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.
The garage looks as a garage should. A phalanx of bikes hung across the back wall. A repair stand with half-ass repair in progress. A tool chest with bike stickers, drawers in various states of openness, the hex keys to the fore. Then a big plastic parts bin, too random to catalog, as well as another bin with lights, fenders, mismatched pedals, frame pumps, old shoe covers, water bottle cages, flotsam, jetsam and bric-a-brac. Two floor pumps. Three sets of orphaned wheels. A pile of tires. A shelf of lubes. Another shelf entirely dedicated to inner tubes needing repair. By the door, a rack with helmets, road, mountain and BMX.
Enter the basement. An entire coat rack devoted to cycling hats, wind vests, rain gear. A basket with seldom-used gloves, more hats, warmers, arm, knee and leg, and a few u-locks. Vintage cyclocross poster by the door. Posters from local races. A product poster with Cippolini on it, riding, laughing, text in Italian. The trainer, Kurt Kinetic, slung over by the TV. A pile of unwashed kit by the washing machine. That post-ride tang hanging in the air from when, last weekend?
Climb the stairs.
The living room offers up only a couple subtle clues. An RKP water bottle, half empty/half full. The kids use all my best water bottles to stay hydrated after obscenely large bowls of movie popcorn. On the bookshelf, a few cycling DVDs, Stars and Water Carriers, Overcoming, the 1994 Paris Roubaix.
On the kitchen counter, a brand new, tags-on Castelli cyclocross beanie, in gray. Also a copy of peloton, issue seven. Nearby, the bowl that holds the various and sundry on-bike nutritional products, ShotBloks, GUs, Lara Bars.
The half bath is a veritable trove. Copies of Cycling Plus, Road Bike Action, Velo, as well as the Colorado Cyclist catalog. A large framed poster from the 1943 Volta Cataluña, a smaller frame with the cover of the 1893 Columbia Safety Bicycles catalog. Two square canvases with original stencil art, one of the great Coppi, the other of Raymond Poulidor. It’s a half bath, but it’s all-cycling.
The dining room is littered with more evidence. My courier bag, Chrome Metropolis, black, ‘ROBOT’ stenciled across the back, a three-way flasher bolted through the top flap. Also, a small pile of gloves from Descente, Capo and Giro. The rest of the Castelli order, still tagged and cosseted in plastic; two thermal skull caps, one red, one black; a pair of Pavé bib tights; a smart, gray wool jersey; a pair of Diluvio gloves. Also, a pair of well-worn Sidis, tucked under a chair.
Up the stairs and into the bedroom. Lycra hung on door knobs and hooks, mostly to dry out before going into the hamper. Half pairs of nice wool socks on the floor, the other halves eaten by the greedy-ass dryer or simply hiding in another load. Beside the bed, another pile of cycling magazines, Patrick Brady’s “The No-Drop Zone”, for reference, and the inevitably large bedside “Journey Through Hell” that I never manage to finish reading, mostly because I only look at the pictures.
The bathroom keeps its secrets pretty well, but for those with the temerity to breach the medicine chest, there are multiple tubs of embrocation, Cream of Courage and Mad Alchemy’s Madness, as well as an Icy Hot balm stick, for when you just need that old, medicinal burn.
There’s a pair of wool RKP socks on top of the stairs, too. Who left those there? I did.
We could peek into the kids’ room. There will be more water bottles there. The little thieves.
The attic is cycling-free. Only insulation up there.
Look, I don’t know how all this happened. Credit cards were swiped. Gifts were given. SWAG was had. I traded for some of it, and because of what I do, much of it just washed in on the tide like so many broken clam shells and bits of sea vegetable.
In a court of law, I’d be easy to convict. I’m a cyclist. At some point you don’t have to be caught red-handed. The weight of circumstance is enough. The truth is, if you hang around long enough, it just gets all over you.
Follow me on Twitter @thebicyclerobot.
Saturday morning on Rapha’s Gentleman’s ride in Santa Monica rider Robert Hyndman died. Robert was descending Las Flores Canyon Road when he crashed. There’s been a fair amount of hand-wringing and Monday-morning quarterbacking about this tragedy and as a result, I’ve decided to weigh in, if for no other reason than my years of experience with those canyon roads.
