Community

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I’ve got a reader who goes by the initials KCE who occasionally sends me bike-related art. Each of the items above are something I received in the mail. The first time I received one I thought, “Well, that’s kinda cool, but also kinda random.” If memory serves, the first one was that cable hanger. The second time I received one, it seemed much less random. They kept coming. Not frequently, and nothing you could time even an Asian train by, but periodically one shows up in the mail. When I opened the one with the rendering of the patch I laughed out loud. I can’t say why, but it tickled me.

The rim profiles also cracked me up because they have the look of something done with rubber stamps. And no one would go to the trouble to cut up a bunch of rims (especially a carbon tubular) just for some art.

Or would they?

My favorite is the one in the lower left corner, which to my eye is the unmistakable shape of a handlebar bend. It’s such a tiny examination of the bicycle as thing of beauty that it could only come from the soul of an artist. When I open the mailbox and find one of those tiny envelopes with the initials “KCE” handwritten on the back, I always smile. I should also acknowledge that on one occasion, shortly after the Deuce came home, the envelope contained an added kindness.

I’ve managed to learn a bit more about the artist, but the personal details aren’t really the point. In an email to me their creator called them “postal love.” I like that phrase, but I like the urge behind them even more. No quid pro quo. Just cuz.

My sense of personal modesty always wonders why I get these things. Google Analytics likes to slap my modesty around. We’ve got tens of thousands of people who stop by RKP on a very regular basis to check out content that can’t be as easily described as the perfectly straightforward Cyclingnews. Describing us to the uninitiated isn’t easy. I know. Even I have a tough time describing RKP when I get asked a question at a barbecue about what it is I do.

So while I know that we’ve forged a connection with many readers, I’m still not entirely sure how it happened. Or why. I take these little pieces of art from KCE as a symbol for that connection, a kind of best-case scenario.

I bring this up because I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately, my notion of community, how I’ve been served by the cycling community at large and buoyed by the RKP readership in specific. If the neighborhood park is what makes your community a friendlier, more inviting place to live, then this art is a bit like a park. I didn’t start RKP to coax kindness from people. That would require a variety of ego and arrogance that would impress even Donald Trump.

My idea of commerce when I started RKP was basically ad revenue and some T-shirt sales. Simple. Obvious. Uncomplicated. Something else happened along the way. And whatever we want to call that something else—community seems a fair term—it has gotten me through some very difficult times.

Owing to the vagaries of my introspective nature my thinking about how this community has served me has led me to examine my place in it. It’s here that I need to acknowledge just how important our advertisers have been to keeping the lights on and the servers running. Without them, I’d be flipping burgers … or selling my body to science. In thinking about how important they’ve been to me and how much I admire the people behind the companies that have supported RKP, I came to a conclusion about my relationship to them.

I’m not doing enough.

I think the old days where publishers and advertisers carried on an uneasy courtship in which both wanted to get lucky but neither wanted to get married don’t really work anymore. Changes in the publishing world aside, keeping my advertisers at an arm’s reach no longer makes sense. You, the RKP readers, stepped up for me in a very personal way. If I’m going to profess my appreciation for this community, it’s inconsistent for me to stand up for the readers and not for my advertisers. After all, for more than a month I wrote about very little that was part of our stated editorial mission. I wrote about a kid who won’t ride a bike for probably two more years. And yet, not a single advertiser complained or backed out. They stood by me and often called to express their concern and interest. That’s real friendship.

While I don’t think I’ve done my current advertisers a disservice, I plan to do more. By more, I mean more content about them or their passions. It wouldn’t be accurate to call what’s on my mind “advertorial” as it won’t be written under their direction, but I’ve got a desire to devote more pixels to what they do.  I could just start doing these pieces, whatever they may look like—while some of this may end up as gear reviews, my purpose is to color outside the lines—but in an effort to be transparent about my values and priorities, I think a heads-up is in order.

This might drive away some readers. I hope not, but I accept that for the ultra-cynical set—those who believe that any bike company that has filed articles of incorporation to be an evil institution—this may not go over well. So be it. I’ve got two boys who are going to grow up seeing me play with bicycles for a living. I owe it to them to be as forthright about my values as I can be and to do all I can to really live them consistently. Cherry-picking who and what I support among the people who have stood up for me will send my kids a pretty lousy message. They, and you, deserve better.

I’ve already begun reaching out to our advertisers with an email drafted along these lines. I’m calling it a statement of values. Feet, meet fire.

The good news is, if I do this right, I think we’ll end up chasing some fun stories.

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25 comments

  1. Alan

    I think it’s more than suitable to give out some serious advertiser love. Our local bike organizer, Dan Porter of Your Group Ride, does the same. And it helps keep our local races alive.

    Also, that art is AWESOME. My favorite is the tube patch.

  2. samiam

    If you continue to provide insightful prose, I will continue reading. I visit RKP for the quality of the content, not because I have some huge passion for cycling.

    (I haven’t visited Velonews in months. The fact that RKP tends to revolve around cycling is a bonus.)

