When I launched RKP on July 2, 2009, I was apprehensive. I knew it was the right thing for me to do, but I wasn’t certain that many readers would follow me from Belgium Knee Warmers. I’d been working behind the scenes to develop a logo, design the site, court a few advertisers and start amassing content.
In another, concurrent, life my wife was pregnant with our son, who was born later that month. I look back on that time with a certain amount of amazement, like I wonder what the hell I was thinking trying to do both those things at the same time.
Seemed like a good idea at the time. And the funny thing is, because you’re reading this now, it must have been. I’ve been pretty honest about my goals in the past, but given the events of the last eight months or so, they warrant some repeating, especially as a fair number of you are new(ish) here.
My ambition, modest as it was, was to have the ability to write about cycling without the influence of a publisher or advertisers who think that good editorial can be purchased. I also thought that I could manage to get paid something for this work by selling some advertising to builders and companies who trusted me enough not to interfere with my work. I never thought RKP would be particularly sizable, traffic-wise, so in my mind, the reasonable hope was that it might provide a portion of my income, along with the work I was doing for Road Bike Action and a few others.
Fast forward three years and almost all the work I do is for RKP and peloton magazine, a publication that didn’t even exist when I launched RKP. It’s been a strange turn of events. Stranger still is that RKP is publishing work by John Wilcockson, Charles Pelkey and other talented contributors like Whit Yost. I swear to you, I didn’t see that coming. To have dreamt such a development would have been the height of hubris in my book. It’s worth mentioning that companies that realize new success often forget the people who helped them get there. It means a lot to me that Robot continues to be my most trusted confidant (aside from my wife) and one of the most important voices here at RKP.
Our growth hasn’t been without some ripped jeans. We still haven’t sold a single ad for Pelkey’s live updates; that he shakes the tip jar during his coverage is something I’m actively encouraging. I aim to do right by him (and Patrick O’Grady as well). And our reception by various bike companies is pretty varied. Specialized trusts our work enough to invite us to the rather exclusive intro of their new TT helmet; meanwhile I can’t get Trek to return a phone call (it’s not an uncommon problem, I’m told). I’m not offended, but I hate the appearance that we’re showing Specialized a certain favoritism; I actively want to do content on Trek, and many others. The fact is, you can only date the girls who will actually go to the movies with you.
We’ve gotten a few nods; some public—the Outside mention—some less so. On the way to the airport as I was leaving Press Camp, one of the event’s directors, Chris Zigmont, told me that he doesn’t really think of RKP as a blog, that he views us as a mainstream cycling media outlet. While I maintained that we will remain a blog because we value the interactivity with our readers, I was really gratified by what he said.
So it is that on our third birthday I have to acknowledge that RKP is both exactly what I wanted and something entirely other than I envisioned. I set out to publish a blog that valued quality writing about cycling. We are absolutely that to this day. I just never considered that we’d be bringing you so many stellar voices. That they trust me enough to see their work published here, and that you readers keep coming back, gratifies me every day.
Thanks for reading.
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
Of all the changes that have occurred in relationships between entities and constituents in the 21st century, communication and collaboration may be the biggest. In the case of the media, readers no longer tolerate the ivory tower approach that marked the newspapers of the 20th century. Rather than simply accept news as fact, today’s reader sees shades of perspective and have opinions, both pro and con, about the news they encounter.
Blogging has cemented the readers place in the new media, by giving you, the reader, a chance to talk back. Whether the comment is served as a second, a confirmation of the writer’s effort or a dissent signaling that the author may have it wrong, comments have legitimized and elevated the opinions of the reader, making media much more collaborative than it has been in the past.
That need to peak behind the curtain and know more about the inner workings of the media has several sources, but I suspect the biggest ingredient is suspicion. Readers are suspicious of media organizations’ relationships with their advertisers and often with their subjects as well. The quest for revenue has blurred lines that used to be sacrosanct, much the way cycling shorts used to be black. Period.
If you’ve read the About page or my profile, then you’re already aware that I am making an effort to show you around my workbench. I suppose in time I’ll reveal the metaphoric tools I use, but Red Kite Prayer is less about the execution of the work than the approach to the work itself. Put another way, I doubt you are concerned with which truing stand I use, but whether I de-tension spokes before tensioning others.
To that end, I have created a group for RKP on Facebook. Rather than create a microblog for RKP about what is up with the blog, I’ll use Facebook to signal some coming attractions and solicit more direct feedback.
Not everyone uses social networking sites and some are downright hostile to them. I had zero interest in MySpace, but after joining Facebook for the sole purpose of staying abreast of group ride news (I’m amazed by the number of choices I have in rides every day), I quickly realized its staggering ability to allow me to reconnect with old friends. It’s become a must-see on a daily basis.
Facebook will give you, the readership, a chance to initiate contact with RKP publicly, rather than only responding to a post. Something in that sounds healthy.
Like any writer, I want my work to have an audience. Knowing that my work has shaped a conversation, popular opinion or even just struck a nerve to initiate further thought on a subject is deeply satisfying. For me, it’s always been about the work, rather than a desire for fame.
So I hope you’ll understand when I tell you that the Facebook group isn’t meant to promote me, though if you want to friend me, I’m happy to confirm you. It will also give you a chance to connect with RKP’s other contributors. I don’t want to blur lines, so I’ll do what I can to separate me as a person from my work as a writer.
Be in touch.
You may recall my post from last winter on the cotton cycling cap. Chock full of nostalgia and ambivalence, the post sparked a stunning number of comments for so humble an item. They were all, shall we say, of a piece. Frankly, I was surprised that there was so much support and desire for an RKP hat.
