Posts Tagged ‘VeloNews’

Deadlines

March 21, 2022

Signposts are few and far between in the Deadline Forest.

I am a creature of the Deadline.

When I was cartooning for my high school and college newspapers in the Seventies the Deadline popped round once per week. From 1977 to 1991, it was in my face every goddamn night, except for the one time I worked for an afternoon paper, when it was in my face every goddamn afternoon.

And after ’91 … well, it got complicated.

By then I was a full-time freelancer and either had a lot or nothing to do, depending on whether anyone other than VeloNews was buying what I was selling.

I was a regular at VeloNews, which began its Boulder residency in 1989 with 18 issues per year and then quickly ramped up with additional issues, special editions, race guides, and whatnot.

When Bicycle Retailer and Industry News came along in ’92 I was a regular there, too. BRAIN was brand-new, and started off with just nine issues that first year. But it soon found its legs and took off like free beer at an Interbike booth, to 18 issues a year, plus trade-show dailies, Sea Otter specials, and all manner of other projects.

So, yeah. I wasn’t a daily newsdog any longer. But I still had me some Deadlines.

In the early days I did my share of straight news, race coverage, and feature writing, with a side hustle of copyediting and proofreading. But eventually I settled into the one-two punch of cartoonist-columnist: an editorial cartoon in every VeloNews, and a “Mad Dog Unleashed” column and “Shop Talk” comic strip in every issue of BRAIN, with extra-credit cartoons in the various Show Dailies and other special editions.

When I started helping run the VN website I added “Friday’s Foaming Rant” to the mix. That came around weekly.

At my peak I was choreographing a conga line of cartoons and columns, each of which had to give at least a wave and a nod to bicycling. This is a very small and shallow pool in which to fish for one’s supper. There are trees nearby, but all the low-hanging fruit was picked long ago.

Happily, I had the Deadline.

You can’t bullshit the Deadline. It is not an essay question, or even multiple choice. You either make it or you don’t; true or false, right or wrong. And a freelancer only gets so many wrongs before an editor figures you are all the way wrong and stops giving you assignments and/or taking your calls.

The Deadline is harsh, but fair. It has no patience with the sluggard, but can be merciful to the weak. Sometimes, when the Deadline rumbles up to see you staring blankly into your wordless word processor or blank sheet of Bristol board, it rolls its Eye and growls: “Christ on a crutch. OK, hop in.”

“Where are we going?” you ask.

“Fuck do you care? Sitting there with your thumb up your ass. Can’t catch a ride like that. Hey, you gettin’ in or what? Tick-tock, shit-for-brains.”

So in you get, and before you can buckle up or even close the door, zoom, off you go, with tires smoking, on a high-speed, no-brakes tour of the back alleys in your brainpan, bowling over trash cans to see what spills out and leaning on the horn to get the Voices hollering.

At this point you are no longer writing or drawing. You are taking dictation and having trouble keeping up. …

When suddenly with a squeal of brakes your ride slaloms to a stop, your door flies open, and the Deadline kicks you sprawling to the curb. Where, in one white-knuckled fist, you clutch the finished Work.

“You’re welcome,” smirks the Deadline. “Pay window’s over there. See you next week, bitch.”

R.I.P., VeloNews

January 12, 2022

The first edition of VeloNews in which a cartoon
by You Know Who appeared.

VeloNews was found dead on Jan. 1. It was just 50 years old.

Was it murder? Suicide? Natural causes? (i.e., a slow-moving form of frontotemporal dementia?)

Nah. Darwinism. Nature red in tooth and claw, baby. Or, if you prefer your poetry in the original Sicilian, “It’s strictly business.”

• Editor’s note: A tip of the VeloNews cycling cap to Steve O. for the sharp eye on the velo-news.

A new day

January 4, 2022

The Universe put on quite the display this morning.

A thousand thank-yous to everyone who had kind words for me on the occasion of my retirement. May you be in Heaven a half hour before the Devil knows you’re dead.

