Sep
27
2013
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1

China’s 1st MTB Park: Lindao, Dalian

Another rider glides past, this time gracefully, with the flair of a Crested Butte local.  His full suspension bike, a small local brand that you’ve probably never heard of, reeks not of hipsterism but of pragmatism; it likely cost him less than a ‘big brand’, and it might not be perfect, but it probably works pretty well. Brightly colored riders, beyond garish, dot the humid green summer landscape like enormous butterflies. Whether it’s a fake or authentic Fox jersey is given little thought: it’s still a jersey, and he’s still wearing it. But chances are, with this particular crew of Chinese riders, it’s legit. Truth is, even up close, you probably can’t tell anyways.

But what is real, what’s always real, is the sweat-strewn & smiling face of the rider as he sails or flails down the jump line that makes up the finishing straight to the Lindao MTB bike park in Dalian, China.  It’s the first official bike park in China, a little more than an hour’s flight from Shanghai, on the tip of a far northern peninsula. On a map, it’s almost nervously close to North Korea. Lindao is also a (relatively) popular winter ski destination, insofar as people here ski, which for the most part, they don’t. Skiing is another sport that has not, or has not yet, become a mainstream activity in the growing middle and upper ranks of the Chinese. By any other standards, Lindao is not much of a hill: Top-to-bottom runs take only a few minutes or less, the one operating lift shows it’s age in corrosion, and the amenities at the park are somewhere between a student hostel and a roadside truckstop. It’s more summer camp than resort, but that’s not all that surprising, and actually it feels nostalgically familiar, not far from what it was like when North America started mountain biking. Back in the 1970′s, guys like Fisher, Breeze, Guy, and the rest of the NorCal misfit visionaries were shuttling to the top of Repack in pickup trucks.  These Chinese riders have the same sort of renegade adventurism; they also happen to have access to about 40 years worth of technological innovations and fashion faux pas that our pioneers had to invent themselves.



You don’t need help getting on the lift, do you?

But for now this isn’t about what they don’t have, or what they do wrong.  Sure, there’s a long list of creature comforts missing in Dalian, and definite opportunities for polish on the bike park experience. The trails aren’t perfect. There isn’t a beer sponsor, or the infrastructure that one affords. Food options are limited. There’s no plush resort hotel with pillow chocolates.  And it’s vicious hot here during their short summer season. But none of that stops them. They’re still doing it; some of the riders here are already faster than you. The enthusiasm, camaraderie, and bro-down bravado are all here, competitive yet supportive – they all know they need each other, both as podium targets, and as social reinforcements. It was a busy weekend here, by their standards (probably about 50 riders at the peak times), so there simply aren’t enough people at this level yet, and they’re happy to welcome new people in. Even white guys like me that don’t speak mandarin.

All that said, they do have some things here that North American or European riders might be impressed by: Their dual slalom course is impressive, scarred by the tire treads of both extremely cheap and extremely expensive suspension bikes, the latter often decidedly overkill for the local terrain. The built trail features are well designed and solidly built, and I counted over a dozen guys with high-end DSLR’s capturing the action, doubtless to post later to Weibo, China’s leading social networking site.  The weekend’s DH race offered impressive glass trophies for top 3 in each category, and drool marks were spiderwebbed across a table of podium prizes that included MRP chain guides and high-end LED light systems, easily thousands of dollars in schwag for a race that might have had 45 entrants. They’ve even got electronic timing at their races, and it’s flawless – even when they run their DH races at night, with lights. Yes, really.  Stuttering down the slalom course at night on a rented bike with imperfect skill, imperfect lights, and imperfecter tires, I managed to cross the finish line unscathed, but nearly in last place. My time of 1:40 hardly compared to the top five riders, all finishing the starlit descent in under a minute. Afterwards around social hibachi-style BBQ’s, and throughout the weekend, I talked with a number of riders, often but not always through interpreters, and the way they talk about the sport is very familiar. Karen, a Beijing rider with elaborate tattoos and a Manchester accent, seemed completely unphased by being the only woman on the hill: she rode with the boys, and was as seamless as the rest of them, all of them confident in their local culture. Their motivations are similar, their desire to push the limits of their abilities is clear, and they’re quickly and visibly excited about new technology and innovations. Make no mistake, this wick is lit; it’s just hard to know if there’s dynamite at the end of it, or maybe a better question: how much?

So what would it take for this to go big? China needs to put it’s big mountains to work. It’s just not clear what’s going to start that: will it take a savvy investor to build a Whistler replica somewhere in China, like they did with Paris, taking a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude? Or does a tiny park like Dalian need to be so overstuffed with new riders that the business model of a new, bigger park is obvious and infallible? The trouble with either option is that, based on what exists today, neither is particularly likely. This may never go mainstream, or it may take years, or it could take several years following a decade of more affluent growth in the skiing industry, allowing the cyclists to trail along, coasting on coattails of the well-heeled and their powder skis. Then again, it could change overnight, should it become a priority for an investment firm or government organization, and we could find ourselves with a dozen world class bike parks inside of a year. That’s how fast the tide can shift here.

It’s too easy to dismiss it all as impossible, but that would ignore the fact that there is a scene here, and it’ll survive & thrive on a lot less than you think it would take. Some of these riders could be on world cup podiums inside five years. Or maybe one.

A special note for those of you rolling your eyes at any of this: if it’s their mind blowing violations of what we’d call safety regulations, take a minute to wonder if it’s because you’re simply too coddled. Before you question the brand allegiances or fashion sense of these riders, think about what you once rode and wore. While you’re at it, take that sticker off your flat brim hat & then go re-read all your forum comments out loud at a poetry reading. And before you admonish anyone in China for being less core than you because they might not have paid as much for their lift ticket as you did at Whistler, take a minute to just smack yourself. Right now, it’d be a good time to ask what you’d do if you were in their place. Where would you be and what would you be doing, today, if some other part of the world had invented mountain biking 40 years ago, and you were just buying your first real bike today?

Empathy is also a hell of a drug. Pretty good as a long-term cure, too.

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Written by chris in: General Musings |
Mar
05
2013
comment
3

Writing about Cycling? Please read.

Today’s blog post is a public service announcement, except it’s not really for the public as much as it’s for bloggers, journalists, reporters, and anyone else who might for some reason, at some time, need to write about or talk about cycling, but aren’t themselves cyclists.  So it’s for the public, yes, but just a very small (and often underpaid) sliver of the public.

Each time I read an easily avoidable literary faceplant whenever someone tries and fails to write about cycling, I feel a twinge of responsibility. As someone who rides his bike a lot, calls himself a cyclist, and can sometimes string a few coherent-yet-run-on sentences together, I thought perhaps I could help.  So here are some hopefully helpful tips and tricks for anyone to use when writing about cycling, so that you don’t sound like you’re entirely clueless. Also, just so you don’t think I’m blaming you: cyclists are admittedly a bit of a strange bunch. It’s not that we’re a secret society. From a literary standpoint, we’re closer to irregular verbs – we’re odd, but we’re generally consistent about it. Please don’t feel bad, it’s not your fault.

