Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ahead of My Time, Or Out of My Mind?

Back in 1994 and 1995, I wrote freelance pieces for Rocky Mountain Sports Magazine.  I wrote race reports, product reviews, ride guides, etc.  I enjoyed it, and it paid pretty well, but the magazine eventually went completely in-house for all of their content.

One article I wrote got a surprising reaction from a reader.  I had an old Peugeot mountain bike, and I decided to convert it to a single-speed.  In the mid-nineties, single-speed mountain bikes were not common, and no major manufacturer offered one.

Retrotec, still owned by Bob Seals, would custom build a single-speed for you, and Bob often showed up at Norba races on a one-cog machine, wearing a Speedo, Chuck Taylors, and little else, with a beer in his water bottle cage.  I got the idea for building my single-speed while I was interviewing Bob, on the phone, about his racing and the CoolTool bike tool which he had invented.

So, I built the Peugeot, taking black and white pictures as I went, then wrote up a basic little how-to article, along with some copy about how much fun it was to ride the bike.  The magazine bought it, and ran it in the next issue which went to print.

I got a phone call from the editor, a couple of weeks later.  "You've got to see this letter to the editor that we got about your article,"  he said.  "It's pretty interesting."

"Okay," I replied.  "Mail it to me and I'll give you a call after I read it."  (Yeah, this was before the internet, and email.  He actually photocopied the letter, put it into a envelope and dropped it into the U.S. Mail.)

When I got the letter, a couple of days later, I was stunned.  The writer, a man from Golden, Colorado, as I recall, was apparently livid about even the concept of a single-speed bike.  He ran the gamut, in his letter, from calling me stupid, to declaring single-speed bikes totally unreasonable.  He ended the letter by saying that if I thought it was a good idea to remove weight from a mountain bike by removing parts, that I should probably lose some weight, myself, by having an arm or a leg amputated!

I wrote a long, scathing reply to the letter...then threw it away and wrote a short, considered reply, which I sent to my editor.  Both letters ran in the next issue, which prompted more letters, the next month.  Don (the editor) was very happy with that.  Letters to the editor reflect the fact that people are paying attention to the content.

I often wonder, as I read the magazines, surf the blogs, watch the videos of single-speed races, and look at the single-speed models available at local bike shops, just how that  poor guy who wrote the letter is handling the onslaught of single-speeders, nowadays.


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As always, sorry about the word verification. It's a necessary evil, unfortunately.