Let me begin by saying that I consider Slate, Jeremy, Derrick and Gerben at Rapha all friends. Double for Alison and Steven at Bike Effect, the studio at which the ride originated. What I’m about to write is as much for them as it is for anyone who has never ridden the canyon roads of the Santa Monicas.
Of the many mountain ranges around the world graced with roads suitable to cycling, the Santa Monicas are unusual in that no other range of mountains has more magazine editors within 50 miles and had less written about them. I penned the only survey of those mountains I know to have been published by a bike magazine. A few years ago I wrote “Malibu: Heaven has mountains” for Road Bike Action. And yes, I declared that the Santa Monicas were my idea of heaven. I also declared that riding the canyon roads above Malibu is far more challenging than riding in the Alps or even the Pyrenees. I believe if you can descend those canyons, you can ride anywhere, even the roads of the Chartreuse and Vercors, which are themselves more difficult than the actual Alps.
Every year the event promoter Planet Ultra puts on a ride called the Mulholland Challenge. At roughly 110 miles and 12,000 feet of climbing it is one of the hardest rides I’ve ever completed. Say what you want about La Marmotte or The Tour of the California Alps (Death Ride), hitting a kilometer-long pitch of 17 percent at the base of a 7km climb once you’ve got 75 miles in your legs can humble almost anyone. Each year more than 700 riders enter the Mulholland Challenge. The event (it sits somewhere between a gran fondo and a century) has had its share of crashes, particularly on the descent of Deer Creek Road, but no one has ever died.
My sense of empathy suggests that Steven, Alison, Slate and co. may feel some guilt over Robert’s death. It’s hard to have a heart and not feel some burden of responsibility. However, the Gentleman’s Ride was not a bad route. It was not a dangerous route, though it contained some risk.
If we conclude that the day’s route was dangerous, the logical outcome of that is all future Rapha rides in Los Angeles will head north on Pacific Coast Highway and then turn around at some pre-arranged spot for the trip south. Believe me, it can be good riding, but it’s not the same as being in the canyons.
To be a cyclist is to live the balance between risk and danger. I define danger as something likely to end in a bad outcome. Mount Washington averages 12 percent; as a result, no one is allowed to descend it. Were you to try, the odds are that you’d crash from too much speed or blow a tire off the rim from too much braking; there’s no real room for a middle ground on that road. Risk, on the other hand, is what we face every time we go out for a ride. There’s always a chance that we could be hit by a car, wash out in a corner or encounter some other bad event. The difference is that with reasonable care we can avoid a rotten outcome most of the time.
Think of every road you’ve heard a cyclist has died on. It would be ridiculous to conclude that in each instance in which a rider encountered a mishap—nothing involving a car—that the road was too dangerous to ride on. It’s true that Las Flores is a challenging descent. It’s also true that Robert had considerable skill; the point at which he crashed he could not have reached without having previously exercised both skill and judgment. Corollary: Last year’s Gentleman’s Ride descended Tuna Canyon, easily the most difficult descent in the Santa Monicas, the most difficult descent I’ve ever encountered, the only paved descent that has ever scared me. We got down that without an inch of lost skin last year.
In criticizing the course of the Rapha Gentleman’s Ride as too difficult, as dangerous, two injustices are committed. First, we dishonor the memory of a strong and skilled cyclist. Accidents happen. I can’t say exactly what took place that day as I wasn’t there, but I’ve dropped down that road dozens of times and I can attest that there were days when I couldn’t have gone wrong and other days when I just didn’t have it and wished I was taking another route down.
The second injustice is the denigration of a spectacular land formation. If I were to define my idea of heaven with the terrain of one spot on earth, there’s no doubt that I’d choose Malibu. The views from atop its vistas rival anything I’ve seen. Better yet, I can ride there year-round. I’d hate to think that people would avoid the roads above Malibu because of one cyclist’s misfortune.
What I’ve learned of Robert’s family and friends is that they are taking solace knowing that he was engaged in the world, riding with family and friends that day, that he died doing one of his favorite things in the world. Though I never met him, the simple fact that he drove up from Orange County to do a Rapha Gentleman’s Ride means he was on the lookout for new adventures. This guy was certainly one of my peeps.
