The Whee, the Science

The Whee, the Science

When it comes to long-form journalism on bicycles, there aren’t many outlets. I’ve positioned RKP as one—very deliberately, I might add. There’s also Peloton Magazine. The other real option for a writer hoping to publish a piece upward of 3000 words—and this may come as a surprise—is Bicycling Magazine. I see plenty of snarky comments about Bicycling on social media for their how-tos and listicles, but I’m not sure how many dedicated cyclists have really looked closely at the magazine in the past few years.

Beginning with Peter Flax’ tenure as the editor, the magazine made a big shift toward more long-form work and toward the interest of dedicated cyclists. It didn’t read like it assumed you’d been a cyclist for a single year. It took yet another step away from newbyhood when Bill Strickland took over as editor. If you haven’t listened to Fatty’s interview with Bill on the Fattycast, I suggest you do. It’s a terrific discussion of craft and of cycling. He also explained how he sat down with the brass at Rodale and asked them to let him and the staff create a bike magazine they wanted to read, to write as cyclists for cyclists. And they let him.

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I’ve been wanting to write about flow states for a broader audience, to have a chance to talk about flow and how perfectly suited cycling is to achieving it, and I decided to approach Strickland about doing a feature for Bicycling. He bit.

The piece is out now, in the June issue of the mag, which just hit newsstands. Senior Editor Gloria Liu edited the feature. She brought a deft touch and boatloads of insight. Without her efforts the piece wouldn’t be nearly as good. Another big nod to Design Director Jesse Southerland who let me regale him with the wonder that is flow over dinner one night at Interbike. Lucky me that I happened to be seated next to him. Lucky you that it inspired him to get creative with the art.

Readers of RKP will be familiar with the themes, but not all of the science I go into in the feature. I connect some dots that will surprise any cyclist, I hope. Yuri Hauswald also goes into some depth about his win at Dirty Kanzaa.

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I hope you’ll give the feature a read, and after that, I hope you’ll check out the rest of the magazine. This is not the Bicycling you stopped reading in the 1990s.

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27 comments

  1. Tom in Albany

    It was about 10 years ago that I stopped. Maybe I’ll pick up this one and see if I want back in.
    Congrats on the feature, Padraig.

  2. Craig Peer

    That was a good read. For the record, I get Bicycling Magazine and Peloton Magazine, and enjoy them both !!

  3. Jay

    I had had a subscription to Bicycling for between 15 and 20 years continuously until the 90’s and I let it lapse. I was busy raising two young boys and the content just didn’t resonate any more. Sometime about 2008 I started riding again, like I had when I was younger. In 2010 I invested in a bike upgrade and subscribed to Bicycling again. Riding my bike was back at the center of my life. Thanks to the internet I have a broader selection of cycling centric material to consume. I like Bicycling. I like Peloton. I like Velonews and Road Bike Action. I like RKP. I like BikeSnobNYC. I like the Velominati (although perhaps that should best be kept personal). I read the stuff here because I like it and because you can hear my thoughts and feedback. I haven’t finished the article in Bicycling yet and I hadn’t noticed your name attached, but I enjoyed what I have read (I was reading it over the weekend before I saw this). I am sure that the reminder will be just as good. I don’t write as a profession, so my opinion is just that, but I like what I read here at RKP because it is well done. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t bother to come back, and I certainly wouldn’t take time to comment. Keep up the good work!

  4. Michael

    Bill Strickland has done a nice job with Bicycling since his return. I have subscribed to Bicycling for a couple decades at least, as it came with my membership in the League of American Wheelmen (now Bicyclists). They discontinued including it in the membership this year, so I had to think about whether to pay to subscribe and Strickland had improved it to the point that I decided to do it. I’ll look for your article (I am behind on my mags at the moment after a tough winter).

  5. Dave King

    Thanks for the heads up, I will take a look. They published a great interview with Jon Vaughters a while back – much better and more in depth and challenging than anything I have ever read.

    In my mind, it’s a lot like Outside magazine – a lot of the content is merely a vehicle to sell product. But like Outside they do publish long articles that can be informative and compelling.

    In 2007 they published an article by Christie Aschwanden (sp?) who wrote about Tyler’s comeback from his doping suspension and attempted to explain why he would still be pushing his line about being clean. It was a striking story and I’ll never forget her portrayal of how Tyler’s dad stabbing his finger in a doubter/skeptic’s chest and raising his voice saying “YOU. ARE. NOT. A. BELIEVER!” Through her words it became clear just how hard it would be for him to really confess.

  6. MikeG

    Read the article and it all seemed so familiar, so I looked back to check the author and realized it was you! Now the familiarity made sense! I did have a thought/question after reading through it; in your research did you come across any info on musicians reaching flow state, or trying to? It just seems like an intriguing parallel with different physical requirements. I believe I have brushed up against flow a few times, sometimes on bicycles, and sometimes on motorcycles – I’ve tried to describe it as every shift being spot on, and a sense of being indestructible. It always seems quite a bit random as to when it takes place, but is most enjoyable and certainly something you feel a desire to seek and capture once again! Thanks for trying to articulate such a fleeting, nimble beast…


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Thanks for the kind words.

      Regarding flow, I think what’s important to understand is that flow is the high point in human experience. It’s the absolute optimal state of being and it matters not one whit what you are chasing. It’s simply the expression of excellence achieved, the reward for being really good at something. So it’s not the domain of extreme athletes or even endurance athletes. Doesn’t matter if you’re a musician, a motorcycle rider, a baker or a software coder. Doesn’t matter. All you need is a challenge and just enough skill to meet that challenge. That knowledge, that flow could be just around the corner, can fundamentally how we view the world around us.

  7. Jim

    Hmmm, their RSS feed is still full of listicles and clickbait crap. I’m extremely skeptical of the paper mag. But your opinion counts for a lot. I’ll have a look. I have noticed a lot of other competition online or newstand such as Adventure Cyclist which are worth a look too. It would be nice if there were limited or no auto ads in these mags.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      The staff at Bicycling have a tough job. It’s not easy to produce a magazine that will appeal to several hundred thousand cyclists. It needs the short bits, the brainy bits, the gear reviews and just enough sizzle to look good on the newsstand. I once compared Bicycling to People as a means to point out their need to appeal to a broad populace. Some took that as a slight, though it wasn’t. Bicycling has often served as cycling’s front line for creating bike interest. That magazine is quite effectively the sport’s most visible advocate due to its visibility on newsstands. As to the auto ads, big, non-endemic advertisers do much to help pay the bills, without which their staff would be much smaller, and their budget for great freelance work much tinier.

  8. michael

    I can’t get Bicycling in my home town here in Quebec, and while I used to subscribe I let that lapse well over 10 years ago. Peloton is my go-to now, though I have noted the sea-change at Bicycling in quality just from accessing via their web site.

    I’ll also add that Matt Phillips is the best tech-editor in the business not named James Huang, though Ben Edwards is up there as well too. Really the top three right there.

    As for the whole long-form cycling journalism angle, frankly if a web site or magazine doesn’t commit to this style, I will display the attention span for said site of an acute AOADD sufferer.

    I miss the Belgian Knee Warmers blog in this respect, and thankfully RKP came along to fill that void. I managed to contribute to that blog once before Whit moved on to other projects, feels like a missed opportunity to break into cycling writing on a more regular basis.

  9. MattC

    I’ve not been a roadie near as long as I’ve been a MTB’er…but I’ve been subscribing to Bicycling for a few years now (my other cycling mag that I’ve subscribed to for a LONG time now is Bike). I’m anxious to read your piece…the mag just hit my mailbox a few days ago…and I typically put them all aside for travel days (gives me something to do in airports and airplanes), but I might just have to sneak a peek at this one…thanks for the heads-up!

  10. Frederick B.

    Am going to stop on the way home from work to see if I can find a copy. Looking forward to reading this…

  11. Greg

    My Bicycling subscription came through my IMBA membership. The magazine is much improved compared to anything from Rodale published in the previous 20 years. They need to stop dropping so many f-bombs, though. I understand if they’re quoting someone, but that word doesn’t ever need to be used in an article otherwise. That’s lazy journalism. I stopped reading Outside for the same reason.

  12. Michael

    They are putting out the best magazine they ever have. Not always the first block but that is not what I expect. A decent mix of standard big brand stuff and some well edited cool. Just like Velo News, they know that the hardcore guy is on 5 websites a day getting the results, reviews, shopping, participating in the forums. So how do you make the paper version relevant and not just a repeat of a month old article. They do ok. Since Peter took charge you get the feeling that these guys ride and live the lifestyle. Like going into a bike shop and you see the old overweight guy and think “did he ever ride a bike?”, are you going to trust he is up to date on things. Will give credit to Steve Madden (sp?), I think he made the first moves. Peter and Bill took it to next level. Their website still stinks though. Love Bills writing but he did push the LA Kool Aid for a long time. Lastly, I miss Joe Parkin and Paved, it would be great to still have them around but they were too similar to Peloton on many levels. As an old timer, I like the history and look back that adds to the content.

  13. Geoffrey Knobl

    Flow? What is flow? I had to look it up. Okay. It’s being in the zone, sort of, but just being completely absorbed by something you’re doing, so much so, that you don’t notice your pain or exhaustion. I’ve been there as have most of us here. There is something pure about that, a singularity of purpose. That’s usually when a dog rushes out or a tire flats for me. I’m hoping I can get my son into that. It’s hard when you’re stressing about a B you’re getting in Civics since that’s the only thing preventing straight A’s. A middle school kid shouldn’t worry about that. And SOLs? Ugh, they add to it way too much. So, he’s taken up track. But he didn’t do as well this year as last and was a bit bummed by that. We’re going to a local flat ride, the only one in the area with a 20 mile windy stretch of road totaling less that 1% uphill and nothing more that that at any one point. Out, turn around and come back for 40 if you want, or turn right and climb a mountain for an additional 13 total miles. Something to take his mind off what should be the minor troubles in otherwise care-free years. I have a feeling I’ll want to kill it on the ride but I know he probably won’t keep up. So, I need to dial it back and see if we can’t trade off being on point. He might enjoy it then. That’s what I’m hoping. And maybe he’ll find the escape into the flow you mention. That would do him quite a lot of good.

  14. souleur

    well, thanks for that Padraig, because between you and buddy, I will have to give this new merit. Put me in that category of ‘gave up’ on Bicycling in the past. I gave it up because years ago, it felt like a waste of time picking it up and reading the dumbed down approach to ‘snip n clip’ tid bits and recurrent boring jargon monthly. I mean, between a nice photo op and a 15 word summary, including the spec sheet in a bike was considered a bike review.

    And I don’t believe that punching others does any good, so I won’t go there in regard to mentioning and ranting other magazines or so called journals.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I get it entirely that some publications must appeal to masses. The introductory cycling 101 course starts somewhere. Just that for me, I am looking at the advanced details, the post graduate cyclists Biblical studies where details of bicycle geometry like trail, reach, drop are not overlooked or where the cursory review purposely does not mention the proverbial stiff yet compliant issues we read so often.

    Nonetheless, Buddy keeps telling me monthly about the articles Bicycling is including, and is quite enthusiastic, so I’ll pick up this months and read.

    Agreed, that Peloton is good, Joe Parkins Paved was fantastic and I miss it, as is RKP top of the class
    There really are few that capture the demographic I find myself in, which makes it a bit hard, not impossible, I just have to read then do homework. That probably describes 99% of the readership here

  15. Jonathan Medina

    I am a subscriber to Bicycling Magazine. I read this article this morning. It’s the best thing they have published in a long time.

  16. Shawn

    Bicycling is trying some new things. I’ll give it credit for that. When they invited the yonderjournal crew to do an article, I saw they were going in the right direction. Maybe just a little.

  17. Peter Flax

    Really looking forward to reading the story.

    Appreciate the kind words, but wanted to make sure I said out loud that Bicycling did tons of outstanding longform work before I got there. Many, many incredible stories by Steve Friedman; a piece on collisions by Mike Magnuson that won a National Magazine Award; Christie Aschwanden’s piece on Tyler Hamilton; Dan Koeppel’s story about hispanic riders in East L.A.; numerous Strickland pieces; and others I’m sure I’m missing.

    Mag has been on upward swing for a decade now.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      A fair rebuttal, and good praise for fine writers; I do recall Dan’s story really standing out. My outsider’s perspective falls victim to its own bias, but your leadership caused me to tune in to a new degree.

  18. David

    I basically just started riding last Sept, at the age of 57, when I pulled down the bicycle hanging in my garage ( which I bought in 1990 and only rode 250 miles before the birth of my first child and a return to semi-competitive tennis).
    At the time I decided wasting somethings like $13 for a subscription to Bicycling wouldn’t really break the bank. I knew much of the content was fluff but and product sales focused but I’ve been glad I subscribed as every now and then something really resonates when I’m going through it.

    This is all long-winded way of saying that I picked it up last night, about a week after receiving and glancing through, and read your article on flow state without realizing that it was yours until just now. I really enjoyed the piece – in fact it’s the best article I’ve read in the magazine since I started getting it.
    – Although how to wrap a taco for my back pocket may rival it. 😉
    OK, time to saddle up for a couple of hours through the hills of Oakland and the S.F. East Bay – not quite as nice as Sonoma but not bad at all.
    Thanks for your article and website!

  19. Frederick B.

    I did pick up the magazine last week but didn’t get a chance to read your article ’til last night. Very informative and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I love well-written articles where I learn something new or confirm something I already knew. Your article does both. I’ve been “in the zone” only occasionally since taking up cycling a couple years ago, but have experienced it often in the past, especially while skiing or flying. I, too, have always wondered about those times when everything seems more “real” and time slows down or speeds up but have never had anyone I could discuss it with who might understand. I may not completely understand all the physio-neuro-chemical processes yet, but it all makes much more sense to me now, thanks to your article. “Bicycling” was smart to include your article — and they ought to include more of your writing! I’ll be watching their magazine for more from you. If you become a regular there, I’ll subscribe.

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