First off, the general activity is technically called “bicycling”, but when referring to it as a sport, as a noun it is generally referred to as cycling.  There are very few instances where the word “bicycling” won’t make you sound like a grade school teacher during sex-ed; so correct as to be emotionless.  So default to “cycling”. For example: “Cycling is a popular Olympic sport.” But please note that the machine itself is definitely called a bike, or sometimes a bicycle if you want to be more formal, and it should never be called a cycle.

However, please be careful how you use cycling as a verb.  Any time you say “Jenny went cycling today”, you missed a chance to say it the way Jenny would have probably said it: “I rode/raced my bike” or “I went for a bike ride”.  And if you’re writing about it, it’s safer to say “Jenny went riding” or “Jenny rode/raced her bike.”  Jenny probably won’t ever say “I’m going out cycling.” The one exception here is in tales of travel: if Jenny went to Italy, it’s likely that she’d tell a friend she “went cycling in Italy.” It’s equally accurate to refer to a “cycling trip” or “cycling holiday”. But Jenny will never say “I’m going out bicycling.”

But we’re not done: when used as an adjective, Jenny is a cyclist, and she would call herself a cyclist.  So it’s cool to say “Jenny is a cyclist.”

Unless she’s a mountain biker.  That throws a whole new wrench into the soup.

If Jenny rides mountain bikes, with bigger knobby tires on dirt roads or trails, then she’s a mountain biker. This is really the only safe time to use the word biker in the context of someone riding a bike: it must have the word “mountain” in front of it. Never, ever call anyone “a biker”.  A biker rides motorcycles, has tattoos, and has been, or is probably, in jail. Similarly for the verb biking – don’t use it, unless you’re saying “Jenny went mountain biking.”  One does not simply “go biking”.

one does not

But back in the city, if you’re talking about smooth tires on pavement, then definitely never use the term biker. Anyone riding on the streets for fun, fitness, or competition can safely be called a cyclist. In some cases, if you’re part of a group ride and you’re referring to another in your group, you can refer to them as a rider. For example: “Look at that cyclist” says someone from a coffee shop.  Or “The rider on my left ran over the squirrel” said Jenny, after the group ride finished.  Typically, this is how cyclists refer to each other when talking in 2nd person. In general, it’s best to leave the term “rider” for the direct quotes from a cyclist in your writing. Also worth noting: nobody is ever a cycler. That sounds like something in your dishwasher. Same goes for “bicycler” – never.

And dear god, under no circumstances should you say anyone “went for a cycle”.  Unless you’re in the UK, writing about a very casual ride around the cul-de-sac that ended with tea and cucumber sandwiches. Or unless you want to sound British, for some reason. Or unless you’re British, I suppose.

Regarding professional racing, and writing about professional racing: while this should mostly be left to the pro writers who follow the sport for a living, if you’re forced to say something about it and can’t hire one of them, then here are a few tips.  First, just like Attorneys General, the plural of Tour de France is Tours de France. There’s still only one France. When referring to racers, they can be called “racers”, “pro racers”, “pros”, “pro cyclists”, “pro riders”, and “professional riders” interchangeably.  But when you refer to a pro, they should be someone who races on a team, and earns money (not much, usually) to do so. Don’t refer to someone as a pro just because they are dressed as one.  And when talking about a rider in the context of a race or a ride, it’s okay to say “rides his/her bike”, “races his/her bike”, or “raced his/her bike” as needed.  But as above, don’t say “cycled his/her bike”.

If you ever find yourself writing about amateur local racing, first please pause and give yourself a high five (or a fist bump if you’re covering mountain biking): because that’s awesome. There isn’t enough coverage of the sport’s amateur levels, and it’s awesome that you’re doing it.  Don’t be afraid to get quotes from the riders, from the organizers, and from the dedicated friends & family cheering from the sidelines. They’ll write your story for you.

If you’re talking about the more utilitarian world of riding bikes in a city, here are some specific terms for that avenue.  First, it’s okay to say “city riding” or “urban riding” interchangeably, and if someone is using their bike to get around town or to get to/from work, they’re a “bike commuter” or more simply, a “commuter”. In the urban settings, the term “rider” is more common than the term “cyclist”, as many of these people view their bikes as tools more so than expressions of their personality.  They will tend to view the term “cyclist” as someone with the shaved legs, bright lycra, and expensive pro appearances, and they often want little to do with that as they pedal to work in jeans and an REI wind jacket. There is, of course, lots of crossover between these audiences, but you’re writing for an audience, so know who that audience is, and be true to that audience.

And last note, particularly on the pro/competitive side of things: be careful when things get technical. If you need to cover aspects of the bikes, the equipment, or the related technologies that currently exist in the bike world, you can credibly do so in a couple of ways.  First option: be very specific, stick to factual details such as materials, weight, and cost – anything with a number, or a square on the periodic table – and don’t add superlatives. This won’t get you in trouble, but it won’t be very interesting, either.  Second option: complement the first option with rider quotes or testimonials about their bikes or equipment, and take their firsthand knowledge to your writing. If that isn’t an option, find a local bike shop that deals in similar high-quality bikes, and interview one of their sales staff, or if you want more of a challenge, one of their mechanics. You’ll get the straight goods from people who know, and if they’re smart, they’ll love you for it because they might get their shop mentioned somewhere in the news. A word of caution here: Don’t rely on the internet for technical information, unless it’s from a manufacturer’s website. Avoid blindly repeating manufacturer’s claims of being the best/lightest/strongest, as many of them speak in marketing acronyms and hyperbole that will make you sound uninformed at best, and at worst a shill. And don’t rely on any technical information that is more than a year old, because it’s definitely out of date. These days, even 6 month old information can sometimes be passe. Same goes for supporting photography: any article, no matter how well written, will be laughably and utterly destroyed by a 1992 stock image. There is simply no reason to not find something that was shot in the last 3-4 weeks if it’s general, or within the past year if it meets a specific need.

As a caveat here (and let’s be honest, this blog post probably deserves a few dozen caveats), nothing I’ve written necessarily applies to BMX bikes (the typically younger riders who frequent skate parks, halfpipes, dirt jumps, or pumptracks.  They have their own vernacular, and I can’t claim or pretend to know it.

Also, this doesn’t fully cover every situation, and it is even less likely to apply to any of the technological luddites, retro-grouches, or red-haired stepchildren of cycling; namely those who ride recumbents, or those who ride touring bikes without deodorant (often while spouting off some technical nonsense they read on the internet), or couples who ride tandems with matching jerseys. If you need to write about them, you’re on your own.

Hope this has been helpful, feel free to post any follow-up questions in the comments.

 

Written by chris in: General Musings |
Mar
05
2013
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0

Airlines, and other things we love to hate together.

It’s easy to hate airlines. I think I’ve figured out why.

As an industry that takes constant abuse (and often deserves it), the airlines (@United, in particular) always seem like they’re many steps behind the social media complaints, the angry blog posts, the irate customers at service counters, and the heavy sigh of relief when any trip is finally, mercifully over.  As someone who flies more than I’d prefer, I’d like to think I’ve gotten past it, and generally I suffer through each over-pressurized, over-securitized, sleep deprived assault on my happiness with a smile. But it takes just one unexplainably lost bag, one middle seat for 10 hours, or one oversold flight to take me quickly back to anger, frustration, and resentment.

