In 2008, Radio Freddy arranged for the two of us to meet Brad Roe, then the editor of Hi-Torque’s Road Bike Action. While Radio Freddy was in town for the Tour of California, we met Brad and took a tour of the offices that had produced countless issues of magazines we did a better job of memorizing than the algebra texts found in our book bags during our school days.
From that one meeting a relationship with Brad and RBA grew. I’d admired the work those guys were doing and the chance to begin freelancing for them was a dream come true. I began freelancing for VeloNews once again, following a more than 10-year hiatus. And when Paved was launched, I was thrilled to hear from Joe Parkin requesting a contribution.
That I chose to launch Red Kite Prayer is an event I believe some BKW readers misunderstood. Comments in response to my post announcing RKP got snarky and suggested I was disloyal to Radio Freddy and I wasn’t showing proper appreciation for the “sponsorship” I received. Just what that sponsorship was, I’ll never know.
I really hadn’t wanted to turn my back on BKW and it wasn’t a slight to Radio Freddy. Facts were facts, though. His day job was busy and he didn’t have the time to put into a blog that I did. And it wasn’t really practical for me to assume the helm of a ship that wasn’t mine. He encouraged me to launch a new blog and even suggested he’d contribute to it, turning the tables in an unusual twist. For me, it came down to a matter of practicality: To make a living as a freelancer, I needed to make something off of all my work, whether it came from T-shirt sales, advertising or (preferably) both. RKP hasn’t made me rich, nor do I expect it to, but it’s added an important additional revenue stream (to use a technical term) to my business model. Ahem.
When Brad left RBA I was equal parts surprised and depressed. I loved working with him and feared that a terrific relationship was going to go down the drain. I knew we’d stay in touch, but I feared we’d never work together again. It’s not often you work with an editor who challenges you and then gives you enough leash to go do good work. Mere months later he decided he missed publishing and announced a new road bike magazine, peloton. When he called to ask me to be a part of the magazine and even offered me a column I didn’t need time to think before saying yes.
Unfortunately, once I began freelancing for peloton, my days at Road Bike Action were numbered, even though the writing I did for the two couldn’t have been more different. I’d never have written the analysis pieces or columns that have appeared in peloton for Road Bike Action. Conversely, the overview features that I typically did for RBA would never suffice for peloton. I really enjoyed the diversity. However, Hi-Torque hasn’t taken kindly to having an ex-employee (Brad) start a new magazine. Getting caught in the middle was zero fun, but then no one ever enjoys being collateral damage. For a period of time I put the Swiss Cross up as my profile pic on Facebook. That didn’t seem to phase anyone, so when RBA’s ad sales director pulled me aside at Interbike and told me, “You can’t freelance for four magazines,” I responded, “I’m not; I’m freelancing for three.” I added, “Look, I’m a freelancer, which means I’m a hooker. If you want me to spend the night, marry me.”
I admit, I was impressed when they offered me a full-time position. They offered to create a special status for me, so that while they didn’t want to see most of their editors more than four or five times in a month, they expressed a strong desire to have me in the office all five days a week. I’d have the opportunity to brainstorm ideas on the hour-and-a-half drive each way to and from work and I’d be liberated of the need to care for my year-old son on a daily basis. Though the allure of the position was strong—especially because their urgency was so great they never put an offer in writing—I realized that as a lowly blogger publishing a new piece five days a week probably hadn’t prepared me for the rigor of their publication schedule. I decided the best thing I could do was allow them to hire someone more qualified.
It used to be that in working as staff for a magazine you exchanged the freedom to freelance for a steady paycheck. It was a Faustian trade, I tell you. Today, though, we have a much better arrangement, thanks to 1099s. The good news in this is writers like me who are unencumbered by the strictures of employment used to face a dizzying array of possible homes for our freelance work. It was utterly confusing to get up each morning and wonder who I should pitch for which story. That needless task has been solved for me, though. The more my name has become associated with peloton, the less other magazines have been willing to work with me. I’m pretty introverted, so having the phone ring less with offers of work has lifted a tremendous burden from me.
Of course, I still query other magazines from time to time, but I really do it just to keep appearances up. I really don’t want my name getting around too much; that might get confusing for readers.
Though my involvement with peloton has been strictly freelance, the assignments I’ve tackled have been some of the most challenging and rewarding of my entire career. The chance to have my analysis of greats like Eddy Merckx, Fausto Coppi and Claudio Chiappucci appear alongside never-before-seen photos from some of the finest photographers in the biz puts a smile on my face while helping to pay the rent. Life is good.