In my decades of distinguished service to cycling journalism I rose from lowly VeloNews cartoonist to lowly Bicycle Retailer and Industry News cartoonist, so of course there will be no gold-plated Garmin, no pension. I shall have to get by with the Socialist Insecurity and an occasional surreptitious dip into the purse of my lovely bride, who was making a career while I was making a shambles. Woe, etc.

Today, by way of celebration, I treated myself to a turkey-and-swiss sammich, a leisurely hour on the bike, and some light blog maintenance. Living the dream.

’Tooned out

January 3, 2022

The Mud Stud, Dude, The Old Guy Who Gets Fat in Winter, and Your Humble Narrator bid adieu to their e-assistant and the bicycle industry.

• Editor’s note: Here it is, the first Monday of a new year, the start of a work week in which I will not. Work, that is. For the story, read on.

I never worked in a bike shop.

But I worked on “Shop Talk,” a comic strip about a bike shop, for 30 years.

And that was long enough, I decided. And so the strip ends with the January 2022 edition of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, coming soon to a shop toilet near you.

It was fun while it lasted. And it lasted longer than anyone expected. Especially me.

Entire magazines rose and fell in those three decades. But the Mud Stud, Dude, and a rotating, motley cast of supporting characters remained upright, or at least on their feet, mostly, until I pulled the shop mat out from under them in December 2021.

I nearly did it in December 2020, but BRAIN editor Steve Frothingham talked me out of it. He tried to do it again last month, but that time I stuck to my guns. Pens. Whatevs.

The first installment of one of my favorite “Show Talk” strips about the Interbike trade show. The Mud Stud is offsite at the show and confused, as usual.
• Part 2
• Part 3

It was BRAIN’s first editor, Marc Sani, who talked me into it.

Marc was in my cycling club in Santa Fe back in 1991, when I was leaving The New Mexican for the care- and cash-free existence of freelance journalism.

Recognizing desperation when he saw it, he asked if I’d like to contribute to the trade magazine he and some business partners were starting.

The magazine would cover the bicycle industry, about which I knew absolutely nothing. Sure, I was a customer, but Wine Spectator doesn’t hire stew bums to crack wise about viticulture.

Happily, ignorance had never stopped me from sounding off before. And so, before you could say, “Duuuude,” the Mud Stud became the not-too-swift shop rat who partied in the back of Bicycle Retailer while the Suits conducted business up front.

The strip was developed on the fly. Pure anarchy, as represented by the tattoo on the Stud’s left shoulder. I had no idea who the characters would be, or what they would do, since the only part of me that had ever worked in a bike shop was my wallet.

The Mud Stud was the star of the first “Shop Talk” in BRAIN’s debut, the January-February issue of 1992. But then he vanished until August, pre-empted by a vaguely roadish, aproned, backwards-hatted wrench whose name was never revealed. Turns out, dude answered to “Dude.” Who knew?

As for the Mud Stud, that was never intended to be his name. It was a logo on the T-shirt he wore in his second appearance, and for some reason, it stuck, like the omnipresent X-shaped bandage on the left side of his head.

So did the Stud. After his early truancy, the Stud has appeared in BRAIN as regularly as bad news about Schwinn, which he once tried to buy with a Dave Wiens trading card and $6 in food stamps.

Other brainstorms to sweep from beneath the Stud’s greenish-blond Mohawk like tornadoes through cycling’s trailer park have included showing up in his baggies with a board on the day shop employees were to learn how to surf the Internet; turning a track pump into a bong; and engaging in a naked midnight mountain-bike ride down Deadman’s Dropoff with a water bottle full of tequila and a lawyer’s daughter on the handlebars.

Professor Stud never graded on a curve, but he was occasionally critical of a student’s hucking.

Longtime readers know that bandage on the Stud’s dome is neither decoration nor affectation. As the Stud’s slacker pal Biff Trail once noted, “He’s the only dude I know whose NORBA license has an organ donor’s release.”