And the reason, I think, is simple: The airlines aren’t responsible for what we’re really buying when we buy a plane ticket.  We don’t fly somewhere to experience flying. We fly somewhere to get there; to arrive. And once I’ve arrived at a hotel, a resort, an office, or back at home, none of the positive associations of that arrival are allocated, at least in my mind, to the airline.  When I buy that ticket, I am purchasing my arrival, and yet I’ve only allowed the airline to be responsible for everything leading up to it, because that’s exactly how they market themselves. To which I say: why would you do that? And they’re not alone: other industries sell the process to achieve something that the customer wants, but similarly get none of the credit for a beneficial conclusion. There are surprisingly quite a few. I’d put dentists in this category, along with hospitals, insurance companies, mortgage brokers, and taxi drivers. But the airlines are the worst offender. It doesn’t help that social media has turned airline vitriol into a public bloodsport.

So what to do? Seems like the options are twofold: first, airlines could make the experience of flying more enjoyable. Fly business class just once, and you’ll see that it is possible. It’s just not very scaleable, and it costs a stupid amount of money. Somehow, the people at Virgin seem to have this one pretty well figured out for everyone, not just business class – their entire flight experience is fantastic, even in coach, and I wish they offered more routes that I fly. If there were more terminals like SFO’s Terminal 2, there would be a lot more happy travelers.

The second option would be for airlines (and other similarly affected industries) to find ways to get involved with the actual ‘arrival’ experience. This seems like the obvious one, but yet, anywhere in the world I’ve been (40+ countries), you’re unceremoniously dumped into an airport with a hollow and empty “buh-bye” from the weary flight attendants. Every walkway into an airport terminal is a wasted opportunity, every baggage claim pickup is a missed chance at a warmer welcome, every taxi queue a cold reminder that you’re no longer cared for by the airline.  And I bet I’d like my dentist more if, after a visit, I was given a 15-minute neck & shoulder massage and a cup of green tea. When I was a kid, I got stickers. As an adult, all I get is a giant bill and an entitlement-fuelled expectation that I’ll be back in 6 months for more lashings.

If you’re in the business of selling people a result, you better make sure you find a way to be a part of the result. Don’t be satisfied to simply be the harsh, rocky pathway that leads there.

 

Written by chris in: General Musings |
Mar
02
2013
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0

Burn the boats

Dear friend,
  1. Do you ever use advertisements?
  2. Have you ever substituted one advertisement for another, thinking that one particular ad was the problem?
  3. Have you ever manipulated or lied to an advertising sales rep?
  4. Have you placed one ad to overcome the effects of another?
  5. Do you avoid people or places that do not approve of your ads?
  6. Have you ever placed an ad without knowing what it meant or what it would do to your business?
  7. Has your job performance ever suffered from the effects of your advertising?
  8. Have you ever lied about what or how much you advertise?
  9. Do you put the purchase of ads ahead of your financial responsibilities?
  10. Have you ever tried to stop or control your ads?
  11. Does advertising interfere with your sleeping or eating?
  12. Does the thought of running out of ads terrify you?
  13. Do you feel it is impossible for you to live without ads?
  14. Have you had irrational or indefinable fears about advertising?
  15. Do you ever question your own sanity?
  16. Do you think you might have a drug problem?

You’re smart.  You see what I just did there.  Apart from changing the word “drugs” to “advertising” or “ads”, the questions were all directly copied from a Narcotics Anonymous self-assessment form.  It’s kind of a joke, but not really.

We can only fix problems that we are willing to see as problems.  And the companies that rely on advertising – those that are satisfied to simply blast the world with ads, interruptions, and the myriad other visual & aural penalties that clutter the lives we want to live – these are the addicts (pun not so much intended as simply unavoidable).  Like an addict, to stay alive, these are the businesses that most need to change.  Yet, some will likely be the advertising overdose cases of the next 5-10 years.  Perhaps we’ll look back at some of them, sadly, and say things like “they had so much potential”, and “it’s just such a waste”.  But they simply don’t see the problem.  They’re invincible.

I’d like to propose that the world doesn’t need print or TV ads.  I’d further like to propose a “burn the boats” strategy for breaking the addiction, and make it impossible to return to the old ways.  The results will be twofold: first, the lives we want to lead will be in a world that we want to live in.  Second, this world will be decorated by messages, products, brands, and companies we believe in. This is not to say we don’t need marketing: smart marketing is fantastic.  It helps people make the right choices, and when done well, it can be inspiring, fulfilling, and indistinguishable from entertainment.  It’s just so rarely done via advertising that I doubt we’ll miss it.

So how to do it?  Place one last ad.  Make the ad with a simple message: “This is our last ad. We’re going to find new ways to stay connected with you, and to invite more new people in to join us. If you ever see a new print or TV advertisement from us again in the future, please let us know and we’ll send you $100.”   Then include ways that those who are interested can stay in touch (Facebook, Twitter, Baidu, Naver, email, etc).

Then, the work starts: take the print advertising budget, and the TV commercial placement budget, and use that money to find new ways to support the key media who matter to you (magazines, networks, newspapers, podcasts, etc).  Call them up, tell them you’re done with ads but not with them, and then ask them how else you can support the work they do in a way that will be a benefit to the audiences they reach.  And if they can’t help you, then it stands to reason that they never have.

Impossible? Sorry, that’s your addict speaking. Today, Red Bull is winning not just the soda wars, but also the global advertising war, whether by skydiving from space or Flugtag. Meanwhile, YouTube is demolishing broadcast media in a way that can provide millions (or even billions) of views for free if you’re willing to make something worth watching, and then they’ll even pay you revenue for those views.  To call this idea impossible is just a way of saying “I don’t know how.”

For further support to the idea, take a look at Michael Schrage’s recent article on HBR, where he points out that we’ve trained consumers to look online for reviews and advice before buying anything, so now what should advertisers do?  His conclusion: The answer to this question is not, “Gee, we need better advertising and promotion!” It’s “organizations need something better than advertising and promotion.”  (hat tip to @iamctodd for sharing this article while I was working on this post)

Yes, exactly.

Even as a guy who works inside the marketing world, I’ll admit the idea is extreme.  For some, it might not even be a good idea because they’ve already missed their chance, and for others, it might not be a good idea yet.  But guaranteed, the clock is ticking.

Written by chris in: General Musings |
Jan
02
2012
comment
11

Amazon’s Price Check App + Bikes = nothing new (yet)

Recently, the people at Amazon.com launched a mobile app called Price Check, allowing anyone to use the camera on a web-enabled phone to scan a barcode, and then the app scours Amazon’s site for that product, letting you compare prices.  This news should be entirely unremarkable given how long this technology, and others like it, have already existed.  Not only that, but other longstanding barcode scanner apps, such as RedLaser and ShopSavvy, will search a wide array of online merchants, not just Amazon.