For each of us there came a point when cycling ceased to be just a way to have fun and became an expression of challenge, a way to embrace new difficulties and to elevate both skill and fitness.
A good friend of mine wrote that while people have lionized Robert for dying while doing what he loved, he thought dying on his bike was “a shit way to die.” I can’t disagree. I’m sure his parents ache for not having a chance to say goodbye. When I go, I don’t want to be on my bike; I want to be surrounded by my family. Ultimately, I think what resonates with people is that in dying while doing what he loved, his death illustrates that he tried to live his life on his terms, that he wasn’t some couch potato. The danger is that romanticizing this accident is no better than letting a fear of that road prevent us from riding it.
I’ve made mistakes before and crashed. I’ll make mistakes again. The last thing in the world I’d want my error to do is cause people to avoid exciting roads. I can’t speak for Robert or his family, but the example of his life suggests that he would endorse getting on with the business of living by putting ourselves out there and we achieve that electric thrill no one will ever get from the TV.
The greatest service we can do our fellow riders is to remember them accurately, to ride with the care that will keep us out there, to remain clear on the difference between danger and risk, and to keep that sense of adventure alive.
I went into this ride thinking of it as just a fun trip with a few big days thrown in; I really wasn’t comparing it to doing a stage race. My, how things can change.
Yesterday, our ride was to be roughly 60 miles, essentially up one big climb and down the other side. We rolled from Panguitch, Utah, and after less than 10 miles began a climb we believed was roughly 20 miles long and climbing 5000 feet—hors categorie. It’s frustrating to admit, but a pinched nerve in my neck is preventing me from riding as I’d like, and yesterday (this is a double post because the Interwebs were anemic yesterday in Cedar City) I had to stop every few miles to re-set the nerve. By the time I reached the top of the climb, rain had moved in and I began to hear that classic sound of sunflower seeds on glass—sleet.
When the climb topped out just shy of 10,600 feet I thought I’d have an immediate ride down. That wasn’t to be. The great surprise of Utah has been that there are always a series of saddles to roll over before the descent starts. After one really quick drop that took me to just below 10,000 I reached a brake check lane and new the drop was to begin in earnest. I pulled over to take inventory.
Specialized’s Kim Hughes and Cyclingnews editor Daniel Benson had ridden with me (and waited for me) though both chose to get in the van. Daniel even turned back from the top of the climb to check on me. Neither had any interest in that drop.
It was foggy, raining, had too much traffic on a narrow road, the temp was in the 40s, my fingers were going numb and it hurt to look up the road for long.
I can do fast descents. I can do rough pavement. I can do rain. I can do fog. I can do cold. I can do traffic with enormous trucks. I can do narrow roads. To do all of those at once seemed stupid.
With nothing other than pride riding on getting down the mountain, I turned around and went back to the van parked a mile back. As I climbed in I admitted to Daniel, “At a certain point doing that descent became a violation of my values.”
I can’t profess to love my wife and son and do something that sketchy. I’ve wondered about the guys who hit the Hillary Step on Everest at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon—late enough that they should turn around—and still press for the summit. Dying for anything—including a dream—when you’ve got a family depending on you strikes me as supremely selfish. I’ve found transcendence in descents and will swear to their power in my life, but I’ve got people who depend on me.
When I woke this morning I really wasn’t sure how today’s ride would go. The menu included 118-, 100- and 75-mile options. I figured I was a question mark at best and went for the 75 option. The ride was mostly downhill, but had enough variety of terrain to keep me moving around on the bike and essentially pain-free.
As these things go, a little accidental detour makes the adventure complete. Four of us made our way downhill and into the town of Santa Clara. We passed “The Ranch” from the show The Biggest Loser. That I’ve heard of this place amazes me; this isn’t my brand of entertainment.
What I can tell you, aside from the fact that the complex is gorgeous and more construction is underway, is that this place is seriously in the middle of nowhere. There are no late-night walks to the Circle K or watering hole. If you’re off the res here, you’ll be easy to find.