So what’s the point of this story? First, it’s to say thanks (again) to Radio Freddy for giving me a chance to reinvent myself as a writer. That I’ve carved out a niche for myself as an author in the bike industry is both incredibly rare and something that came about as a direct result of my involvement in BKW. What has also been truly gratifying are the people who have come forward to tell me how much they enjoyed BKW and even some instances where other writers have noted how it influenced their desire to write or what to write about. That there are other blogs out there that owe some of their inspiration to BKW is something I’d never have guessed would happen.
But I’m not the only person who re-entered the bike biz due to BKW. Radio Freddy is back among us. I guess this sport is a bit like some viruses—once in your system it’s there for good. His re-entry has created an opportunity for us to collaborate again, though our involvement will be found at another web address.
To find out his real identity and see what he’s up to, pick up Issue 10 of peloton.
Image: Brad Roe
This past summer I had a get together with friends to celebrate the release of my book The No-Drop Zone. All I’d had in mind was a chance to enjoy a beer or three with some friends and a sense of accomplishment—and relief—at having the book out. I wanted to feel that release of pent-up steam from the boiler.
What I didn’t anticipate was that a half-dozen friends became one dozen, then two. A copy of the book was passed around the table and people would grab me to tell me how amazed they were by the book. With three years of effort invested in the book I deserve to feel some amount of pride in its achievement, in my accomplishment. I struggle with that. Often times, in my head, I’m still the twentysomething long hair walking into my first graduate seminar. No matter what I know objectively of the skill I’ve honed, my parents instilled in me a need to remain modest about my work that can curtail any urge to thump my chest. I tell people it’s less my book than a tribute to the sport’s many sages who took me under their wing. It’s both the truth and a way to dodge something I struggle to do in-person: accept praise.
Next week, peloton‘s eighth issue will be released. It’s a photo annual featuring the work of eight incredibly talented shooters, and it is carried by a 15,000-word manifesto I wrote in a week spent in a near-meditative state. While it’s not a book, its breadth of vision and ambition for an emotional connection with the reader caused me to lay it all out there. I can’t say I’m not nervous about what the audience’s reaction will be. I’m amazed to receive this opportunity to go as hard and deep as possible—it feels like my race radio just crackled and my team director told me to put my head down and drill it. Two hundred kilometers later I’m rolling into the velodrome at Roubaix, all alone. That I got this chance owes to a sequence of events I’ve been thinking about ever since driving home from the bar following the book party.
The first was approaching Maurice Tierney of Dirt Rag at the NORBA National at Mount Snow in 1991 and asking him about the possibility of freelancing for his mountain bike magazine. He was immediately receptive and told me about the sort of material he’d love to see more of.
The second was a phone call to Richard Fries, the publisher of The Ride magazine. I’d done some writing for them, but my contact at the magazine said Richard would be overseeing all the freelancers and if I wanted to continue writing for them, I needed to contact him. I waited a few weeks and then—despite my fear of calling someone I didn’t know—picked up the phone. At the other end, after I introduced myself, Richard said in a bright voice, “Oh, I know that name.” So began our friendship.
The next was a phone call placed on a snowy March morning. I’d been trying to get an interview with Bicycle Guide, a magazine I thought was beyond cool. For reasons I couldn’t understand, they kept seeming to circle, but not interview me. So I picked up the phone at 9:00 am with the plan of leaving a message for the editor, Garrett Lai. After all, I was on the East Coast, he on the West. A deep voice answered. What the hell? I thought. He told me how he was working crazy hours because they were a man down. So I said, “You need work done. I want to do the work. You should hire me.” At least four more times in that conversation I told him point blank: hire me. Eventually he said, “Alright, let me talk to HR;” 24 hours later I had a plane ticket to Los Angeles. By the end of the day I had an offer.
In the wake of the demise of my magazine Asphalt, I was trying to imagine a way for me to re-enter the bike industry as a writer. I was depressed and wasn’t sure I could get arrested, even if I pepper-sprayed an entire preschool. One night I was trolling Craigslist when I ran across a listing for a publisher looking for someone to write a mountain biking guidebook to Los Angeles. Menasha Ridge Press’ acquisitions editor Russell Helms became a friend and confidant and six months later I was writing a road riding guide book to my adopted home. It was that relationship that led to the opportunity to write The No-Drop Zone.
Fast forward another year or so and one evening I send Brad Roe, the editor of Road Bike Action a query. I’d written a post for Belgium Knee Warmers but upon completion, I realized it really didn’t fit. I wanted it to receive a home and I wrote Brad with the hope that RBA‘s web site might provide an audience. His was an enthusiastic yes. Two months later he was in touch with an offer to write one of the more fun features I’ve ever penned, “Magic or Mutiny”, which you can find reprinted here.
For most, the lesson here is that it pays to get off your ass and network. That’s not my takeaway. I’m fundamentally introverted; reaching out to people I don’t know is painful and scary. At each turn these people received me enthusiastically, made me feel welcome and like I had something important to contribute. Had even one of those people been in the middle of a bad day and rebuffed me—the pretty girl who spurns the advances of the guy with romance in his eyes—I can say in all likelihood I wouldn’t be here writing this to you now.