Quite simply, this isn’t news – rather, it’s something else entirely: PR.  Egads, we’ve been hoodwinked again, this time by Amazon marketers who cleverly repackaged something you already had, and sold it to you again with extra glitter and some hot fudge topping. No need to fear though, because it’s a technology thing, and technology things change really fast, so by the time I finish writing this, it could all shift again. The more time we worry about what’s already happened, the less likely we are to spend time actually thinking about what’s about to happen next.  That, right there, is the important bit.  You can stop reading now if you like.

It’s worth noting that the fans on this particular PR flame were powered in part by the company I work for, and specifically by our President, Mike Sinyard, in a letter he wrote to all Specialized dealers in the USA alerting them to this technology – but not for the reason you might think.  Mike was letting dealers know that if products they carried from other brands were also available through Amazon, either directly or indirectly, that this meant their shops were becoming showrooms for these online sales channels of other retailers.  This is absolutely true, and has been true for some time. Specialized has a long (and at times imperfect) history of selling only through independent retailers, and the logic is that if a retailer elects to only sell products that are available in other independent retailers, you’re unlikely to lose the sale to an undercutting online competitor. If you haven’t seen the letter, you can read it (and some related commentary) here.

Bike shops, along with many other retailers, are vulnerable to this brave new world where information symmetry between retailer and customer is coming into ever-sharper focus.  People buy stuff online for all kinds of reasons: convenience, geography, selection, less pressure, online reviews, and for sure, price.  And even within a trusted retail environment, it’s pretty reasonable to use a smartphone to check online reviews, whether of the product or of the retailer you’re in, and yes, to compare prices.

Back to Mike’s point: by carrying brands that Amazon doesn’t sell, bike shops (and other retailers) are ‘defended’, which is true to a point.  They’re certainly better off than bike shops who sell products widely available online at deep discounts. But this defensive strategy only goes so far.  If I walk in looking for new bike tires, and I can pay $NUM for brand X tire that I quickly learn is not available online anywhere, then sure, I might feel confident in my purchase. But imagine what will happen when Amazon (or any other similar app) gets smart enough to suggest a comparable tire from brand Y that *is* available online, for 30% off, and it has 17 reviews that are all 5 star, and 8 of those reviews are from riders who live within 100 miles of me.  Eventually, information symmetry will mean this: every retailer is competing not just with retailers that also sell the same products, but also with retailers who sell products that are ‘comparable’ in terms of whatever the salient metrics might be: performance, weight, color, style, size, material…anything.  Everything.

That’s the piece that I think seems to be missing, and that’s where I think this will end up: retailers (bicycle and otherwise) are not just competing with on price. They’re competing in a pair of landscapes: one of “same product for $NUM less”, as well as a parallel landscape of “comparable-or-better product for $NUM, now on sale!”.  A customer’s ability to cross reference products as being comparable has never been more powerful, but we’re only seeing the start of this trend: through something as simple as a google search, or as advanced as aggregated user-generated reviews and feedback, cross-brand comparisons will become common.  Just look at the comparison sites that level the field for TV’s, cameras, and computers.  This means that retailers will need more than just a brand amazon doesn’t sell.  Unless they’re comfortable being a high-volume, low-margin retailer that can survive by operating at large scale, then retailers should probably be looking to combine four things:

1. Trusted and respected brands that are effectively controlled online – perhaps unavailable, but more likely: just consistently priced & presented.
2. Products that are, in the eyes of customers, incomparable with others once they’ve committed to a favorite (think: perfume).
3. Perfect, individualized customer service.

And lastly, but most crucially,
4. A digital strategy that accepts, and supports, the reality of sales channel agnosticism. Customers don’t see much difference between buying in store and buying online anymore, and that’s only going to become more true. Related: did you know that Ebay is the world’s largest car dealership?

I think, in general, this is all good for customers right now, and eventually it will be good for many bike shops.  If we can reduce the intimidation factor in bike shops by empowering people with information, buying a bike gets less scary, and (maybe) we get more people willing to go into a bike shop instead of relying on the comfortable anonymity of a Walmart or Costco. Years ago, car dealers bemoaned their fate when people could walk in having already researched the invoice price of a car that was on their showroom floor. Today, buying a car is less intimidating, and the brands and dealerships that offer great service and an integrated online/offline sales channel are thriving. That better service and seamless sales experience creates reviews, social buzz, and endorsements. It’s a virtuous cycle, as long as you’re on the right side of it from the customer’s perspective. Just ask Apple, they’ll tell you.

So retailers need to assume customers know everything – that’s the information symmetry in full effect. Many times, people will willingly pay more for something when the purchase experience is as good as the ownership experience.  And seriously, and speaking as a customer myself: if you try to prevent me from scanning a bar code in your store, I will assume you have something to hide.  Instead, try treating it as an invitation to a conversation, and an admission that I’m actually considering buying that product, and not “just looking, thanks.”

Written by chris in: General Musings |
Nov
27
2011
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0

Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships. YES, the ENTIRE WORLD!

I have never been to burning man, I’ve never made any sort of pilgrimage to any sort of holy place, and I’ve never participated in any sort of organized protest or rally.  Despite never having done these things, I understand the sense of community that lives within these events – shared place, shared vision, shared experience.  Bike racing, particularly at the amateur levels, shares a similar camaraderie, as many of the same people show up weekend after weekend, leveling up against each other, and doing battle on a weekend course that will, come sunday night, go back to being whatever it was before the race covered it in caution tape, course marshals, finish line arches, and sometimes a bit of blood.  Last weekend, this sense of community blossomed into something spectacular at the Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships, held in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

Didn't catch his name.

It wasn’t just that the normal community of cyclocross racers were all out in full force.  Nor was it the fact that some of them were in charge of the entire event.  It was how quickly and easily all these out of towers were so quickly welcomed and assimilated into our hive of mud-mucking defashionistas.  “Where you from?”, asked casually, and answered equally casually with anything from “Seattle” to “South America”. Shared values of coffee, craft beer, and the contact high of tubular glue were unremarkable, not because they weren’t true, but because they were just so obvious. The weekend family we shared in the bay area CX community, it seemed, had once again joined up with an array of visitors from the same original but unknown mothership (whatever the hell that crazy place must be), and we partied and high five’d and rode our way around the city like we f**king owned the place.  Because, clearly, and according to the mustachio’d guy dressed like a sexy Reno cop, we did own this place.  it was ours, and we were happy to share it with these out of towners.

Saturday’s qualifier event was a 20-mile leisurely ride around the city in don’t-draw-attention-to-ourselves, permit-free groups of 10. During this, and underneath remarkably sunny SF skies, the locals provided the out-of-towners with an unbeatable tour and a think crust of locals-only knowledge that included the sordid background of certain landmarks, and the vintage history of certain gentlemen’s clubs.  I believe most of it was true, and the parts that were made up were at least more interesting than the truth, so what they lacked in veracity they more than made up for in entertainment.  For example, I’m pretty sure the columns at the Palace of Fine Arts do not date back to the 1700′s.  But that’s pretty funny to think.

