Chikashi Miyamoto

philosopher by training, gentleman by accident, pervert by nature, glutton by choice

Tea. Bicycle. An Unexpected Confluence. 

I enjoy tea. I am not an expert; I simply like the stuff. Not the ‘herbal’ varieties, but the Camellia sinensis varieties. Because coffee is so fashionable amongst cyclists of various stripes, I had not expected that the world of tea would overlap with the world of cycling, at least not in my sphere. Happily, it did, seemingly out of nowhere. 

I tend not to ‘talk shop’ with social contacts until I have developed some level of familiarity with that person. I cringe when I read or hear chatter about cycling being the new golf, for professional networking and advancement. I prefer to cycle with those that turn up because they want to go for a ride in the company of others, not for any motives unrelated to cycling, health or amusement. As such, I do not ask about someone’s trade until I feel I have become sufficiently familiar with that person. Of course, by that time, I tend to have picked up the information through normal chit chat within the group so I end up not needing to ask him or her what it might be.

Sometimes, such incidental discoveries take time. There’s a chap that rides regularly with a group that I occasionally join. He’s one of the group’s core members. I’ve been riding with them for a couple of years, but I only learned about his trade earlier this year. It so happens that he is a tea importer, with a family firm that got started in the 19th century.  

When you think of cycling, you think of coffee, not tea. Sometimes I get consumed by the most trivial discoveries in life.

There are tea importers and tea importers, and I didn’t know which one he is.

When spring was about to give way to summer, I was running low on tea supply at home. It was the time of year when spring harvest should be trickling into market. It seemed like a good time to suss him out.

Tea is a lot like wine in many ways. Climate and topography influence the flavour. Weather has a tremendous impact on the quality of the crop; the output varies from year to year. Each harvest, even with ideal weather, will have a range of quality. The crop must be picked and categorised with expert care. It must be steamed, fermented or both, to the right degree, not too little and not too much. The degree of care exercised by the producers depends partly on how discerning the market is.

There has been a steady decline in quality amongst many regions, even at renowned estates. If the weather does not co-operate, we don’t get good products no matter how good the producers are. However, there has clearly been some human contribution over the years. For example, it’s been quite a few years since the first flush from Darjeeling tasted like it should.

Surging demand from emerging markets brings buyers willing to pay any price for something, without understanding or caring about quality, because it’s ‘the thing to have’. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve seen that in wine, French in particular. The same has happened with tea. Producers get top money for mediocre output. So, why make the effort? I am guessing that the worst news to hit the Cuban cigar market is the US lifting the embargo. 

On a Sunday jolly in June, when we stopped for a nature break, I casually mentioned to him that it seems to be more and more difficult to find good Darjeeling these days. If he specialised in herbal and ‘detox’ nonsense and flavoured teas, he wouldn’t have anything substantive to say in reaction to my moaning. But he did. Pleasantly surprised, I was. Talking tea, on a bike, in Belgium.

Later I tell him that I’m in need of some tea. How is this year’s Gyokuro? He tells me Yame had a good crop and that he has some. I was stunned that he had any Gyokuro on hand.

I tell him that I’m also in the market for some white tea from southern China, expecting him to say he has no such thing on hand. He says he has some Yin Zhen. I thought, ‘Wot? You have Yin Zhen? You’re joking…’

And, any decent Darjeeling first flush, either SFTGFOP or FTGFOP grade? He tells me that he has a really nice batch from Tumsong. Tumsong was not familiar to me, and my ignorance had me feeling a bit suspicious. And then he proceeds to tell me that it’s a real, old guard production, what you expect a first flush to be like, from a small estate. OK, you got my attention…

 

He gave me a sample packet of Tumsong, and back at home I found that he was spot on. Darjeeling first flush as you would expect. Except it’s hardly ever available these days. It reminds me a bit of Castleton and a bit of Namring Upper when they were still producing excellent first flush many years ago. Marvellous. In this day and age, it seems even majestic.

Come autumn, I’m curious about the summer harvest, so I asked him how the second flush from Darjeeling turned out. ‘Too much rain, not enough wind, low grade crop. But I can still give you some if you want.’ OK, no second flush this year then.

Does he still have a kilo of Tumsong first flush to spare? Yes, he does. Fabulous.

Tea, cycling. Still surprised by the happy confluence…

Serving notes:

Gyokuro: 10g for every 60ml of spring water, steeped at 60°C, for 2.5 minutes 

Yin Zhen: 5g for every 200ml of spring water, steeped at 70°C, for 15 minutes 

Darjeeling first flush: 3.5g for every 200ml of spring water, steeped at 95°C, for 3 minutes 

I Remembered Why I Cycle

img_5702

I found myself unable to “find my legs” earlier in the year and struggled through the Spring Classics season and continued to struggle thereafter. I now believe that the reason is that I lost sight of why I cycle and that I needed to press the reset button somewhere.