Our ride took us through Veyo and its dormant volcanos. We saw giant slabs of black volcanic rock littering hillsides; it was hard to imagine what kept them from rolling down the slopes. There were red rock formations that conjured quintessential images of Utah. But the strangest, most surprising sight of the day was the orange soil we saw along the road before entering Arizona. This stuff was Crayola orange.
The descent off Utah Hill was 12 miles of letting the bike run with no need to hit the brakes for a turn. Apparently, Strava says I hit 54 in there somewhere. Who knew?
Patty, above, works for a Philly-area shop her brother owns, has since ’86. She’s lively, strong and knows her way around a bike and a paceline. She’s been great company all week. And when two yappy dogs came charging for us from a yard somewhere in the Arizona desert, she dressed them down with a voice of such trumpeted authority they turned around and ran back, and I nearly got dropped I was laughing so hard.
This ride has been win, lose and draw, depending on the hour of the day. But overall, it’s definitely been a win.
I’ve long respected the work of Specialized. They’ve had good products and even some bad ones, but more years than not, they’ve had a good product line. The big takeaway I’ve had from this ride is the incredible quality of their staff. This was my first chance to share time with people who I didn’t know at all (like Nancy LaRocque) and people who I knew largely through reputation (like Chris D’Alusio).
My conversation with D’Alusio, who is Specialized’s Director of Advanced R&D, on Saturday was off-the-record. We each spoke candidly of our experiences but what most struck me was his incredible insight. I need to sit down and interview him. I’ve talked with a lot of bike engineers. I haven’t spoken to any who have as much insight into what makes a particular bike do what it does as he. I’ll leave it at that for now.
It’s plain that Specialized does a ride like this as a way to convey their passion for their work. The cynical might see it as a way to serve up their brand of Kool-Aid. The trick here is that this setting is too intimate to fake passion, or competence. It’s the industry equivalent of a blood test. To me, it’s the corollary for why I like their bikes so much. They do a number of very good products, but the Prevail helmet doesn’t have the power to change the quality of a ride. The Tarmac has that power and has done it.
They are an impressive bunch, that crew. I enjoy spending time with them, in the saddle and out.
A new publisher is entering the market and is about to launch a new road bike magazine, called peloton. Let’s ask the question: Do we really need another road bike magazine? After all, in English we have Bicycling, Road Bike Action, Road, Cycle Sport, VeloNews, Pro Cycling and will soon have Paved.
Magazine aficionados will argue that Bicycling and Cycle Sport are meant for entirely different readers. One is obsessed with European professional racing while the other doesn’t yet know who Bjarne Riis is.
It’s the same way for writers. The story you would write for one editor isn’t remotely like the story you’d write for another. It’s a big reason why Red Kite Prayer exists and why I’ve been working freelance for a number of different outlets; to do the same sort of story for the same outlet month after month is a challenge. At a certainly point it becomes difficult to get up in the morning and make the donuts yet again.
What little I know of peloton so far is that it will be a pretty fresh take on what a bike magazine can be. It reminds me of what I was trying to do when I launched Asphalt. In my limited interaction with the publisher so far, I’ve been impressed. Rarely—if ever—has anyone ever asked me for “more honesty.”
I’m told the big reveal will come at Interbike. Until then, we’ll have to dig on the teaser film.
Image courtesy www.michaelcrook.com.
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.
I get a lot of questions about the cycling publications that feature my work. As much as I love writing about cycling, I am loathe to promote myself or my work. It’s odd that a writer who depends on having an audience in order to pursue his work would be reluctant to mount a personal advertising campaign, but so it is. Launching Red Kite Prayer was a monumental and difficult effort if only for the fact that I knew my name would be all over it.
In Los Angeles a former emergency room doctor is accused of injuring two cyclists by stopping short in front of them. Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson is charged with seven counts as a result of the incident, including reckless driving causing injury, two counts of battery with serious bodily injury, reckless driving, mayhem and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon. The charges stem from a July 4, 2008, incident in which Thompson is alleged to have stopped short in front of Ron Peterson and Christian Stoehr after a brief exchange of words. I’m reporting on these events for VeloNews.
