Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Gear Review: Rapha's Winter Collar

As the chilly winter winds continue to blow, I thought it would be timely to pop in a quick review for an item of cycling clothing which has become one of my favourites on cold days: the Rapha Winter Collar.

Rapha Winter Collar
It's not sexy or particularly sleek (although it is nicely stretchy), but this is absolutely essential when the mercury hits zero!

Available in black, red and pink (as well as Moroccan Blue and Fig - yuck!) and made from a mix of 93% merino with 7% spandex (how Seventies is that?!) it's thin, stretchy, comfortable and itch-free. The merino also means that it stays odour-free after a few uses.

The collar can stay around the neck or as the temperature drops - or, for example, descending hills - you can hook it onto your chin or right up covering your nose. Combined with a merino skull cap I've been cosy in -5C (although far colder with the wind chill).

I chose black for practicality and matching other kit, but was tempted to get the pink version for the fun of it!

Keeps dogs warm too...
Like most of Rapha's gear - at £25 it's not cheap - but I've looked at similar-quality alternatives and they aren't much cheaper. And you pay for the quality.

If you ride at this time of year and are sick of having a frozen face and neck, then order your Rapha Winter Collar here right now.

And you get the added advantage of looking like a cycling ninja with the collar up and skull cap on!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Book Review: Mountain High by Daniel Friebe and Pete Goding

As I plan and look forward to my trip to tackle 13 of the Tour de France's toughest mountain cols this summer, I was very pleased to find an incredibly useful book amongst my Christmas presents.

Mountain High: Europe's 50 Greatest Cycle Climbs is written by Daniel Friebe - at 30, a nine-time veteran of the Tour de France, a leading cycling journalist and ghost of Mark Cavendish's best-selling auto-biography Boy Racer - with 250 stunning pictures by cycling photographer Pete Goding.

Organised in ascending-height order, the book is a mix of the practical - including route profiles and maps (although far too small to be of any use) - and historical, recalling some of the feats of bravery and classic duels that these mountains have witnessed over the years.

The book features some of the sacred mountains of the European tours, including the Tour de France's Alpe d'Huez, Col du Tourmalet, Col du Galibier, Mont Ventoux and Izoard, from the Giro d'Italia, the Stelvio, Mortirolo and Colle dell'Agnello, plus climbs in Austria, Spain and Switzerland and even Belgium.

Colle dell'Agnello
The book functions equally well for the armchair enthusiast as it does for someone, like me, contemplating riding many of these majestic and awe-inspiring peaks.

It claims to be the most comprehensive guide to Europe's cycling climbs and I wouldn't argue - these 50 mountain rides will keep me busy for years ticking off the new challenges like a lycra-clad trainspotter (I've already done two - Mont Ventoux and Ballon d'Alsace).

Daniel Friebe writes well, he tells the stories of how goat tracks, many snow-covered until June, became icons of sporting endeavour. And it's obvious that he has shed blood, sweat and tears actually riding these mountains too.

The pictures by Pete Goding are excellent, capturing the beauty and bleakness of these legendary climbs.

Alpe d'Huez

My only criticisms are nit-picking. First, organising the climbs by height does mean that you are flicking back and forward to find climbs which are cheek-by-jowl in reality. Second, on a practical level the route maps are too small to be of any use, although the route profiles are excellent.

And finally, while I realise the British Isles doesn't quite have the geography to compete, it would have been nice for two Brits to have picked at least one climb from their native country.

That aside (and they are really comments, rather that criticisms) this is an excellent book and very good value to - published at £20, it is available for around a tenner at Amazon at the time of writing. Compared to Rapha's incomplete set of Great Road Climbs of the Alps and Pyrenees at £40 per volume, that's a bargain!

And I can't wait to start crossing off the climbs this summer!