To qualify for Sunday’s main event, we were challenged to five different “feats of strength”.  This pentathlon of chaos was part sprint, part gladiator, and part summer camp.  As one might expect (at least for those in the know), it began with the option of beer and/or coffee before the first feat, a 4 block sprint up the 23% grade of California Street.  On a single speed cross bike. My 46x16T gear choice was nothing other than wrong for this, but I soldiered through, turning the cranks over at a rate approximate to the speed of growing grass.  However long my knees last me, which I hope is a long time, I am sure this single 4-block effort reduced their life by at least a year.

The following four feats included sprints across a field that involved bicycle re-assembly, a sprint up an endless flight of stairs with your bike on your shoulder, a scavenger hunt melee for dollar bills, and a beach sand sprint up a sand dune.  Each time, we’d get our cards marked with our rank, ramping up the competitiveness with each new notch, feeling the pressure as we wondered what score would be needed to qualify for the race the next day. All we knew was that faster was better. And that there would be an unreasonably good party that night, no matter our placings.

After finishing with what I thought was a pretty questionable score, I was entirely uncertain whether or not I’d be racing in the big event the next day, and only at the party that night would I find out that I did just barely scrape by, sneaking a coveted starting spot at what might be the only World Championship event I ever compete in – regardless of how dubious that title may be.  Baseball calls it’s championships the World Series, so it seems as though we may be, at worst, the second most offensive custodians of the “World” title.  I’m okay with that.  There is probably a World title in checkers too.  I’d put us above them in deservingness too.  Besides, we had far better costumes.

Costumes?  Oh yes, the costumes.  Declared optional, but only optional if you’re keen to have your face heckled off by a rowdy bunch of misfits on the sidelines.  Cheers of “Do you get paid to wear that?” were aimed not at the guys in sequined hotpants with matching overalls, but rather at the guys who were in the typical lycra-clad getups that one might expect from a bike race.  The costumes were better than most halloween parties that I’ve ever been to, not to mention that the SF location meant that most saw this as just another typical day in the city. I can only imagine how a more conservative town might react.  Probably some combination of “badly” and “arrest that man in the G-string”.

My costume, it should be noted, was lame – in an attempt to “keep things classy”, I added a bow tie and cummerbund to my skinsuit, and due to the matching blackness of all of it, it was a pretty invisible costume.  My lovely-and-clearly-better half was dressed as a Vegas showgirl, complete with feathers and a helmet that shot fluff and sequins about 3ft above her head.  What I lacked in costume, however, I made up for in accessory, as my custom “ShakeBell” proved to be a popular noisemaker.

After all was said and done, I placed a solid 67th, which of course, wasn’t the point in the first place.  Granted, first place does win a pretty bitchin’ gold bikini and a celebratory tattoo that commemorates the victory forever.  I considered getting my own “67th place” tattoo but, so far at least, I’ve decided against it.

So there you have it: shared place, shared vision, shared experience, shared interests, and in some cases, shared costumes.  All in the interest of having a really, really good time.  As weekends go, I can’t think of one in recent memory that quite pulled it all together like this.  But I suspect that there’s a reason for that, and that reason is that a good chunk of it is probably not allowed if you have to ask permission.  So, looking forward to next year already, I’d only ask that you not tell the lovely town of Santa Cruz what to expect.  Just let them know that we’re bringing a few friends over for a couple beers.

All the photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrismatthews/sets/72157628076320519/

 

 

Written by chris in: General Musings |
Apr
25
2011
comment
9

Bicycle Leadership Conference

There are some annual events that make sense to hold annually: birthdays, first day of summer, and carving pumpkins.  Other annual events are held annually just so we remember to do them, because otherwise we’d simply never get around to it.  Changing batteries in smoke alarms comes to mind.  I believe most business conferences fall into this category as well.  They happen once a year, they’re (hopefully) a benefit to the people who go, and if we waited until we needed them, we’d probably never actually get around to actually doing it. A few days ago, I made the annual trip to Sea Otter, a lovely bicycle race known for its unpredictable weather and swarm of springtime-fed cycling enthusiasm.  Attached to the two days leading up to it was the annual (there’s that word again!) Bicycle Leadership Conference.  This is a post not of just notes, but of key nuggets mixed in with things I thought about because of what I heard. This was an admittedly brilliant cross section of our industry’s leadership talk about topics from macroeconomics, to doping, to technology. It was pretty damn cool to be there. For even more perspective on the event, check out Matt Haughey’s write up on bikehugger.com.

The first panel discussion was focused on the Federal investment in cycling, and trying to determine how (if at all) it has paid off.  This panel was simply OWNED by Jim Oberstar, a recently unseated politician who spent 35 years on Capitol Hill, much of that time advocating for cycling and cyclists. I’ve rarely heard someone so empassioned and compelling speak about cycling, particularly in a way that makes it sound like we’re in a state of crisis, and yet we’re all simultaneously being fooled into thinking that things are fine and no action is needed.  Be clear on one thing: action is needed. Yours. And the person sitting beside you.  Get on it. In Minnesota, Oberstar’s home state, they have 12ft wide road shoulders. “They’re needed so snowplows can put the snow somewhere!” he advocated, knowing that in the summer, a lack of snow would result in a bike lane that could support a Cat 3 road race.  Clever, that guy.  And to those who say bike lane infrastructure is too expensive: an urban mile of bike lane costs about $80K to $120K.  An urban mile of light rail costs $26M to $40M.  And a mile of roadway?  $70M to $120M.  So anyone who says they can’t afford to keep bike lanes in their budget is making (relatively) meaningless cuts to win political favor, or simply doesn’t understand what things cost. Or both.

Related, from a bureaucrat perspective, Washington is mostly asked to care about cycling as a sport or a healthy pursuit.  But they need to think about cycling as a business: one that employs a lot of people, contributes to GDP, and fuels economic growth. Unfortunately, at the moment, congress currently views cycling in a dangerous “middle category” – one that has a high enough perceived value to be a “difficult but necessary spending cut”, just above the “too small to matter” category (ie Gov’t spending on envelopes), but well below the “untouchable” categories like social security and military spending.  Cycling is seen as spending, not as investment.  That’s a perception that needs to change, and one that will only happen by making cycling to be seen as an “industry”, like cars or textiles.  One that employs people, and generates spending.

An interesting anecdote from Oberstar: in 1956, the first interstate highway bill was introduced, costing $127B, funded 90% by the feds and 10% by states.  Eisenhower paid for this with bonds, and then repaid the bonds by instituting a “use tax” of 3 cents per gallon of gas.  in 1958, they raised the tax from 3 cents to 4 cents per gallon.  This 1 cent increase was passed in a voice vote in congress, because in 1958, Oberstar feels, government was taking a much longer view of the situation than they currently do.

It was about this time when I realized that we don’t think about sidewalks (a public good, and a car alternative) in the same way that we think about bike lanes, at least from a public policy perspective.  At some point, sidewalks became “necessary” and roads aren’t often built without them, particularly in urban areas. Bike lanes have not yet earned this level of perceived necessity.  Why do you think that is?