On the chance that you’re not currently following the Thompson case on VeloNews.com, I encourage you to visit the site and follow the proceedings, not because I’m the reporter, but because I think the outcome of this case could tell us a lot about how American society feels about cyclists in general. It’s been tough work so far, work I’m unaccustomed to doing; fortunately, I’m working with terrific editors—VeloNews’ online editor Steve Frothingham and contributing editor Patrick O’Grady. Frothingham is an AP and Bicycle Retailer and Industry News veteran and O’Grady is known as a contributing editor to both VeloNews and Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.
To the degree that you are curious why I’m writing about the trial for VeloNews and not for RKP, the answer is simple: While the RKP readership is sizable, the VeloNews readership is much larger and these proceedings deserve as broad an audience as possible.
In addition to my occasional work for VeloNews, I also contribute to Road Bike Action. Most of my work for the magazine has concerned travel, but there have been a couple of technically oriented features as well as a comparison of the ’09 Astana team to the ’86 La Vie Claire team, commissioned by the magazine’s editor, Brad Roe. My relationship with Roe has been one of the easiest and most pleasant working relationships I’ve had in the industry. Despite (or maybe because of) the amount of research I did for the Astana/La Vie Claire feature, it ranks as one of the most enjoyable features I’ve written on in the last 10 years. In addition to the magazine features I write, I’m also contributing to the magazine’s web site twice a week (Mondays and Fridays).
For reasons I can’t explain, I find it nearly as enjoyable to write stories about the industry as to write about the equipment and racing; maybe it’s the chance to engage in some analysis. As a result, I also contribute, whenever the occasion arises, to the industry’s magazine of record, Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.
This winter Menasha Ridge Press will publish a book I’ve written called “Ride Like a Pro!” It is an instructional guide for entry-level roadies and contains everything from pack riding skills to chapters on metallurgy and geometry. I hope it will serve as a reference text for riders new and experienced alike.
I’m grateful for the readers who come to RKP. For those of you who enjoy my work and would like to see even more of it, I hope you’ll take a look at these other publications. This is probably as close as I’ll ever come to self-promotion. P.T. Barnum would call me a putz.
Concerning my present assignment for VeloNews, if you’re not already following this story, I hope you’ll check in on it from time to time in the coming weeks. It’s rare that cyclists come across a driver who might act in a deliberately harmful manner. Regardless of whether Thompson is found guilty, the facts of the case are shocking and the injuries gruesome; it should serve as a reminder to us of just how things can go wrong when we least expect it.
In shooting industry folk for my last post, I shot so many images, I couldn’t fit them all into a single post, so I’ve decided to do another and do so knowing that I will have omitted some terrific people. They are what, for me, make the trip to Vegas something I look forward to each year.
Above is Ted Costantino, the founding editor of Bicycle Guide. It was his guidance of the magazine that inspired in me a desire to write about cycling; his editors were good enough to light aspiration in me. All of the magazines showed me that being a bike magazine editor was cool, but BG made me want to write about cycling with real literary flair. Today Ted is the publisher of Velo Press and I periodically send him book proposals. I’ve wanted to work for this guy since the 1980s; I’ll find a way to do it some day.
Carson Stanwood taught me the value of a good PR guy. Part comic, part encyclopedia, part hale goodfellow and part dedicated rider, Carson is one of those guys who just gets it. He’s never pitched me on something as unnecessary as a hernia; his accounts have always been an A-list of companies I can’t know too much about. In 1997 he gave me a T-shirt commemorating Interbike with the slogan, “Help, I’m talking and I can’t shut up!” It’s still in rotation.
Chris King’s head of marketing, Chris Distefano (left) and co-worker Abby (whose last name I didn’t get, at right), caught here doing the hangover ride to Lake Mead and back. If there’s a magnetic north pole to cool somewhere in the universe, Chris is there with a bike sporting a product you’re dying to ride.
I began reading Richard Cunningham’s work at Mountain Bike Action before I ever scored a byline. I’ve long envied his creativity in frame design and prose; a combination you won’t find in too many places.
Brad Roe, right, is the editor for Road Bike Action and the man who invited me to contribute to their editorial efforts. Jonathan Edwards, left, is a doctor and one of the contributing editors to the magazine. Brad has overseen the magazine’s evolution from being written by a single editor to one that brings readers a number of voices. He’s receptive to new ideas and has a light touch as an editor; it’s a killer combination.
