As I write this, my wife is struggling to pack for vacation while dealing with a free-form morning sickness that occurs at any our of the day, indeed most hours of the day. What part of this constitutes morning is debatable. It may soon becomes mourning sickness. She needs a break, even if her hormones intend to keep her within a quick dash of the toilet. The lousiness of the nausea aside, there are two great pieces of news in that. We’re adding another team member to RKP (albeit one that won’t be putting pen to paper just yet) and we’re about to head out for a whole lot of work that people call time off.
I’m in need of a break; it’s been a year since I last had one.
I won’t be completely checking out during our week away; I’ll be checking email some, but it’s unlikely that I’ll be returning any phone calls. Along those lines, a brief note about the RKP kits: There was a hold-up on the jerseys, arm warmers and vests; they should arrive during the second week of September. In the meantime, I’ve shipped out all the bibs and knee warmers to those who ordered them. If you ordered some, they are en route to you. While I’m away, of course, I won’t be shipping any orders; that will resume after our return.
You’ll see a couple of posts from me during my absence, ones that I’m attempting to finish shortly, but I’ll be more absent with regard to the comments section. Our other features such as Live Updates with Charles Pelkey (and terrific help from Patrick O’Grady), Tuesdays with Wilcockson and Robot’s Friday Group Ride will post as usual.
Other than spending serious time with family, it’s my hope that I’ll recharge some, do some reading and maybe, just maybe, work on a book proposal that has been more back-burnered than I’d like.
Oh yeah, one other little detail: I need to add another ad sales guy the RKP’s efforts to use sponsors to keep this thing afloat. If you can sell spit to camels and want to be working in the bike industry, I’d be interested in hearing from you. Be sure to put “Have Talent” in the subject line. And speaking of those sponsors, I hope all of you will consider the way the companies who advertise with us have stepped up. In each instance we’ve signed an advertiser, they have sponsored us because they believe in the content we provide and appreciate how we’re different from the other media sites out there. It’d be terrific if from time to time you clicked on their ads just to check out where they take you; most of our advertisers have special landing pages and they’re keen to let you know about some work they are particularly proud of. We don’t sell by click-through, but they like knowing you’re paying attention.
Thanks for reading.
UPDATE: We’ve agreed to give John Wilcockson the week off as well. Hopefully, you’ve been following John’s weekly columns over at peloton as well; it’s been a long season and he’s due for a break.
I’m a selfish bastard.
I needed to get that out there so that we’d all be clear about where I’m coming from. I created RKP so I could write about the things I want to write about, things that it used to be wouldn’t get traction with any of the magazines. Now that has changed, but the freedom that I took here (and before this at BKW) helped lead the way for the opportunities I’m afforded elsewhere.
But, like I said, I’m selfish bastard. That’s why RKP isn’t just my voice, but also includes Robot, Charles Pelkey, John Wilcockson, Whit Yost and Jeremy Rauch. I’m a fan of each of them. So RKP isn’t just a measure of what I’d like to write, but also what I’d like to read. You might say RKP isn’t so much a vanity press as a selfish press. I need to clarify here that Pelkey was a friend, so it wasn’t a big stretch to give him a call, but Wilcockson, on the other hand, wasn’t someone I really knew; reaching out to him felt a bit like trying to date above my pay grade. His interest in RKP was tantamount to a lingering look through long lashes by the prettiest girl in the room.
When I brought on these new voices, it was with the intention of increasing the amount of content available to you, dear reader. Publishing seven days a week with double posts on some days is what I had in mind and what we achieved, until recently. Here’s where I apologize for having been off our game—well, I’ve been off my game. If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook (or me personally on Facebook) then you might have caught that I’ve had an illness or two. The fact is, I’ve spent most of the last two months destroyed by a series of flus propagated by my young son. And for reasons I can’t fathom or explain, I’ve been largely unable to write through this. Truly, I’m sorry for delivering less content than I intended. This is less about what you expected of us than what I expected of myself. The good news is I’m better and there’s a fire burning.
RKP could be said to be an elaborate thought experiment: What happens if your first concern is the quality of the writing rather than being the first to review the latest gonkulator? I’ve never been absolutely certain that the choices I’ve made will “pay off” in any traditional sense, but part of my guiding vision could also be said to be the moral compass imparted to me by my parents. I believe that guys like Pelkey and Wilcockson have earned their stripes and have the right to be heard by an audience, rather than throttled back to monthly missives when the Tour isn’t going.