In the weeks preceding the Spring Classics, I was doing regular sessions on the turbo trainer in preparation for the big sportives. In other words, I was training, not in a serious and structured way, but in my own little way. I don’t use a heart rate monitor or a power metre, but I was watching more mundane data like cadence, average speed, the miles I was eating and the number of hours perched on the saddle. It’s not at all something that a proper trainer would prescribe as a regime, but the point is that I wasn’t doing it just for the fun of it.

Yes, I was getting the endorphin high, but the truth is that I wasn’t enjoying it. The fact that I was not able to”perform” led to further negative feelings. It wasn’t fun any more.

Time was in short supply the last few months, and cycling, as an endurance sport, takes up a lot of time. Therefore, it requires organisation and prioritisation to make it fit in one’s schedule. One important driver to make it fit is for one to actually want to. After the Spring Classics, I couldn’t be bothered to make time for it.

Then, when I was in the south of Italy this summer, I went for a few rides. Nothing big or ambitious, routes between 30 and 50km, without any quantitative objectives. I just picked a few villages I wanted to see and just pedalled to enjoy the sites and scenery. The only constraints was to return in time for lunch or for a conference call. I realised I was having fun on the bike again despite being woefully out of shape. Of course, it helps to be in a picturesque area with good weather, but it reminded me of the reason why I got back on a bike several years ago.

I don’t commute by bike; I walk. I pin a number on my jersey every once in a while, but I don’t race. Cycling is purely recreational for me. Life tends to be full of obligations and responsibilites, but for me cycling is not something I should do or need to do, not something on the task list to tick. It’s when I can switch off. Preparing for the Spring Classics put it firmly on the to-do list. Cycling became yet another thing that I needed to do. That wasn’t good. For me.

I think the rot actually started last summer when I was doing my fourth charity fundraiser in connection with a multi-day cycling trip. I have raised funds for charities that work in areas that are important to me. Therefore, I put in a considerable amount of time and effort in preparing and carrying out my fundraising campaigns that span multiple channels. There are regular articles about donor fatigue, but I have yet to come across anyone writing about fundraiser fatigue. Even though I was raising funds for a worthy cause, there was no denying that I was experiencing fundraiser fatigue, probably because I was trying to do too many things simultaneously during those months. (My fatigue, of course, is nothing compared to the plight of the ultimate beneficiaries of the campaigns.)

I did my first fundraiser in connection with a cycling challenge because I wanted to be useful whilst having a bit of challenging fun. That is why I bothered to run 4 campaigns to date. However, last year was different because fatigue set in. I think this is when I started to think of cycling more as an obligation.

About 10 days ago, I hopped on the bike and headed south. I ended up in Leuven where I have never visited before. I pootled around town, through the university campus, and then I headed back home. I had the Garmin on, but I wasn’t looking at the numbers. Of course, once or twice I saw another roadie (minding his own business) up ahead and the chase was on… However, it was a care-free ride on a clear day, and I enjoyed every bit of it.

Just a pootle.

The Cockroach of Fashion

Jordache Basics

Stone-washed denim.

Just when I think it has disappeared for good (again), it comes back (again).

It simply won’t die.

Forget Brexit. Forget Trump. This is a serious matter.

Front Derailleur Alignment in a Flash

Aligning the front derailleur is a faff. But it does need some realignment every now and then. I used to avoid touching the front derailleur until it became embarrassingly obvious that it needs adjustment. Usually, it’s just the limit screws needing adjustment after riding lots of cobbles, or the cable tension needs to be increased a tad. The alignment usually remains unchanged unless the FD gets knocked by my right heel during a crash or a near-miss. However, I didn’t want to deal with the FD at all for fear of discovering that the alignment needs correcting.

Because it’s a faff.

And then, I discovered the Campagnolo front derailleur alignment tool.

It lets you get the alignment done in well under 10 seconds. Every time I use the tool, I think, Where were you all my life? So simple, so effective. For usage guidance, see pages 7-8 of this.

I have it from a reliable source that it also works with Shimano and Sram front derailleurs. (I wouldn’t know, would I?) Unlike most Campag tools, the price won’t make your bank manager nervous. Yet, it’s not very widely available for some odd reason.

Part number UT-FD120 or UT-FD020. If you don’t have it already, then get it. Less faffing = more riding.

A Perennial Challenge in Retail, Part 2

In the 1970s, a woman and her partner opened a Louis Vuitton Malletier franchise boutique in Munich and introduced the brand to Germany when LV was still owned and managed by the Vuitton family. Unsurprisingly, she still has several LV pieces from the 70s, one of which is a well-used Keepall bag.

Several years ago in the south of France, decades after her affiliation with LV had become a distant memory, she visited a Louis Vuitton boutique, owned and operated by LV, now a subsidiary of LVMH Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton, to have a repair job done on the Keepall.

