represent is a common bond of cycling (remember those club names: Comrades, Unity); precious riding time given up to help build a meeting place for like-minded souls; materials and skills donated to the cause.

Good company and good riding is what those pioneers sought and what the following generation still find today, according to Keen, whose culinary weekends at the bungalow, featuring such delights as slow-roast pork with all the trimmings, attract a healthy crowd. And what more could a time-triallist facing the timekeeper at seven in the morning ask for than a bed for the night just a short warm-up ride away from the course?

“We start cooking bacon sandwiches at six-thirty and send the marshals out with them,” says Keen, “then keep going all morning for the riders.”

Tea, cakes, bacon sandwiches, and still that faint whiff of embrocation. It’s a heady mixture. And a sign that East London’s cycling clubs and their community of bungalows are still very much alive and kicking.

Extract from Rouleur issue 20 –