Like the rest of the cycling industry, the Mud Stud was at his absolute best during the Interbike trade show. Appearing in a long run of special-edition “Show Talk” strips, he bought 6,000 Missy Giove™ nipple rings, then unloaded them at a discount to Roseanne Barr; gambled the bike shop away to a Vegas mobster, then won it back with the backing of a trustafarian inline-skater geek name of Slater the Skater; and failed to make the show at all one year when he mistook New Mexico’s Las Vegas for the one in Nevada.

Lest you dismiss him as dingbat, dimwit, or dufus, you should know that the Stud used to teach at Harvard. Either law or physics; we’re not sure. Hey, a lot of us took the scenic route to the bicycle business, among them at least one cartoonist.

In the glory days, I got to draw a full-page cartoon now and then.

Once he arrived, the Mud Stud learned to dine on Spaghetti-Os, shower by riding through the car wash, and make delicate adjustments to $5,000 bikes with a claw hammer. Where he lives remains a mystery. What he lives for is to ride, and to wrench, if only to feed the monkey. And maybe that’s why he managed to keep his job for 30 years.

Actually, the Mud Stud did get fired once, for spray-painting a filthy word on the shop manager’s car after the boss pretended to sack him in a practical joke. He was guilty, but also innocent.

“C’mon, dude,” said Biff, speaking for the defense. “It’s not like he spelled it right or anything.”

“Oh, OK,” grumbled the manager, as he relented. “Besides, without him, we got no comic strip.”

And now, after all those years, even with him, we got no comic strip.

But we still have him. So, look for the Mud Stud, Dude, Biff, and The Old Guy Who Gets Fat in Winter — who wandered into “Shop Talk” after VeloNews shrank to such an alarming degree that it could no longer contain his bibs-busting buffoonery — to pop round here from time to time.

We’re old. We’re retired. But we’re not dead.

Clubbed

July 17, 2020

Your Humble Narrator working a race for VeloNews Back in the Day®, when subscription fees and advertising revenue were enough to make the nut.

Steve-O raises an interesting question:

Your thoughts (and everyone else’s) on Bicycling’s new $40/year membership model?

This seems to be the flavor of the month. VeloNews is doing something similar for $99 a year, along with most of its cousins in the Pocket Outdoor Media group.

It’s tough to get readers to pay for “content.” Most people who read a daily newspaper Back in the Day® had no idea that their subscriptions didn’t cover the cost of the ink on the newsprint, much less the tab for all the technology and people it took to make the blat land on the stoop every morning. For a reader, the daily paper was a cheap date, with the real cost borne by advertisers.

Advertising is a tough sell these days, for newspapers, magazines, and websites. So what’s left? “Memberships.”

The New York Times has had some success with digital subscriptions. Likewise The Wall Street Journal. Two real powerhouses that can serve up the goodies you can’t get anywhere else.

I see value in the NYT and The Washington Post, so I subscribe to both. I also subscribe to The Atlantic, and Charlie Pierce’s blog at Esquire. All of these outfits provide things I want and need. I wish there were some Flyover Country version of The Atlantic so I could subscribe to that too.

But when you get down to the enthusiast-publication level, the pitch for memberships gets a little tougher. What do Bicycling or VeloNews have that I want/need badly enough to pay for it?

I like reading Joe Lindsey and Andrew Hood. And I like them as people, too. But with all due respect, I’m not sure that I want to spend $150 a year with their employers. There’s a bunch of stuff in both magazines/websites that I couldn’t care less about. It would feel like signing up for cable TV. I pulled that plug back in 2006 and now we buy our TV a la carte.

Perhaps the biggest issue with hawking memberships, subscriptions, and advertising is the one that started cropping up toward the end of my freelancing career. I was fortunate to be earning steady, predictable money as a regular contributor to both VN and Bicycle Retailer. But there were lots of other hired guns who were starting to get ambushed by what we called “fans with keyboards.” People who’d work for chump change, a T-shirt, or even just the byline.

