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.