  3. Michael

    I’d have to give a thumbs up to Samiam (or whatever the symbol of the week is on most news sites). I find a well written article can make anything interesting (I’m not sure how but I’ve managed to waste more time than I care to admit reading a history of the map of the London underground – Tube.) A poorly written article about riding, something I love, and I have seen myself close the browser window before I get through the first paragraph.

    RKP is well written, please I don’t care what you say, just keep saying it this well.

  4. LesB

    Like you are the last person who needs to do any apologies.

    Fun art. Wouldn’t mind seeing more in the future.

  5. H M

    Strange, when I saw the picture (before I read the article) I instantly saw the one in the lower left corner as a velodrome from above, cote d’azure, black line, sprinters line, blue line.

    I wonder if I am alone in this ?

  6. Souleur

    Kudo’s on this Padraig

    as an admitted skeptic (in life) and having lived long enough to see the purest of motives and intrests get polluted by corporate greed and profiteering, its a refreshing virtue to be seen that someone sticks to his guns…in the kindest and most politically correct terms of course, but you know what I mean. Its truly refreshing.

    And it must be quite a juggling act, one I am frankly glad I am not having to juggle…that of entrepeneur, and that of father/teacher


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Thanks for the kind words everyone. It means a lot.

      Just waiting for that dissenting voice so that we can get the conversation really started.

      Patrick24: Charles works awfully hard when he’s doing LUG, so he takes (and we’re happy to give him) a breather following the grand tours. I hope we’ll see a one or two before the Tour starts.

  7. DclDJ

    Not a dissenter, per se, though I will admit a healthy skepticism of product reviews where the product’s maker is also a sponsor. I’ve read enough of your reviews, Padraig, to believe you can pull if off. My greatest criticism of most products is “I don’t need it”.

    I don’t wear Assos or Rapha. I dream of someday owning a Sachs bike, but, for now, it will stay a dream. At the end of the day you’ve got to follow your beliefs and values. Whether that drives people away or brings them in, que sera, sera.

  8. Alan

    I have an idea, rather than a dissent.

    How about the stories about the advertisers? History, future ideas, and anecdotes/interesting facts.

    That way it’s not just product reviews.

  9. Full Monte

    I think KCE’s handlebar study is rather a good inspiration for advertorial narrative.

    An upside down inside out niche in the corner look into their passion – a micro illustration of their macro existence. Show us how their bar starts to bend. We’ll take it from there.

  10. Shawn

    I agree with samiam, but would go one more step. If the content is good, the advertisers will stay. But I don’t think kissing the advertisers will make the content any better.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Shawn: You raise an interesting point, one I’ll take as a compliment to the work we’ve been doing, so thank you. The interesting caveat about good content is how many companies have proven not to care that much about the quality of the content and only look at the number of eyeballs we deliver. Those companies that advertise with us because of nothing other than the quality of our content have changed my life. I might not kiss ‘em, but I’m going to make sure to give ‘em a big hug. As to what will make our content better I’m clueless. Every day we’re trying to do that. Some days are better than others, but we keep trying.

  11. ervgopwr

    I agree with HM, I see a slightly less than oval velodrome. Much like our less than perfect facility here in San Diego.

    As to the concept of more for your advertisers; I consider myself a long timer having started with BKW, and I think those that also started there, or wished they did, will know that the quality of writing, passion for cycling and unique insight is what makes today’s RKP special. I say keep that BKW flair when writing about the companies and everything will work out just fine.

  12. David

    I had to comment on the artwork. Handlebar? No, the arc is too tight. And how would you explain the darker shaded section anyway. Looks like more than just shadow to me. Maybe a lip of material, I think. A velodrome? No, again the arc is just not right.

    What is it then? When I saw it I immediately saw a section of horizontal dropout.

    As for the question regarding the new advertorial (?) content. Go for it, Padraig. Your are a writer of no small talent and I have no doubt you will continue to provide us with insight and entertainment. Besides, how many “Cycling is beautiful and wonderful and painful and I am a masochist” articles can one read? ;)

  13. Peter lin

    What brings me back to RKP is the quality of the writing. Quality speaks for itself. Quality should be praised regardless of where it comes from. I thoroughly enjoy the product reviews and insights into various companies in the cycling world. Look forward to reading future pieces.

  14. punkture

    As a long time reader, what has always brought me back here in no particular order are: the quality of the writing, the earnest love of the road bike and the use of it and the honest, insightful and interesting reviews which stand apart from most other outlets in the bike industry which are so obviously driven by the need to appease sponsors. I suppose, as long as you would be happy to give a Specialized product a poor review then carry on, but it would be nice to see a broader range of stuff reviewed on here too.

    Anyway, its your site so do your thing. Up to now its been awesome and I hope it continues to be.

  15. Ron S

    I’ll go with handlebars, but what is the “bug” card?

    As long as the writing quality is there, I’ll be here. I’m interested in anything related to cycling or, quite frankly, anything you write, Padraig. The quality or better said, your humanity always shines through. Your family is lucky to have you. You are a real mensch.

    I personally am also interested in history. Please toss in a little background about the companies, the people and the products involved. It’s great to see how a product evolved from a simple napkin idea to something shipping out the back door.

    Take care,
    RonS

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