Robot, God love him, got things rolling with Castelli and we’re pleased to report that they’ll begin shipping from RKP‘s SoCal headquarters during the first week of the Tour. Twenty bucks gets you a cap and some stickers, too.
I will be officially retiring that old, blue Alexia Alluminio cap the moment these arrive.
You can order them here.
A little update: They are here and are shipping out!
There’s an arc to birthdays. When you’re young, they’re a sign of progress and increasing freedom. In your twenties and thirties they are a time of benchmarks, milestones reached. When your my age, they are a sign that the body is in retreat and that, provided you’re not an athlete—and I’m not—your professional fortunes may still be on the rise. When you reach my parents’ age, birthdays are a reminder of the fleeting nature of life.
It’s this last function of birthdays that’s on my mind. These days, commercial ventures wink in and out of existence with the speed of fruit flies. Commitment seems no more than a pledge to stick around for as long as the sticking’s good, so for a blog to reach the mark of two years of consistent publication, it’s practically like reaching old age.
In the two years that RKP has published my life has undergone a transformation. My son was born and celebrated his first birthday. My wife let me start sleeping in the bedroom again. Last year, as RKP celebrated its first anniversary I turned in the manuscript for my second book, the recently published The No-Drop Zone: Everything You Need to Know About the Peloton, Your Gear and Riding Strong.
Behind the scenes, I’ve gained not just a friend, but a virtual brother in Robot. He’s inspired me and my work and brought a fresh outlook and helped RKP to fulfill my pledge to give you something different, something worthwhile. Without him and his contributions, this would be a duller site.
The comments you write in response to our posts—both positive and negative—have been an important form of guidance. That interplay is a key part of what makes RKP a special site. You’re a bright, experienced and informed readership. It’s not something you can buy. That your numbers have grown to some 40,000 each month is the best confirmation that we must be doing something worthwhile.
The industry has taken note as well. From peloton magazine to the pages of the Giro catalog, our work has been in demand. Yes, the Giro catalog. You’ll find pieces by both yours truly and Robot in the upcoming Giro catalog. Robot also recently penned (keyboarded?) an item for Pavé. I’m sure you’ll be seeing his byline around more and more. It’s a crime to hide talent.
That cycling has changed each of our lives is beyond question. That we can find the opportunity to put into words those ineffable experiences and explore the reasons why the sport can inspire us in ways that aren’t just athletic but are often spiritual is perhaps more than we have a right to expect. On behalf of each of RKP‘s contributors, thanks for reading.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Bike Radar is the lifestyle sister site to Cyclingnews owned by Future Publishing. Veteran cycling journalist Matt Pacocha is the US Editor at Bike Radar and runs the site’s “Web Site of the Week” feature. We were honored to be asked to be featured as the site of the week there.
Matt did a fine job of capturing the essence of RKP. We hope you’ll check out the piece, and forward a link to your friends who may not be reading us right now. See the writeup here.
Yesterday RKP celebrated its one-year anniversary. Your readership has made the last year possible. You’ve given us the chance to follow stories and explore perspectives that you won’t find at the other sites or magazines, which, for us, has meant getting to write content we wouldn’t have a chance to submit elsewhere.
In addition to the acceptance you’ve given the blog, the industry’s reception has been terrific as well. From the products we’ve been asked to review to the advertisers who need to be in front of you, we’ve been welcomed everywhere we go.
A brief note on my whereabouts for the last two weeks: I just finished a book on road cycling for new riders called Ride Like a Pro! Yesterday, I turned in the finished manuscript to my publisher, Menasha Ridge Press. I’ve no idea how many pages it will be, but I do know that we turned in 402 images. I’d say my relief is on the order of giving birth, but my wife would slap me; let’s just say this morning I took my first deep breath in months. Watch for it next spring.
And now, a year later, we’re at the start of the Tour de France yet again. Summer is ON. Has a more exciting Tour ever loomed? I don’t recall one. Traditionally, when the race has been called “wide open” the reason has been due to absences—missing former champions. However, this year is different.
The list of truly great riders capable of battling to victory is stunning for its depth. We have former champions Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong, and all those who were counting Armstrong out in May are now curiously silent. Both Frank and Andy Schleck look capable of victory. And then there’s Cadel Evans. Evans may not have the strongest team at the Tour, but there is no question that he is the leader of a team and that he has full confidence from management.
Can Wiggins replicate his form from last year? The world is full of riders who rode to fourth once, sometimes twice, but never higher. Let’s watch and wait.
What of Sastre? No matter how likable and classy he is, he doesn’t seem to have shown the form necessary to be called a favorite.
It’s been almost 20 years since a rider took the Giro/Tour double and Miguel Indurain was in his prime. Can the same really be said of Basso?
We’re told this will be Lance Armstrong’s final Tour de France. We’ve every reason to take him at his word. Many will be relieved to see his departure. I, for one, won’t be. While I’m no fanboy, I am a fan. Lance has been a fascinating, surprising figure in cycling and his insights into cycling, given in interviews have been fun to digest. The reign of Armstrong has been no cleaner than the reign of Indurain, but the interviews have been far more enjoyable.
The day following a fun birthday can be something of a let down. With the whole of the Tour de France ahead of us, it’s going to be a party every day. Thanks for reading.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Red Kite Prayer has joined Twitter. As Social Media go, Twitter has proven its value as a way to keep followers abreast of new content and actual news. We’ll spare you news of our latest flat, bonk or energy bar consumption and stick with RKP‘s mission: actual content, plus some other fun stuff, including some rides we’ve got lined up.
Follow us: RedKitePrayer