We’ve picked up a number of new readers in the last three or four months. Seeing the readership grow has been more rewarding than getting a clean bill of health from a doctor. With that new traffic has come a big increase in the number of comments some posts receive. For the most part, that has gone well. There have been, however, a few folks who believe that the duty of the commenter is to say something nasty and check out. Just to be super-explicit, I want to take a moment to say that’s not how we play here. We begin with the basic assumption that because you’re a cyclist, you’re a friend. Maybe we haven’t met, but we’re kindred spirits; in that we trust. You may have noticed us dress down an occasionally snarky comment. I can’t stress how important it is that we keep the comments section a safe place for rational, if spirited, conversation. The moment it becomes okay to insult another reader that conversation shuts down. It’s a bit like going to a dinner part and insulting the wife of your host. Really puts a damper on the evening; even the lampshade on the head loses its funny. As proof, I offer the stream of comments that have followed Robot’s last two Friday Group Rides. People wouldn’t have shared poignant memories of bikes if they had suspected they risked being ridiculed for keeping around an old Stumpjumper. And we’d all be poorer for it. I’ve relished reading about so many old bikes and what made them special.
People have come to me on several occasions and suggested that we start a forum. The Friday Group Ride is our forum. And it’s better than any forum I’ve ever visited precisely because it stays cordial. It’s a lot of work to read every comment and gently police what’s said, but what we get out of it is worth it. And hopefully, in sharing, you feel a greater sense of connection and ownership with the blog.
Which brings me to the commercial side of RKP. You’ve probably noted an increase in advertising ’round these parts. I hope that you’ll take some stock of just who advertises with us. Each and every advertiser we have has stepped forward to say they believe in what we do. It’s a true industry endorsement. And I can say that with a straight face for a couple of reasons. First, we don’t have an ultra-experienced ad sales guy plugging ads into an ad service widget that will serve up views by the thousand. We’re low-tech and unsophisticated, insofar as our ad sales strategy goes. The companies you see at the right have had their eyes on us and it means the world to me. The horsepower they bring is how I’m able to present the likes of Pelkey and Wilcockson. Even if you don’t buy a bike from Specialized or a pair of bibs from Assos, I hope that you’ll think better of them for the support they offer us. They deserve at least that, in my opinion.
Helping round out our “revenue stream” are the odds and ends we sell in our store. I’ve got a few updates on the scene.
The Roubaix shirt is back, and just in the nick of time. Also, we’re about to do another kit order. If you’d like to save 15% on an RKP kit, you can join the pre-order and get the stuff a bit quicker; we’ll have stock on the kit in case the timing of this doesn’t work for you. This order will mark the first time that we’ve offered the jersey and bibs separately. Watch for a post on this coming soon.
As I mentioned, I’m a selfish bastard. Which is how the image of a 25-year-old T-shirt came to lead this post. At the point I bought that T I didn’t fully understand how cool, how amazing, how dominant Eddy Merckx was. I just knew he was the best. My appreciation of that shirt has grown over the years, despite its ever-increasing threadbare existence. But that shirt is stylish and speaks to legions of devoted cyclists in a way few shirts I’ve ever owned could. It’s not dorky like most century T-shirts and the fact that the art is stylish and eye-catching gives it cred in a way that cycling Tees rarely achieve even when they’ve escaped dorkdom.
So, none of that proves I’m selfish. This does: I wanted more shirts like that. And other stuff, too. The stickers, the Suffer T-shirt, the kit, it’s all stuff I wanted for myself. That other folks like it is really, truly, amazingly cool. I’m letting you in on this because I want to be clear with you; most of this stuff is being sold less for the chance to make money on it than I needed to order a bunch of whatever it is just so I could have two or three of them in my wardrobe.
In the not-too-distant future we’ll be offering a few new tidbits to you; again, this is about stuff that I wanted for myself. They weren’t borne of a need to find a way to make a buck on a commemorative bottle opener. To that end, there will be a ball cap, which will look more or less exactly like this:
Except without the cat hair … and the back will say “to suffer is to learn.” There will also be a new T-shirt which might turn a head or two; those of you who were Bicycle Guide readers and recall the illustrations of Bill Cass are in for a real treat. Those of you unfamiliar with his work are in for the same treat, as it turns out.
