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.
Some of you may have been aware that I’ve been working on a book about cycling. It’s called “The No Drop Zone: Everything You Need to Know About the Peloton, Your Bike and Riding Strong.” It’s being published by Menasha Ridge Press (with whom I did “Bicycling Los Angeles County” in 2007). “The No Drop Zone” will be coming out in May.
“The No Drop Zone” is a book aimed squarely at beginners, but has been written to contain nuggets of fun as well as the collective wisdom of the peloton. Even the most experienced among you will find something useful within its pages, I hope.
To promote the book, peloton magazine will be excerpting bits of it in a new section on their web site called “Wisdom.” Stop by and have a look; it might be your cup of tea or glass of wine, er, beer. It’ll be updated twice a week.
Rest assured, once the book is out, I’ll let you know about it. I’ll also be getting around a bit for some group rides disguised as speaking engagements.
And because custom frame builders are close to my heart, I’m pleased to announce that peloton has indulged me with a new column on its web site called “Artisans.”
Those few among you who read Asphalt may remember the column “Torchbearers.” Readers of Bicycle Guide might recall the column “Hot Tubes.” “Artisans” picks up where those left off.
Each week peloton will post an interview (in two parts, as they are quite long) with a frame builder. Because the craft of frame building extends well beyond just those who build frames to painters, tool makers and more, I’m going to leave the definition a little loose. It won’t all be one-man shops, either.
Artisans will get some space in the print issues as well. Photos always look great on paper, so we’ll give these some space to breathe.
Sooner or later, I hope to turn “Artisans” into a gift book (i.e. coffee-table book). I’ll let you know how my progress goes on that front as well.
I hope you’ll drop by peloton.
This is a time of year when people celebrate. Whether you enjoy Christmas for religious or secular reasons, remember the eight nights of Hanukkah, party to Kwanzaa or save it all up for New Year’s Eve, some holiday very likely has you in its sights, and hopefully, it, you. It’s a time for gifts both large and small.
If there’s anything more fun than finding the perfect gift for someone I love and seeing the look on their face when they open it, I’ve yet to experience that pleasure. The other pleasure that I am familiar with, though, is getting a killer gift.
My personal belief on both getting and giving gifts is that they should speak to the recipient and their loves. The very best among them are extravagances, maybe not in price, but the object is something the recipient might not buy on their own. My wife once purchased a limited-edition CD by one of my favorite artists. The sleeve was autographed. I’d never have purchased that myself.
Getting a gift of anything cycling-related is one of those special treats. It’s an endorsement of one of our great loves and let’s us know it’s not on the chopping block of our free time for the foreseeable future.
Some of you will be opening presents tonight, some tomorrow morning and others have had it complete for days. No matter. We’d love to hear what cycling treasures you received—or gave.
RKP will be taking a short hiatus between Christmas and New Year’s. I’m going to be working on a book and some of the first entries for a new department on peloton magazine‘s web site called “Artisans.” It starts with the new year.
Peloton has an additional treat in store for you. There will be another new department on their web site, also beginning in January, this one called “Wisdom.” It will feature excerpts from my book “No Drop Zone,” to be published by Menasha Ridge Press in May. It’s a how-to aimed at new roadies. It’s my goal that any reader will find something useful in its contents.
I hope you’ll bear with the absence while I try to get some serious base miles in my writing legs on these two fronts.