To each of those men who entertained my approach, as skilled, daft, ill-prepared or urgent as I might have been, I’m here to say thank you. Maurice, Richard, Garrett, Russell and Brad: I’m grateful for the opportunities you gave me. I hope that you feel your efforts on my behalf were rewarded. I’ll never forget what you did for me.
When I first interviewed for a position at Bicycle Guide part of my screening hinged on my interest in writing how-to articles aimed at beginners. The powers-that-be had determined that the magazine needed to do more to embrace entry level riders, though there was no move afoot to turn the magazine entirely mainstream, a la Bicycling.
Some months later Joe Lindsey (these days of Bicycling and “The Boulder Report”) and I commented to each other that those article should be collected in a book. After all, once each issue went off the newsstand, there was no way for a new rider to find that material. It was gone. Imagine text books that self-destructed like those tapes on Mission Impossible.
It was then that I began concocting the idea of a reference text to roadies. It’s obvious purpose would be to educate new riders, but done right, I thought it could have the ability to offer rich background material that would interest even the dedicated roadie.
Creating an outline for a book isn’t that hard. Putting together a proposal that will interest a publisher is another matter entirely. Because my idea fell outside of the traditional how-to manuals that teach riders either how to be fast or how to fix a bike many people I talked to didn’t see the need for it. Of course, none of those people I talked to had ever joined in a group ride. Fortunately for me, the people at Menasha Ridge Press saw the value in taking a total newbie through what is essentially Road Cycling 101.
Between writing the proposal, then the text, and, later, the editing, I’ve devoted a fair chunk of the last five years of my life to this book. Greg Page, the photographer responsible for most of the photos illustrating the text is the only man I know with the knowledge of the sport, the skill as a shooter and the patience necessary to work with me to have made the book as visually instructive as it is. His contribution cannot be overstated. Greg and I spent the better part of a year just on the photo shoots the book required. Honestly, writing this book was tougher than finishing graduate school.
For dedicated readers of RKP, there is, admittedly, a fair amount of information that will be rudimentary to the point of obvious. It’s likely that in chapters like the ones on group riding, advanced skills, materials and construction and geometry (as well as others) that you’ll find information that will be novel to you. The chapter on professional racing can serve you as a handy cheat sheet—’Wait, did Merckx win 525 or 535 times?’ ‘Did Bernard Hinault win more Grand Tours than Lance?’
I’ve written The No-Drop Zone not as a reflection of my experiences and beliefs, but rather as a compendium of all those who taught me over the years. I am hopeful that even the most experienced would find it an enjoyable and even illuminating read.
The bike industry has been extremely supportive of this book. Andy Hampsten lent his insight to the foreword, and authorities no less auspicious than Mike Sinyard of Specialized, Fatty of Fat Cyclist, Brad Roe of peloton and Joe Parkin at Paved have lent their expertise and endorsements. Heck, recent silver medalist at the World Championships, Dotsie Bausch, gave me considerable assistance with the chapter devoted to women’s issues.
I’m hoping that each of you will pick up a copy of The No-Drop Zone for the simple reason that nothing will sell this book as well as a recommendation from an experienced cyclist, like you, the readers of RKP.
I’m learning that pre-orders for a book online can have a profound effect if bricks-and-mortar stores stock a given book. Naturally, having this book in every Barnes & Noble around the country would do me a world of good and provide more availability to cyclists who like to shop retail. If you’re interested in this book, I hope you’ll go to the bn.com site and place an order for it. We’re probably five or six weeks from shipping the books out, but your pre-orders could have a powerful role in that chain’s decision to stock it in all of their locations. You can find the book here.
In 2002 I got a loan from my father as well as one from my mom, emptied my 401k and sold four bikes. Totaled, it would have been a downpayment for a modest house, just not in LA. Why? Because I was stuck in my life.
I was one of the editors for a magazine called Bicycle Guide for a few years in the late ‘90s and was on assignment in France when the publisher pulled the plug. The magazine had weathered a few lousy years and seemed to be making a turnaround when they killed it, 10 months before Lance Armstrong won his first Tour de France. After that, the whole road market experienced a turnaround even a Mini Cooper could admire.
Once home, I moped. The world didn’t make sense to me. The magazine had a readership of 100,000, give or take. There were advertisers. And the publisher had a bloated payroll filled with executives that fought over just how cheap to be. I figured a lean operation could unite the loyal readers with good content. And the lean operation could offer reasonable ad rates to reach those readers.
But in 1999, paper was passé. There was this thing called the Internet and people were willing to throw money at me to the tune of six figures for an operation that would have no identifiable revenue stream. A magazine? Was I out of my mind?