The second panel discussion was centered around a 5 year forecast of the cycling customer base: not “who are they?”, but rather “who will they be?”.  This was a discussion that almost got irreparably lost in meaningless aggregate statistics and macro global population figures. But then, at the last minute, they had a point, and it came to the rescue: 30% of the core cycling market are buying used bikes. Omfg, right?  You are reading this on a blog, so this is not news to you at all.  You know about ebay, and craigslist, and forums. The fact that people buy bikes used is about as surprising as the fact that people wear shirts. But to this crowd of self-described “older white men”, this was a tsunami: surprising, violent, and probably not going to end well.  The interesting thing wasn’t the observation; the interesting thing was that the observation was some sort of surprise to the audience.  As bikes improve, and thus hold their value better (and longer), and as mechanisms to sell them on secondary markets improve (ebay, craigslist, forums), it’s not at all surprising that used bike sales are increasing.  I wonder if the automobile market in, say, the post-war 1940′s, faced similar issues.

At one point in this discussion, the panel tried to make the case that the surveys the were referencing showed that the the lower income customers *want* to buy at independent bicycle dealers, but don’t.  To this, I couldn’t help but think that sure, lots of car buyers *want* to buy their next car at a Porsche dealership, but don’t.  Intent rarely lines up perfectly with actual action.

A clever guy named Robin Thurston, one of the founders of MapMyFitness, made one great comment that stuck with me: the gym business model is one where, for the business, non-use is better than use: they want lots of people to sign up, but few people to actually go to the gym.  Cycling is different: use is better than non use, because the more that people ride, the more often they wear out their tires, chains, bike shorts, gloves, and who knows what else.  Pretty interesting, given how people might naturally assume the business models of these businesses might be closer to each other, rather than total opposites. Takeaway here is to stop assuming that every athletic industry operates on the same principles.  If we’re looking 5 years into the future, we better make sure our initial assumptions are solid.

After lunch, the discussion turned to kids, and how to get a younger generation back on bikes. The title alone presupposed the problem: that youth have stopped riding. Turns out, this is pretty accurate.  Pretty common & predictable preamble: kids ride less, as TV/Xbox/Facebook take more of their time, and their parents increasingly worry about their safety.  Not much new in this information.  So let’s accept that the world is changing, and try to figure out how to live in a changed world. Cycling won’t defeat Facebook, and it doesn’t need to. This isn’t a logical conclusion.  Instead, how can the changed world that kids face include cycling?  Trying to fight video games isn’t the way forward, cuz I promise, we’ll lose that one.

One of the coolest things I saw at the conference was this: www.projectbiketrip.org – seriously, check this out. It’s a system that puts a bike shop into a high school, just like they might have a wood shop, or a machine shop. Classes on bike maintenance and repair. Volunteers and guest speakers from nearby bike companies. If I’d had this in school, I suspect I would have *far* more positive memories about my high school experience. Instead, high school was mostly wasted time as I aced classes but learned little.  Instead, I found this same style of education at the local bike shop, under the leadership of a guy named Vince who ultimately was the reason I got into the bike industry in the first place, and from whom I learned a hell of a lot, bikes and otherwise.  Education like this makes more difference than you think. This is more than a good idea. It’s the kind of thing that can change a life.

In the stories about getting kids into and onto bikes, one theme resurfaced several times: that inspiration doesn’t have to come from a pro rider.  it only needs to be someone who can provide inspiration. This means it could be you. Yes, you.

One parting thought that came to mind several times during the kids discussion: in one of my favorite books, the author noted how when he talked to school groups, and asked the question “who here is an artist?”, the first graders all raised their hands. As the grade levels increased, the number of hands decreased.  By middle school, no hands went up.  This offers a potential learning point for bikes: we need to ensure they are not “socially risky” in the eyes of kids.  Young riders need the reassurance that riding a bike is at least neutral, and at best cool.  As soon as it’s a potential source of being ostracized, then we have a much bigger hurdle to leap over than the competition from Xbox and the safety concerns of overly cautious parents.  That’s where the inspiration from actual riders, mechanics, and advocates can make all the difference.  Kids need a reason to want to grow up to be like you. What can you do to make that happen?  Go do that.  Because advocacy is not the same as giving; it’s advocating for something, in a way that convinces someone else that something you care about is important.

The day finished out with a discussion about “The 90% we don’t reach” and trying to identify what keeps them away.  This seemed to be the weakest discussion of the day, possibly because it was last and the audience wasn’t as vibrantly engaged, but I think more probably because they kept talking about the same lack of infrastructure, and the perceived need in changes to personal behavior.  Said more plainly: people don’t have enough places to ride, and they don’t want to anyways.  Cyclists complaining about lack of infrastructure and motivation isn’t going to fix the infrastructure or the motivation: we can lobby for it, want it, justify it, but we can’t create it in the same way we create bikes. Yet we talk about it like it’s another category of bikes we can add to the catalog. I simply don’t think the right people were in the room to have this discussion.

On day two, we kicked things off with a macro economic perspective of the bike industry: an economy that was allegedly in free fall, and a lot of bike companies that were simply sold out of product to sell. Was the bike industry a bright spot in an otherwise dour economy? An interesting question, but I don’t feel like we ever actually addressed it.  instead, the panel discussed (but could not agree on) the topic of an excise tax for cycling to support infrastructure projects, as both milk and fishing had done to some success. One panelist  kept mentioning the Tea Party in what seemed to be random non-sequitors, while Stan Day (panelist and president of SRAM) spoke clearly and plainly, as his typical style, and in a single shot dismissed the excise tax option because the government couldn’t be reasonably trusted to spend the money on cycling.  I can’t help but agree with him.  Stan also introduced a term that I liked: he referred to bikes as “lifestyle equipment”.  This suits so many applications, and makes plain the relationship that many people have to the bikes in their garage. It’s not a new concept, but it’s a neat and tidy way to label it.  Thanks Stan.

The only other standout statement for me from this panel was the revelation that our industry is still getting older and whiter.  Given the shifts and trends in global demographics, this should be nearly impossible.  Yet we’re somehow doing it.  Let this be a warning to us all, because this trend is not aligning our industry with the foundations for future growth and success.

Second in the morning session was a discussion of the internet, and a related industry-specific SWOT analysis. This was the discussion that seemed to offer the clearest evidence that our industry needs more youth within its leadership.  A peppering of nearly random internet usage statistics that may (but probably don’t) apply to the cycling audiences, mixed with a bunch of mutual reassurance that the cycling industry still needs retailers and that online sales are dangerous and worth fighting against. When I led the supergo.com website from 1999 to 2003, it was clear then, 10 flipping’ years ago, where we were headed – we sold thousands of bikes online, no problem, and our retail stores across the west coast were simultaneously thriving.  The internet and the local bike shop can and will co-exist, just as local car dealerships co-exist with ebay (the world’s largest car dealership, btw).  But the discussion is more than simply ecommerce.  The Internet connects users across time and geography, allowing anyone to connect with the culture and events of the cycling world from anywhere, in real time.  I followed live tweets of Liege-Baston-Liege this past Sunday morning from my bed, on my phone, as Gilbert swatted away both Schleck brothers to take the victory.  That capability simply didn’t exist only a few years ago. Think about that for a second, and ask whether the internet is a benefit for cycling.  Of course it is.