Our other effort here is perhaps the strangest thing I’ve considered. That you are even finding out about this has everything to do with Robot; it was his suggestion—”Why don’t you sell them?”—that is the reason you’re even finding out about this little effort. And what is the effort? Well, back in the 1970s and ’80s I was really into cool belt buckles. I had a big brass Peterbilt one, plus some amazing rock band ones, my favorite being my Led Zeppelin one. God only knows what became of them. I never really stopped digging cool belt buckles, though. Well, I found a company that will do an incredible zinc-cast belt buckle of the RKP logo. It’ll be three inches wide by two inches high and a quarter inch thick. Solid and sturdy. Gorgeous, too.
This is the designer’s approximation of what it will look like. This will be a one-off effort. I’m doing a short run of them and Robot has convinced me that there are at least a few of you who might dig having one. So here’s your chance. They are not going to be cheap. Depending on just how many of you order one they’ll be between $40 and $50. If you’re interested, say so in the comments and I’ll be in touch. And let me be ultra-clear: The only way to get this is to pre-order. I will not be stocking these.
As it turns out, I’ve saved the biggest news for last. Charles Pelkey will be bringing even more of his talent to RKP this year. RKP will be running Charles’ inimitable Live Update Guy race commentary for some of the season’s marquee events. If all goes according to plan, we will begin with Paris-Roubaix, but the bulk of the coverage will be focused on, as usual, the Grand Tours. And to make sure the Charles is properly rewarded for his efforts, we’ve added another talented guy to our ad sales team, Nick Ramey. Nick‘s been in the biz for ages and has sold advertising for some of the best-respected publications out there, including Bicycling and VeloNews. How we got access to his talent is yet another mind boggling development.
Now, more than ever, thanks for reading.
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.
I began RKP for two reasons. The first was because I was tired of people telling me I was doing a good job but the guys in sales hadn’t hit their numbers and someone needed to go home. And it sure as hell wasn’t going to be the sales guys because that would be stupid. The second was to create a place where I could follow the pieces my heart told me to write. Why was that so hard? I still don’t know. One of the first pieces of advice I was ever given by a master poet was to follow my heart. That if I thought something was interesting, I was absolutely on the right track.
I’ve worked for a lot of different editors and only one—Brad Roe—trusts my gut without exception, so until peloton came along, I’d had a lot of ideas never find a home. What Brad did for me I’d like to do for some other folks.
Wait, let’s back up a sec. I thought this would be just part of my income stream. That it would be a modest little thing, but that I could make a home for a few writers where they could do good work guided by their guts.
As it turns out, things have gotten (note my use of the passive) decidedly less modest as of today. I’ve hired John Wilcockson.
You read that right, but go ahead and reread that last sentence. I’ve had to, myself.
John has covered an incredible 43 Tours de France. His career spans from Jan Janssens’s nail-biter of a finish to the present, with no interruption. Think about that. Merckx? He was there. Same for Hinault and Indurain. And Armstrong. How many other people know exactly what they are doing in July as clearly as John does? (Well, for the record, photographer John Pierce does, but he’s an exception.) His experience among English-language journalists is unparalleled and that’s a word that is frequently overused. In this instance, it’s not.
I can even credit John with being part of the inspiration for my desire to write about cycling.
Okay, so a bit of clarification: John has elected to work for both peloton and RKP. He’ll be splitting his time between the two entities. The story here is that two small (okay, one small, one tiny) companies coordinated efforts to give one of the gems of the cycling world a reasonable income. Neither one of us could have done this on our own.
People say opportunity knocks. I’m here to say that if it does, the tapping is very light. Stuff rarely lands in my lap. All the great things that have happened in my life—my wife, my work, my son, whatever passes for fitness these days—I’ve had to chase down. I’ve been working behind the scenes for weeks to make this happen.
That promise to make RKP a home to great writing has played out in a surprising way. I didn’t expect anything like this would ever happen. But a promise can hide ambition within it, so I’ve found. I’m excited to bring you a great voice. Watch for John’s posts on Tuesdays.
[UPDATE] I thought it might be nice to check in with John to get a statement from his perspective. He had this to say:
“I first heard about RKP from Boulder videographer Brian Patrick, who said it was the coolest cycling site he’d seen. So I checked it out and thought, anything that has ‘red kite’ and ‘prayer’ in its name has to be aimed at true European bike-racing aficionados, perhaps with a spiritual bent. Nice!
“So here I am, ready and excited to clip in to the pedals and begin this new challenge. My first RKP column will appear next Tuesday. Thanks, Patrick, for the chance to reach some new readers!”