Ben Delaney, at left, and Sean Watkins, right, are both very fast Cat. 1 racers. As it happens, they are both employed by Competitor Group, where Ben is the editor of VeloNews and Sean helps to oversee advertising sales for the entire group of magazines (which also includes Inside Triathlon and Triathlete). I met Ben when he was a staff editor for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News and he later freelanced for me at Asphalt. He’s everything you’d want in a contributor: good, easy going and on-time. I imagine he’s even better as a boss. Before joining the staff of Triathlete, Sean was an ad sales guy for Winning, Bicycle Guide and Triathlete when they were owned by another publisher, and he’s been fast for, well, he was a member of the Skittles team and called Lance Armstrong teammate.
Steve Frothingham is another former Bicycle Retailer guy who now works for VeloNews as their online editor. I contribute from time to time and Steve’s an easy guy to work with. In between his Bicycle Retailer days and joining VeloNews, Steve got a masters’ in journalism and spent some serious time in the trenches working for the Associated Press.
I got to know “A Dog in a Hat” author Joe Parkin in the fall of ’95 when he was racing for Diamond Back and he and teammie Gunnar Shogren spent the season racing ‘cross in New England. I already knew who he was from his days as a roadie in Europe and racing domestically for Coors Light. When I joined the staff of Bicycle Guide, I stayed in touch with Joe and he always had a ready quote for me. My trip to Interbike is incomplete without saying hi, and it’s nice to see his book has met with such success. He’s promised to carve out some time to contribute to Red Kite Prayer.
Matt Pacocha impressed the folks at VeloNews well enough to make the leap from pro mountain bike racer and freelancer to staff technical writer. It’s a good thing, too. He’s still super-fast and writes some very clear prose.
Dominique Rollin, left, of the Cervelo Test Team made the jump from domestic racing to Europe and did quite well in his first year. Len Pettyjohn, right, is the former director of Coors Light and is with a new venture now, called Centurion Cycling. Len will be producing a series of Gran Fondo rides in ’10 that will be both epic and fun. I’ve been quoting him in articles for more than 10 years.
Dave Letteiri once interviewed me for a position as a mechanic for the Chevrolet/L.A. Sheriffs cycling team. Most of the interview focused on my ability to keep cool if I was being yelled at by an amped-up rider. Since then, Dave’s career has been devoted to Fastrack Bicycles in Santa Barbara where he is an integral part of the cycling scene. His shop looks a bit like a bomb went off, but has some priceless cycling memorabilia that makes it a must-visit for anyone passing through the town.
Derin and Kurt Stockton ought to be legendary for their exploits. Kurt is a former US Pro champion (1990) and Derin raced in Europe for Tulip, among other teams. When I joined the staff of Bicycle Guide, Derin was a contributing editor and did some extraordinary work. Since then he has raced pro downhill and these days is a strength and conditioning coach for pro motocrossers in Temecula, Calif. Kurt has stayed close to the road world and has managed several teams and has plans to announce something new in the near future.
Jim Stevenson is from my neck of the woods, but got out of the South before I did. The number of mutual friends we have in Tennessee and Missisippi are enough to make you think we are fraternity brothers, and in a way I guess we are. Since his departure he has worked for Centurion/Diamondback, GT, Felt and now Bianchi, where he is national sales manager. If there is one guy’s brain in the industry I’d love to download, he’d be at the top of the list.
Nic Sims is Specialized’s media relations guy for the bike industry. You’ve probably seen him on Versus talking up the latest in Specialized technologies. He’s witty, passionate and has the energy of a five year old on Red Bull. He was one of the first guys I talked to in the industry to really understand the power of blogs as a new form of media.
Josh Rebol is one of the instructors for Specialized’s SBCU. Prior to joining Specialized, he was was at Hazard’s in Santa Barbara where all he did fits all day, every day. When I have a question about fit, he’s one of the first guys I go to.
That’s Robin Thurston, one of the biggest-picture thinkers I’ve encountered in the bike industry. He’s the visionary behind Map My Ride. His business acumen is formidable and he paid serious dues racing in Europe before thinking about how GPS could change our interaction with our world. This guy is one to watch.
Assos’ Larry Kohn and Kim Schramer. They are bringing Assos the level of recognition the line deserves and are among a short list of lines that have really seen the value in the bicycle studio concept. Larry was a big fan of Belgium Knee Warmers and stepped up right away to support Red Kite Prayer.
Of all the cycling clothing companies to see the value of offering both custom clothing to teams and a collection for those who want something fresh looking without the crush of manufacturers’ logos that some team jerseys are, I don’t think anyone has done a better job of it than Gary Vasconi and the crew at Capo Forma. Gary eats, drinks and sleeps the roadie life and gets it like only a true roadie can.
Brian Worthy is the U.S. representative for one of the world’s best custom clothing lines: Vermarc. The Belgian line sponsors one team: Quick Step. However, if you look around a bit, you’ll see a lot of PROs wearing their stuff—their teams just buy it. Why? It’s that good.
Michael Foley and Ken DeCesari are two of the men behind the incredible growth of Sock Guy. Foley was the man behind the launch of Bike magazine and was with Bicycle Guide before that. He’s well-connected and seems always to know what’s happening even before it has happened. I’ve learned loads from that guy.
J.P. Partland is an old friend who has contributed to every magazine I’ve worked for in the industry. These days, one of his primary gigs is writing the incredible detailed copy for the Competitive Cyclist site, along with honch Brendan Quirk. He lives in New York City and can be found at the races most weekends in the PRO/1/2 field.
Chad Nordwall is the man behind Above Category bicycle studio in Mill Valley, Calif., which is probably the only community in America to sport two incredible bicycle studios (the other being Studio Velo). Above Category is likely to become an object lesson in how to present cycling in a more professional manner and the competition between the two shops will make each even better.
My apologies to the dozens of other friends I didn’t see or just plain forgot to shoot when I saw you on the floor.
As much as I love going to Interbike to see new bikes and parts each year, I need to be honest and say I’m far more excited to see friends both old and new. One of the things that has kept me in the bike industry for more than 20 years is friendship. I’ve had the good fortune to make friends with a great many people in the bike industry and each year my trip to the show is often my one guaranteed annual chance to see these great people.
Above is Brad Devaney, an engineer with Litespeed. Brad and I met in 1989 while working for the Peddler Bike Shop in Memphis, Tennessee. The Peddler crew was a tight-knit, collegial bunch and we frequently rode together. Of the mechanics I worked with, Brad was clearly the most resourceful and mechanically adept. A few years ago I bumped into Brad and asked him about one of our old coworkers, a triathlete named Corey; Brad and Corey were tight. It was there on the show floor that Brad told me Corey had been hit by a car while on a ride and killed. The show floor was a rotten place to hear the news, but there was no one I’d rather have delivered it.
I ment Alan Coté when I joined the UMASS cycling team in the fall of 1989. Alan was very fast and one of the only guys on the team who knew how to wrench on a bike. We spent a portion of one summer working at Bicycle World Too in Amherst before he moved to Boulder to be with his girlfriend (now wife) Megan. Today, Alan is a contributing editor to Bicycling and has been writing about cycling for longer than I have. He got his start freelancing for VeloNews and worked his way up to Bicycle Guide. It was as a result of Alan’s help that I got my foot in the door at Bicycle Guide. He questioned my sanity when I expressed my willingness to leave Northampton for Los Angeles—”Pat, isn’t Los Angeles the on-ramp to the apocalypse?”—to which I responded, “Dude, I’ve been to Mississippi.”
Jeff Winnick is an independent sales rep in New England. His lines have changed over the years, but he’s the same warm, straightforward and honest guy I met while working at Northampton Bicycle in 1990. I took Jeff to lunch one day to ask his advice on how to move from retailing into the industry side of the biz. He was generous with his time and knowledge, still is.
If you’ve ever raced a bike in New England, chances are Merlyn Townley wrenched on your bike in a neutral pit at some point. Merlyn and I met at the Olympic Training Center in 1992 when we were there to get our mechanics’ licenses. He was a delight to share a room with then and we worked together at many events over the next few years. Merlyn always impressed me with his utterly tireless enthusiasm for working on bikes. He is one of the only mechanics I can say reminds me of the great Bill Woodul. Today Merlyn has an upstart OEM wheel building business based in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Devin Walton called me up in May of 1994 to work neutral support for Shimano at the 1994 World Cup mountain bike event at Mt. Snow, Vermont. Over the weekend I worked on more bikes than I typically saw during a week at a shop. Devin’s professionalism filled me with a new respect for Shimano and the talent they assembled. Today, Devin is still with Shimano and has one of the company’s most coveted posts: media relations guy. He handles all media relations as well as some pretty heavy lifting on the PR side.
One of the other mechanics on hand for that June 1994 weekend was this guy, Mike Conlan. Mike was the first bike mechanic I ever saw don latex gloves for grimy work. A real pro and a very nice guy. Today, Mike is the manager of Outdoor Sports Center in Wilton, Conn. His instincts are as sharp as ever and he is a guy whose opinion I always ask when it comes to retailing trends.
I met Larry Theobald in Greenfield, Massachusetts in 1991. He was working for Breaking Away Tours in the summer and riding with us in the spring and fall. His wife, Heather, was finishing her doctorate at UMASS and I rode with her from time to time. In the winters, I’d frequently see him at one of the cross-country ski areas up in the Berkshires. These days Larry and Heather have a tour company called Cycle Italia that is known for excellent rides, great accommodations and even better food.
Butch Balzano may be the only mechanic in New England who is even better known than Merlyn Townley. I worked a few races with Butch in the early ’90s and thought him so competent as to make me superfluous. He has been providing race support through Campagnolo, Shimano and now SRAM for more than 20 years. He’s as easy going a guy as there is, and one of the few guys I can say for whom a 12-second wheel change is routine.
Richard Fries became known to me as a Cat. 1 who started a magazine called The Ride. I began freelancing for The Ride with its second issue and gradually became more involved in the magazine, eventually writing a column called Shop Talk. It was funny to write for a magazine whose publisher would frequently feature in headlines (I recall many along the lines of “Fries Wins Again in Marlborough”). Richard and his wife, Deb, published The Ride for more than 10 years; it was easily the best regional I ever saw published. Along the way a funny thing happened: Richard’s son, Grant was born and became old enough to ride his own bicycle, and Richard got concerned about where Grant could ride. Today, Richard is one of the nation’s most ardent and effective voices for bicycle advocacy, working with a variety of organizations, including Bikes Belong. Oh, and if you ever need to know anything about the Civil War, he’s faster with the facts than Wikipedia.
The man in the Reynolds booth is another former Northamptonite, Jonathan Geran. Jonathan’s easy way has seen him in sales for Merlin, Parlee, McLean Quality Composites and now Reynolds. The one thing we try not to do when we see each other is to discuss the mountain biking we used to enjoy in western Mass.
Chris Carmichael called on me to help the Junior National Team with several races in 1993. He was easy to work for and had the ability to tell each rider exactly what they needed to hear right before a race. I remember thinking it was no wonder he was head coach for the U.S. National Team. In the years since, Chris has been generous in giving me quotes for many articles and a book.
Derreck Bernard was one of the first people I met when I joined the staff of Bicycle Guide. He was part of the ad sales staff and was as nice and easy going a guy as you’d want to work with. He helped change my perception of the high-pressure ad sales guy. Since Petersen’s sale and re-sale, Derreck joined the staff of Hi-Torque Publications, where he sells ads for Mountain Bike Action, Road Bike Action and BMX Plus! Thanks to my freelance work for Road Bike Action, even though we don’t work together directly, its fun to think of him as a coworker again.
Carol and Bill McGann are the former owners of Torelli Imports. Bill and Carol are an incredible team and really collaborate on everything; their affection and respect for each other is something to envy. Bill still works for the company some, so I still get to see them in the Torelli booth each year. He is one of the rare guys on the manufacturing side of the business who really taught me a lot about the industry, rather than just his line. He’s got an incredibly expansive view (he’s an armchair historian which may help explain his ability to see the bigger picture) of the bike industry and has helped me see trends as they develop. He’s also one helluva travel companion and the week I spent with him in Italy will go down as one of the finest weeks of my whole life.