The interesting thing that I think came out of this discussion, but wasn’t said overtly, was that sites like ebay, combined with improved product quality and longer product life, plus a measured increase in used bike sales, all equals more acceptance of online sales in general.  Taken one step further, customers won’t see much difference between buying used online, and buying new online – despite the audience’s apparent desires to the contrary.  And so, by looking forward and reasoning back, we need to find a way to fulfill that customer expectation in a way that utilizes the existing network of independent bike shops.  Because we’re nowhere without them.  There isn’t a single car company I can think of that could survive without dealerships. Or consider that Apple grew *because* of it’s retail stores, complementing their ecommerce. The evidence is plain, and obvious, and everywhere.

After lunch, we were treated to our Social Media panel, which had a refreshing array of non-industry experts to guide the discussion. I’ve got a lot of opinions here, more than I think I’ll share openly. My friend (and admitted co-conspirator via the Specialized Trail Crew) Heidi Swift was pretty much the unquestionable rockstar diva of the panel, and she made a strong point early: Social media is more social than media: you actually have to *do stuff*.  Gasps from the crowd.  “Oh shit,” they collectively thought, “that sounds like work.  I thought this was just free and easy.”  No chance.

Think about social media this way: if you, personally, organize a party, will anyone show up?  Why or why not?  The same things that make people show up to your Saturday BBQ are the same things that will make social media work (or not work) for you.  It’s intensely personal, and public, and your fans will only show up if they’re willing to be seen with you in public.  Scared?  Good. That’s the first step in admitting that you have a problem.

One sidebar discussion (it’s inevitable in these social media panels) was around tracking ROI.  To this, I ask you: do you measure the ROI of your friends? or even the ROI of personally supporting a brand or project you believe in?  No, you don’t.  You know who your friends are, and who you avoid, but you don’t have a dollar figure you attach to each friend so you can cut friends in times of social budget crunch.  Cycling is something people care deeply about, so social media simply works for the bike industry.  Measure the results, sure, but don’t let metrics get in the way of starting to develop your social presence.

Heidi also made a great and important point regarding Twitter as an engine for PR and communication with journalists: there is no cc: function in twitter like there is in email.  A press release received via email is deleted, while a thoughtful @reply took individual effort and consideration, and is far more likely to elicit a return inquiry.  It works *because* it’s personal.  That’s awesome.  But what’s not so awesome is the fact that this fact was so surprising to so many people in the room.

This was the big takeaway from the social discussion: seriously, how long do we need to keep saying the same things to the same people for this to stop being news: be honest, be authentic, listen to your audience, engage your critics, accept your faults, and use social to broadcast your successes quickly to your fans.  This should not be news to anyone, yet it remains the same as it was when I was giving a similar talk two years ago at this same conference alongside Rich Kelly.  Are we not learning anything?  What will it take for this to sink in: Social media is here to stay; if you’re not already deep into it, there’s simply no other way to say this: it’s time to get off your ass and get to work.

The final discussion of the day was a doozy: Doping. I’m not going to recount the vitriol or the platitudes, there were plenty of both. The most interesting and relevant point of this discussion was that the cycling media discusses doping as a sport problem, not an athlete problem.  This is a total PR failure on the part of cycling: in every other sport, the athlete is vilified.  In cycling, the entire sport comes down.  Event organizers, testing agencies, riders, and sponsors all have competing interests, so the messaging around doping are fragmented and uncontrolled.  Perhaps the worst part is that our own cycling media perpetuates this problem, as cycling magazines have done and continue to do in recent articles. It’s no wonder that publications like Sports Illustrated and NYT follow in our own examples.  Doping will never stop, because athletes will always have an incentive to cheat, or try to.  What can stop is how we react to it.  This discussion was a GREAT one, perhaps it should have been first discussion of the first day to gain maximum audience and vigor.

Overall, a great couple of days of thoughtful discussion and interesting insights.  It’s hard to take the time away from the office, from the iPhone, from the chirps of incessant meeting requests.  But now it’s done, and I’m back into the routine, and I’m hoping next year will be just as good, maybe better.  If you’ve never been, it’s worth your consideration.

Written by chris in: General Musings |
Jan
30
2011
comment
6

Why race cyclocross?

“Why?”
It’s a pretty common, and altogether reasonable question that often follows when I share a story about any cyclocross race I’ve competed in.

Why, as in: “Why would you do that?” And the also-reasonable: “Why the hell do you keep doing it?”  In answering these questions, I fully admit that from the outside looking in, it might appear to be about as much fun as removing your own fingernails with an acetylene torch.  But it’s not quite that bad.  It’s glorious.  It’s a beautiful, intense, and euphoric departure that simple “exercising” or “workouts” will never come close to replicating.

To call cyclocross “exercise” is rather like referring to the sound of a Formula 1 race car as merely “noisy”.  Sure, technically it’s correct to call it noisy, but it entirely misses the romance.  It’s not about the volume, it’s about the harmonics.  At some point, the number of decibels of the car cease to matter.  Instead, it’s the beautiful anticipation created by the doppler effect, the climactic convergence of the sound and the sight of the car passing, and the gorgeous discord they create between the speed of light and the speed of sound as they weave together and apart.  It’s never about the noise. It’s the feeling the noise creates.  It doesn’t hit you like a brick, rather, it coats you like honey.

Cyclocross is similar, in that it’s not about the workout as much as it’s about the unparalleled experience of being completely overtaken by the race.  Eyesight sharpens, but narrows.  Sensations heighten, yet pain goes away. Your heart rate is pegged, yet the body feels calm.  It seems counter intuitive, but think about the last time you blended a margarita: underneath the surface of the cold slurry, there was a violent blade that will obliterate the next cubes of ice you drop in.  Yet other than a slight spiral on the surface, it appears calm. Inviting. Hungry.  In this way, the race course becomes the entire world.  There isn’t anything else.  A cross race is where you decide if you’re the blade, or the ice cube.

Hurts so good.

During a “workout” in a gym, the goals are simple, and isolated.  20 reps of something.  3x of a certain weight.  40 pushups in a minute. There isn’t a podium that will relegate you to second place if you slack off.  At a cross race, competitors are more than performance targets.  They’re the difference between you and winning.  They’re *everything* that defines the time between the start and the finish. They’re gristle around the filet mignon of victory, to be cut off and discarded as the blood runs freely.  If you relax, if you let up for even a moment, it can all vanish like a dream that evaporates in the moments just after you wake up.  So you keep pushing.  Cross races are somewhere between 30 minutes and 60 minutes, depending on the classification and age category.  I always found this amusing, given how much of a time vortex the race course becomes.  The difference between 40 minutes and 60 minutes is an eternity, but you’re going too fucking hard and fast to notice it.

At the bottom of it all, there is an intensely personal appeal to cross racing.  It may not be for everyone, but I think everyone owes it to themselves to find something that achieves this sort of escape.  Something that becomes so acutely intense, so searing, so focused as to make it impossible to think about the world that lives outside the experience itself.  It doesn’t have to last a long time; it’s not about the time.  It doesn’t have to hurt; it’s not about the pain.  It just needs to get you out of the place you are, so you can find out what you’re made of.  Day-to-day life provides too many hiding places.