I told one potential investor: “I don’t want to cut paychecks for a year, I want to be cutting them ten years from now.” I should have taken the money and had fun running a cycling web site until the money ran out, but my moral compass wouldn’t let me. Damn magnetism.
I had dozens of meetings with potential investors that went nowhere, so finally I did the one thing everyone said not to do: I invested my own money.
Which brings us back to why. I was stuck in my life because I needed to take the best swing I could at this, and I felt like I hadn’t made every sacrifice I could to make this dream real. So I launched Asphalt Magazine with a partner and a handful of freelance contributors.
Plot spoiler: It failed. (Not that you didn’t already know that).
The fault rests with me. I wasn’t the right guy. I wasn’t a tough enough manager, wasn’t a slick enough salesman, wasn’t a guy who could run on two hours of sleep. I’ve got a garage full of magazines and no regrets. That said, my greatest shock came when I approached the industry for advertising. A number of companies told me point blank: We’re going to sit out the first year and see how you do.
Which brings me to peloton magazine. Brad Roe, Tim Schamber, Ben Edwards and Adam Reek are industry vets. Peloton magazine is not just the best independently produced magazine the bike industry has ever seen, it’s the best, period. I heard from any number of Asphalt readers who swore that my magazine was the best bike mag they’d ever seen. I’m telling you on no uncertain terms peloton is superior. From running on time to negotiating a killer distribution deal before a single magazine had been produced, they have delivered in every way you can.
But as a new publishing company, they need to prove that they can make it without the muscle of an entrenched publisher behind them. In short, they need subscribers. I can guarantee you that bike companies have told them what they told me, that they’d wait and see. Why they do this defies explanation. It’s like going to the polling place and not voting because you want to see if your guy actually gets elected.
Brad and Tim have given me more latitude as a writer and photographer than anyone has ever given me—except maybe myself. It’s an uncommon event in a writer’s life that you’re encouraged to rise to an occasion, to deliver the smartest, bravest work you can. To paraphrase Spock, my first, best, destiny is as a feature writer and columnist, and Brad is giving me rope enough to hang myself daily.
I believe peloton is an unusual magazine, one that comes along maybe once in a generation.
I’ve reviewed and recommended a great many items and experiences here at RKP. I’ve never requested anything of you, the readers. That you all read, which is proving to be an increasingly rare activity in this world, has been enough for which to be grateful.
To those of you who have already stepped up and purchased a subscription to peloton, thank you.
To those of you who have purchased a single copy of peloton on the newsstand and liked what you read, please subscribe.
To those of you who have yet to see an issue of peloton, if you like exciting content about your favorite sport and want to see stories of unusual origin, features that go unexpected places, take a chance on Brad’s brainchild.
Each new subscription tells the industry that you’re hungry for content beyond race results. Brad, Tim, Adam, Ben and the rest of the crew have stepped up for the cycling community in a big way. They’ve put previously secure jobs and their families on the line for this. Don’t wait. Don’t see. A subscription is a small risk in a dangerous world. One that will be rewarded with each new issue.
These guys burn with a holy light for cycling and after reading a copy, it’s my belief you won’t want anything so much as to go for a ride. And isn’t that what a bike mag should do for you?
Of all the writing I do, some of my very favorite work is travel writing. More than ten years ago, in a job review, I was asked what I wanted my job to be in five years. I responded, “Sniper.” Feature writing is in my blood and bringing to the reader an extraordinary experience in a far-flung locale is more fun than video games.
Some years back, when I was in graduate school and facing an ennui only those privileged enough to go to grad school can experience, I wondered what the hell I was up to. (Big surprise.) Over Christmas break I ran across the book “Out of the Noösphere,” a collection of features from Outside Magazine. It recalibrated my mission, so to speak and has informed my travel writing ever since.
Currently, the only real travel work I do is for Road Bike Action Magazine. Their editor, Brad Roe has given me pretty broad latitude to work. As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s as fun a relationship with a magazine as I’ve had. And given that Hi-Torque’s Mountain Bike Action was only the second magazine I developed a real affinity for (after Sufer Pub’s Skateboarder), to work for a Hi-Torque publication on a regular basis is big fun.
Zap even remembers my name now.
There are those days on the bike, days that are revelations. While a day can be memorable because of your form, your results, your company or your location, the way memory works, the more of those elements you pull together, the more memorable they are.
I had one of those days at the Tour of the Unknown Coast. Held in Humboldt County, California, it is the hippiest of the hippy holdouts. A different sort of place, and a different sort of ride. While there are a great many century rides, the TUC seemed to draw only those riders with a certain love for suffering. Harder than your average bear, Booboo.
If you enjoy travel writing, whether mine or not, I hope you’ll pick up the March issue of Road Bike Action. You might even want to check out the ride, which I can assure you, is one for the scrap book.