We seem to be living in a world full of protests. From North Africa to the Middle East and clear into Greece, 2011 has been a year of the common man stepping forward to protest oppression, entrenched dictators, alleged democracies, failing economies and, in the case of Occupy Wall Street, the looting of the U.S. by a bunch of bankers.
I site these examples not to draw battle lines but to illustrate just how far-reaching that revolutionary spirit extends. There’s little that could possibly unite the average man on the street in Libya and the typical fast-food worker in the U.S.
Red Kite Prayer was started as a kind of protest, if I’m honest. The work I’d been doing for Belgium Knee Warmers had attracted a surprisingly large following, but I knew from my previous attempts at querying most of the publications that the pieces I was writing for BKW would never be run by any of the print magazines. What I was doing was mostly uncharted water. I believed that there was room for what I was writing and that there were bike companies that would see it as a viable advertising vehicle to reach readers. And that’s why I started RKP; Radio Freddy wanted to keep BKW true to its garage band roots, the great un-signed act.
I wanted a paycheck.
Most of my life has been spent at the shallow end of one bell curve or another. Cyclist. Writer. Masters degree. Apple owner—for 25 years. I’m almost never part of the 99 percent. That said, I understand the outrage at Wall Street, and why the protest Occupy Wall Street started. (For the record, Goldman Sachs advised Petersen in preparation for its sale to Emap and was directly responsible for Bicycle Guide being folded.) I’m not about to go live in a tent on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall. I’ve got a family; besides, there’s no wifi there.
OWS is chaos. Most can’t really articulate what they want to change and feel so powerless to effect any change that they’ve taken to the streets. Folks, this is how revolutions start. The whole point to having government is to eliminate chaos. However, if you’re still not convinced that there is adequate reason for OWS, check out this article by Matt Taibbi over at Rolling Stone.
In the bike biz, we’ve had some chaos of our own. If you haven’t been following the drama at Competitor Group Inc. over the last year or so, on the order of three dozen people have either left or been fired from CGI’s titles—VeloNews, Inside Triathlon, Triathlete and Competitor. They are bleeding people faster than they can hire them.
For months I watched the departures with a kind of detached fascination. I couldn’t imagine what could be going on in Boulder to cause as many people to quit as were being fired. Then, last August, it was announced that CGI had laid-off (a really passive term for fired) Charles Pelkey and John Wilcockson.
The changes at VeloNews (okay, now Velo) have really pissed some people off. Check out what Richard Sachs had to say.
When it comes to bike racing journalism in the English language, Wilcockson and Pelkey are two of the very best. And Pelkey’s “The Explainer” column is routinely some of the best analysis in the bike biz.
Folks, I’m not a socialist, but I do think what Wall Street is doing to the rest of the U.S. is wrong. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” There’s a lot of change that I’d like to see happen in the world, but my sphere of influence isn’t all that great. So, I’ve decided to take the most significant stand I can.
I’ve hired Charles Pelkey to contribute to RKP.
Charles will continue to pen his “The Explainer” column, just now for us. I’ve decided to stand up and say that he’s a journalist of great talent and integrity and if his former employer won’t stand by him, then I will.
And if I had the cash, I’d hire Wilcockson, too. Who the hell fires their database?
I plan to be there for Charles as he recovers from his cancer—yeah, he’s recovering from breast cancer that was diagnosed in August—and for years to come. Initially, Charles will post every other week. He writes his column the day before his chemo treatment, which is the best he feels all week. After the chemo ends and as his strength returns, we will begin running work from him more frequently, with the goal of providing one piece from him per week, more when the opportunity presents. Watch for his work beginning next week.
This represents a significant investment for RKP as a business and me personally. One of my advertisers, when informed of the move, asked if this meant an easier workload for me and more time with the family. Amazingly, the answer is no. My workload won’t go down a whit. I’m not doing this to make my job easier, I’m doing it to make RKP better. In barest terms, this is a chance to stand up for quality.
The addition of Charles to RKP’s already terrific roster of contributors is certainly a protest against MBAs who focus on the bottom line above all other considerations. A spreadsheet isn’t what makes a company or a product great. The greater truth here is that I love his work and I believe by bringing him into our fold I increase the value of this blog to both you our readers and our advertisers. I aim to deliver a blog that is ultimately smarter and more diverse in its offerings than I, alone, could present. At the end of the day, RKP is simply a measure of content that I like to read, and I’m stubborn enough to believe my vision will resonate with readers around the world, so in that regard, maybe I am part of the 99 percent.