After listening to her requirement, the LV sales associate took a quick glance at the bag and pronounced that it is fake.

Priceless.

Now, imagine if that sales associate told the same thing to someone who doesn’t really know the origin of the bag because it was a present from a thoughtful and generous person, or, so awkward to mention in this age of throwaway culture, it was handed down from a previous generation.

What can one say after receiving a divine revelation like that? My experience at Bottega Veneta in Paris was, I must say, a lot more subtle, if that’s the appropriate word.

With 1 1/2 times as many shops as Ikea, it’s no small undertaking for LV to train and manage all the front-of-house staff in all those retail locations. And, by training, I don’t mean just product knowledge but also conduct.

I know, it’s hard.

What bemuses me is the current trend (more like a mad rush) amongst product brands to have an army of ‘brand ambassadors’. They hand out products to these ‘ambassadors’ so that they can be seen in the wild and on social media using their products. The tactic itself has been used for ages, even before the advent of the Internet, but the practice of giving these people a formal designation is, I believe, a more recent phenomenon.

Some are famous people. Some are ordinary people.

With due respect to these people and without undermining the contribution that some are making in increasing awareness of the respective brands, none are ambassadors of the brand.

The real ambassadors, or rather, the people who should be the real ambassadors, are the brand’s members of staff, particularly those that come in direct contact with existing and potential end users and influence how they form a view about their relationship with the brand. That is not a revolutionary or innovative concept. Rather, it’s a very old one that has not lost one bit of its relevance.

However, it can be difficult to remember the important things when there is so much focus on gimmicks, buzz words, page views and likes.

Or, call me a dinosaur.

Break Rule #22 or You Are Not a Real Roadie

Most roadies know or at least heard of The Rules. The Keepers of the Cog wrote them with their tongues firmly in cheek. It is an entertaining read. It’s a cycling classic. The problem with these things is that they sometimes get the unimaginative and humourless ones all earnest about some or all of the Rules. The one that regularly comes up in a variety of channels, including those containing articles written by people paid to write them, is Rule #22.

I’m sure that some of those authors also have their tongues firmly in cheek when they mention it. However, I suspect that some are rather earnest. If things get repeated often enough, it’s bound to become gospel to the unenlightened.

Rule #22 states:

Cycling caps are for cycling.

Cycling caps can be worn under helmets, but never when not riding, no matter how hip you think you look. This will render one a douche, and should result in public berating or beating. The only time it is acceptable to wear a cycling cap is while directly engaged in cycling activities and while clad in cycling kit. This includes activities taking place prior to and immediately after the ride such as machine tuning and tire pumping.  Also included are cafe appearances for pre-ride espressi and post-ride pub appearances for body-refueling ales (provided said pub has sunny, outdoor patio – do not stray inside a pub wearing kit or risk being ceremoniously beaten by leather-clad biker chicks).   Under these conditions, having your cap skull-side tipped jauntily at a rakish angle is, one might say, de rigueur. All good things must be taken in measure, however, and as such it is critical that we let sanity and good taste prevail: as long as the first sip of the relevant caffeine or hop-based beverage is taken whilst beads of sweat, snow, or rain are still evident on one’s brow then it is legitimate for the cap to be worn. However, once all that remains in the cranial furrows is salt, it is then time to shower, throw on some suitable aprés-ride attire (a woollen Molteni Arcore training top circa ’73 comes to mind) and return to the bar, folded copy of pastel-coloured news publication in hand, ready for formal fluid replacement. It is also helpful if you are a Giant of the Road, as demonstrated here, rather than a giant douchebag.

In a normal world, I would read articles mentioning the above rule, be amused and move on. If some seem rather earnest, it is of no consequence.

However, we no longer live in a normal world.

Baseball caps are bloody everywhere.

They have infiltrated the pro-cycling circuit by being presented as ‘podium hats’. Bleedin’ blasphemy.

In any case, anyone who refers to caps as hats must be treated with the same suspicion as a man who wears his tie in a so-called full Windsor knot or a man who wears brown shoes with a navy suit. Not. To. Be. Trusted.

They make the 3 highest ranking cyclists of the moment look like under-nourished 18-wheeler drivers.

They are standing in front of global media channels, with their images beamed to all corners of the world.

Wearing baseball caps instead of cycling caps.

Nobody complains about all those people going about their business wearing baseball caps outside a baseball field. Some even wear a baseball cap with a lounge suit — if you have never seen such a specimen, go visit North America where there are plenty of them and other exotic species.

However, roadies are not supposed to wear cycling caps off the bike? And, what, wear baseball caps instead?

I don’t think so.

You’re not a real roadie if you are not habitually breaking Rule #22. You’re just a poseur.

I’m totally and utterly serious.

Curating a Wardrobe

What does that mean? (That is, assuming that it actually means something.)

 

%d bloggers like this: