So last week the Wall Street Journal published a piece on the death of Lycra cycling clothing. As if the use of man-made fibers, clipless pedals and shaved legs was one elaborate fad. Or fraud. The Journal doesn’t mind wooing controversy, and this was one of those occasions. The piece, “Cycling’s Spandez Coup d’Etat,” is a piece of work I honestly would have thought was beneath the publication. Why? Well, it confuses correlation with causation in that there has been an increase of riders not wearing Lycra and Lance Armstrong has fallen from grace. However, Armstrong’s fall did not cause people to huck their Lycra in the trash can anymore than he caused the rise of the hipsters. Then there’s the fact that while the writer cites Rapha as one of the brands selling clothing that subscribes to this new ethos. Nevermind the fact that most of what Rapha sells is, uh, Lycra. Pesky details. Similarly, Giro’s New Road line is an intriguing take on what cycling clothing can be. But it hasn’t exactly achieved the sort of penetration that merits the suggestion that Lycra is on its way out. Ditto for Levi’s.
While Giro’s new line has taken some flack, it’s truly an innovative take on what cycling clothing can be. Will it replace my RKP kit? Um, no. Do I think I could find a place for it in my wardrobe? Absolutely. It’s the sort of stuff I could see me wearing for a coffee ride or for running a bunch of errands by bike, or when heading out for a ride with my son.
The reader relatively unfamiliar with cycling will probably miss the fact that the only magazine editor quoted—Mia Kohut of Momentum—works for a lovely but tiny publication well out of the mainstream of cycling. Why not talk to Bill Strickland or Peter Flax of Bicycling? Similarly, my friend Josh Horowitz of Broken Bones Bicycle Co. was quoted, rather than anyone from Trek, Specialized or Giant. Josh is a good guy and has a fun take on the bike biz, but if you want to talk to someone who is actually influencing the industry, you’d be well-served to talk to John Burke.
Let me be ultra-clear about this: Using the shallow end of the bell curve as a bellwether for a new norm is just shoddy journalism.
Did Armstrong’s fall make it less fashionable to wear Lycra cycling clothing? Well that begs the question of whether or not it was ever fashionable, to which I have to answer only maybe. There’s no doubt, though, that the water has receded from whatever high-water mark wearing cycling clothing reached in relative hipitude. But what reporter Kevin Helliker misses is the simple fact that for 90 percent of us, Armstrong was never the reason we wore Lycra. We wear it because it works. What would have served both cycling and the reader better is if he’d chased the real story, not the sensationalist BS of projecting the demise of Lycra (which he prefers to refer to as Spandex).
There is a real story here in how cycling’s numbers are growing, thanks almost entirely to the hipster fixie movement. And it is a movement; we can no longer call it a fad. I’ll admit that you’ll never find me riding a fixed-gear bike in traffic. Why? I want to survive a while yet. You’ll never find me wearing skinny jeans. Why? I’m not skinny. You’ll also never find me growing facial hair for ironic reasons. Why? I’m not funny enough.
That said, I dig anything that gets more of us—and by “us” I don’t mean the us of cyclists, but the us of homo sapiens—out there. And that’s really the bottom line: More cyclists is better for anyone who rides a bike. An increased presence means more facilities, greater awareness on the part of drivers (at least, the ones who aren’t drunk), and more cyclists mean more livable communities. So while Giro has taken some heat for their New Road line, I honestly welcome it. People will ride more and longer if they are comfortable. For new cyclists, the idea that the price of admission means looking like a shrink-wrapped pro bass fisherman is too high for most people who self-select as normal. What Giro is doing has the ability to gradually integrate less-casual cyclists into die-hards of the sport.
And while we’re on the subject of Giro taking heat, last week also saw the arrival of a new ad campaign by the folks who brought back the lace-up shoe. In response to criticisms that the new Air Attack helmet looks like a skateboard helmet, they went to a skatepark with a road bike, a photographer and, well, let’s call him an acrobat. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t think it does anything to further the stated mission of the helmet—improved aerodynamic performance while still protecting your head—but it shows that they have a sense of humor and can laugh at themselves. Far too many people and companies in the bike industry lack this ability, and while there’s no requirement that you need to laugh at yourself, Giro’s perspective is refreshing. This ability to sit back and look at something critically, objectively is at the heart of the New Road line of clothing. Little wonder that they are responsible for both.
I’ve yet to wear the new helmet, but I’ve been wearing a few of the New Road pieces, a Merino top and the bib shorts and baggy-ish outer short. The fit is good and it’s comfortable. How much more than that is necessary is up for discussion. I’ve had a fair number of friends who understood adventure and a good time, but they’d never ride a bike because in their minds putting on Lycra meant surrendering their manhood at the garage door. I wish stuff like this had been available 20 years ago. It would have made my job at bike shops more interesting, more successful. Had there been a middle ground clothing-wise, I think we could have turned more bike buyers into committed cyclists.
Ultimately, my willingness to welcome Giro’s New Road line, or Club Ride or any of the other forays into this territory comes back to a point I made earlier. Even if they never wear Lycra, more cyclists on the road is good for those of us who choose to wear it. We’re less “other” once we’re both cyclists. More cyclists means better awareness that we’re out there and more acceptance that we have a right to be out there.
I’ve visited what feels like a hundred different cycling blogs. I love seeing what else is out there. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many I find myself visiting a third, fourth, fifth time. It’s once they become something that is part of my regular rotation that I really take note. Honestly, I’m surprised to learn what I find myself drawn back to repeatedly, those blogs that I need a fix of.
There’s a definite A-list. Competitive Cyclist’s “What’s New,” by Brendan Quirk, my old coworker Joe Lindsey’s “Boulder Report” and Bill Strickland’s “The Selection” are three that I wouldn’t want to live without. Fat Cyclist is my first-choice fix for humor and heart. But when it comes to European racing, I head to Pavé and The Inner Ring.
Bombshell alert: If you haven’t heard, Whit Yost has decided to cease publishing Pavé.
If ever I have experienced ambivalence, I’m having it right now. The thought that Pavé is going away is a lot like having a friend move away. I want a beer … or three. But by most definitions, there’s a silver lining. Two of the shining stars that made Pavé so great, Whit and Jeremy Rauch have agreed to contribute to RKP. I should be over the moon that two more stellar writers are joining RKP, but I can’t help be disappointed to see the blog go. And the thought that someone might think I was profiting off its demise would pain me. Worse, I see it through the lens of my own failures; as a result I understand it as the end of someone’s dream and that makes me really sad.
Whit and I have been in touch from time to time, sharing ideas and the requisite passion. How can you not? So when he informed me that he was going to wind Pavé down, I insisted that the cycling world shouldn’t lose his voice. The same, at minimum, for Jeremy. The truth is, there have been a number of great contributors at Pavé. I’m taking the biggest bite I can right now.
As if you need any justification for how good Whit’s work is, you’ll also be seeing his byline in Bicycling, both in print and online.
I’m going to level with you: I was never the guy who threw the party that everyone had to attend. That RKP—okay—that I have managed to recruit and attract so much extraordinary talent in just a few months time leaves me as pleasantly surprised as you. I’d have been okay if RKP was doing tomorrow exactly what it was doing last July. Not the same exact posts, mind you, but being based primarily on my and Robot’s work. Traffic was growing, the audience was happy and we were having fun doing work that we enjoyed doing. I swear to you, more than that was not necessary.
RKP has afforded me the opportunity to be the editor I always wanted to have. That is, to be encouraged to do good work and not worry about whether or not there was a ready audience or how the audience might benefit. Good prose is a benefit enough. But something’s happening here. RKP is becoming a repository for an alternative take on cycling writing. Richer, deeper, personal, it doesn’t qualify as journalism in the strictest sense.
In speaking to a few trusted friends about RKP’s growth they expressed some concern that RKP might end up focusing less on what our primary strength has been. In Competitive Cyclist’s End of the Year Awards Brendan Quirk wrote: “In reading RKP I’m often reminded of the days of yore when Campagnolo coined the phrase Quando La Tecnologia Diventa Emozione – ‘Where Technology Becomes Emotion.’ RKP is at its best when it focuses there — at that magical place in cycling where what we feel is inseparable from what we’re riding.”
I was as complimented by that as anything anyone has written about us. I don’t want four more contributors to do what Robot and I do. I want to see our bag of tricks grow. I want us to do more of the things we only occasionally do and I want to do it at the level of quality that our readers have come to expect. In adding Charles Pelkey, John Wilcockson, Whit Yost and Jeremy Rauch to RKP’s masthead, I’m certain that what you will find here will be broader editorially, but still in keeping with what you’ve come to expect from us. Our core mission of analysis, insight and inspiration will be well-served by these talented writers. And there’s a chance that such a great cast of characters will result in a prosodic critical mass, inspiring each of us to even better work in a verb-fueled synergy. Just maybe.
I hope you’re as excited for our future as I am.
One of cycling’s more prolific writers, Bicycling Magazine‘s Bill Strickland, is taking a break from his online duties to work on stuff for the print magazine; what exactly, I have no idea. What I can tell you is this: In their desperation for content, any content, they turned to RKP. To make matters worse, they asked me to be funny.
It seems they can both tell a joke as well as take one.
It’s a bit different from what I typically do here. The best I way I can think of to thank them for the opportunity is by suggesting you folks stop on by. You can either click on the picture of this really dirty Campy brake as seen on Bicycling‘s home page or just go here.