That’s all well and good, but it’s not a complete picture.  There’s a second element of cross – the social element – that is at once the polar opposite of nearly everything I’ve said thus far, and simultaneously interwoven within it.  Before you accuse me of blatant and callous obfuscation, let me clarify: cross racing is social, because riding alone ain’t racing.  But the social aspects of a gathering, a congregation of like minded cross racing miscreants – this is truly fantastic.  For many at cross races, this *is* church.  It’s a place to commune, to be with those who carry similar values and ideals, and to scream and heckle together as the mud-drenched demons scream by, lap after lap.  Those same poor souls then trade places with those in the crowd who are competing in later races; they pour a beer, and scream right back at them.  Circle of life and all that.  There is no way that cross could be what it is without the social aspect of the event itself, and in a chicken-or-egg sort of way, it’s very hard to decide which one came first.  But like chickens and eggs, it doesn’t matter, because they’re both delicious. That’s what matters.

Earlier today, I raced one last cross race this season; an unexpected bit of serendipity that overlapped with a business trip, in Tokyo of all places.  The scene here is alive and vibrant, and the fields are fast and aggressive.  It’s not a growing sport, it’s full blown here.  Tons of racers, good crowds, great mix of great bikes, and a lot of the same enthusiasm and suffering that makes cross so fun.  Apparently, this delicious agony is a global thing.

I’m not sad that the season is over, I know it’ll roll back around soon enough.  Any good endorphin addiction is likely to find a way back in.  I can’t remember the source of the quote, but it’s a favorite: “The sun rises in the east every morning, you kinda get used to the idea.”

So yeah.  You wanna know why?  That’s why.

Written by chris in: General Musings |
Dec
29
2010
comment
2

First Gear

Another new year approaches, and instead of looking back, I’m looking forward. The mood at Specialized in recent weeks has taken a new and fun turn, one that’s tough to describe without living inside the biosphere we inhabit there.  But I’ll try.  We’re a culture of racers: of wins, of trophies, and finish line triumphs.  We arrive at work very early in July to watch the Tour stages live in the theater.  We stay late to get race reports on the website, often in a rainbow of languages around the world.  We build some of the very best bikes that are made, and we strive to obsolete ourselves all the damn time. We are a bunch of ambitious, competitive, relentless, driven, and often sleep-deprived bike-riding maniacs.  And we love it that way.

Here comes the “but”.  Ready for it?

But, we sometimes can’t see things – important things – when they don’t involve a number plate and a cadre of European athletes, on dirt or on pavement.  We sometimes can’t fathom an idea such as riding bikes for pure transport. It can be as if you’d just started speaking Italian – we’d understand the basics if you gesticulate enough, but we’d miss the romance.  We sometimes don’t see the simplest, most common, most fundamental aspects that cycling can offer.  And this isn’t an apology – any photographer will tell you it’s impossible to focus on everything.  But we do often wish for longer days, longer weeks, more time to do more stuff (even if we’d spend most of it riding).

Through the hard work of a few really fantastic people, we recently saw a big shift happen, something foundational. And it’s one of those “important things”.  It was as noticeable as the smell of fresh paint; it’s something you first become aware of when you walk in, and you just know it’s there, immediately. The whole place seems brighter. We’ve committed to a new and focused approach to our advocacy.  Specifically, we’ve tasked ourselves with getting kids on bikes. When we announced this, it was like that moment when you wake up as a kid in the summer, no school, and the sun is already warming the windows.  People just understood, immediately, and it made sense – they could relate to that feeling, the feeling of what it’s like to be a kid with a bike.  Or even better, to be a kid with their first bike.  We all remember it.  This was not an “A-ha” moment.  This was an “of course” moment.  Of course we should focus on kids.  We all started as kids, and look where we’ve ended up.

http://firstgear.specialized.com

I’m thrilled with our new website for this project; we were able to build with the help of some very talented people. I’d like to invite you to check out, it’s here.  But this website is just the start – we’re not done, this is just where it all begins.  With a place to talk about what we do, we’re now able to actually do more real stuff, instead of spending time trying to figure out how we increase participation and awareness of the causes we choose to support.  And even more critically, we’ve hired a pro to do this full time.  Advocacy isn’t something we do when we’re not busy.  This is something we do because we’re busy.  That’s a critical distinction.  And we’re fueled up to be doing a lot more than we’ve ever done before, because we are going to find ways to get lots and lots of others involved.  It’ll never be big if it’s only us doing it, so we’ve found some clever ways to make it easy for you to join in.  Yes, you.  We’ve got a lot of ideas for how this can grow, and what we can do to make it something bigger than just us.  We’re excited about all of it.  I hope you are too.

And that’s the best bit.  it’s not just one or two people here at work.  The excitement about this…it’s in the paint.  It’s everywhere.  I hope you feel it too.

Written by chris in: General Musings |
Oct
24
2010
comment
6

Terroir: a new cycling restaurant concept, reviewed.

Had lunch at a great new cyclist-oriented place in Santa Rosa called Terroir, which I am pretty sure is french for “OMFG there is MUD in my eyeballs!”. This is a common French phrase. They were, after all, the people who discovered mushrooms.

The lack of cutlery, while unusual, did not imbue any sense of social discomfort.

This is a sort of “pop-up” style restaurant, moving from place to place each weekend, often setting up in parks or open areas, away from the crusty “restaurants of old” with their “kitchens” and “linens” and “waiters”, etc. For lunch, I ordered the Men’s B Cyclocross Platter, which in retrospect was probably a typo; I suspect they meant “Splatter”. But I will forgive them this typo, as we’re all human.

My first course was delightful, with a soupy consistency that was a real challenge to eat at first, as I was concerned that I’d pull some sort of gauche move and end up wearing it. Looking around at my fellow patrons, I quickly realized that this was, as they say, de rigueur. So I started shoveling the delicious fare directly into my mouth, nose, eyes, and ears. My thinking was that the faster I did this, the more I would get, as I knew there were a flock of others behind me who were scrambling for the same tasty morsels.

My second course turned out to be very similar to the first, again another soup. I was hoping for something more crisp, perhaps a belgian endive, but instead, more like belgians swan diving. There were other patrons all around me, running amok, as it were. Muck indeed. Not to mention that some of us charged ahead, engorging ourselves on the next course before the others were finished theirs.  Again, de rigueur.

By the third course, I was starting to realize that I must have missed the fact that this is an entirely organic, 100% vegan, 100% localvore establishment. Nothing I was served had an origin of more than 5 feet from my mouth, and it was all washed down by nothing more than rainwater. Shabby chic, for sure, but while it scored aces in organic crustyness, it definitely lacked variety.  Everything started tasting the same.

By about the 9th course, I was just plain getting tired, but I was determined to finish this prix fix menu, and there was only one other guy who was tracking to beat me to the valet parking guy. I opened my mouth ever wider in the hopes of dining and dashing right past him, but to no avail. I was surprised to learn that upon finishing, I was not brought a check but instead a medal – apparently I’d been elected as one of their top eaters of the day – 2nd best, actually!

There were plenty of opportunities to take pictures of this great new restaurant, and I would urge anyone who has the chance to try it when it comes to town next time!

Rating: 4 and a half stars (out of 5)

Written by chris in: General Musings |

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