Today there are so many talented amateurs and semipros out there who are willing to create wonderful stuff for free, or for pennies, that paying for the pros — who so often find themselves consigned to following the dictates of some uninspired editor or an advertising-driven calendar of theme issues — can seem extravagant.

“OK, guys, time for the annual stationary-trainer roundup, the ‘How LeMond won using aero bars’ retrospective, and who’s doing this week’s ‘fitter/faster in 10 seconds a day’ piece?”

Everybody thinks they’re working hard, and that you should buy what they’re selling. Not everybody is right.

The Mad Dog in Winter

December 24, 2019

Your Humble Narrator at The Arizona Daily Star circa 1980, when his thoughts were not of retirement, but rather escape. Photo: Alan Berner

We may not have ourselves a white Christmas, but it certainly won’t be one suitable for test-riding that shiny new bike I’m not gonna be getting from Sandia Claus.

A chilly rain started falling at midafternoon on Tuesday, shortly after Your Humble Narrator got a short trail run under his tights. All in all, it feels like a marvelous evening for tamales smothered in green chile with a side of Mexican rice.

And for dessert? How about a heaping helping of deep-dish thought about who’s gonna be making it rain around here next year, when a certain somebody taps into that there Socialist Insecurity instead of working for a living?

“Working for a living.” Ho, ho. As if delivering the old hee, and also the haw, requires a strong back and a hand truck.

But deliver we do. Yes, yes, yes, it’s another thrilling episode of Radio Free Dogpatch! We’ve taken a dump right on your porch, and just in time for Christmas, too. Remember, lift with your legs, not your back.

P L A Y    R A D I O    F R E E    D O G P A T C H

• Technical notes: This episode was recorded with an Rode PodMic and a Zoom H5 Handy Recorder. I edited the audio using Apple’s GarageBand on the 13-inch 2014 MacBook Pro. The background music is “On the Job,” from Zapsplat.com. Freesound.org contributed the typewriter (theshaggyfreak); ticking clock (straget); wind (eliasheuninck); footfalls in snow (duck37fm); traffic (edo333); and the elevator going down (LG). Eddard Stark comes to you from the late King Joffrey Baratheon’s gruesome collection of Halloween ornaments. And Darth O’Grady comes to you from the Death Star trash can via Sony ICD-UX533 recorder.

12 Days of ’Toonsmas: Day 3

December 22, 2019

Moles don’t get that big, even if they drink beer.
From the March 2019 issue of BRAIN.

Felix Magowan, one of the original Trio that acquired what had been called Velo-news from founders Barbara and Robert George, had long wanted to add Bicycle Retailer and Industry News to the Inside Communications portfolio.

He never got it done. Eventually Inside Communications sold VeloNews to a passing crew of brigands, and Felix wandered off to do other things.

Episode 19 of Radio Free Dogpatch, “Can’t Find My Way Home,” from February 11, 2019.

Imagine giving Dave Stohler’s Masi Gran Criterium to your meth-addict nephew as a present for graduating from reform school. A bleak period ensued, thick with the sort of belligerent dumbassery once found only in high-school locker rooms, family trees shaped like flagpoles, and the lower houses of state legislatures in the Deep South.

I finally sat up and slipped off the back because VeloNews seemed to be careening into the sort of future in which plague-carrying aliens burst out of people’s chests while they’re battling killer robots. The Old Guy Who Gets Fat in Winter went with me, to do the occasional walk-on in Bicycle Retailer’s “Shop Talk” comic strip.

And then, shazam! Felix reappeared as part of Pocket Outdoor Media, and not only reacquired VeloNews, but snapped up BRAIN and a couple other properties as well.

The Fat Guy and I didn’t go back to the old home place. I didn’t care about bicycle racing anymore, and anyway, we weren’t invited. But it seemed like a good time to make a meta joke about how Fatso was a spy for his old bosses.

Unlike the vulture capitalists who nearly burned VeloNews down to its foundation, the “Shop Talk” dudes seem to know they’re cartoon characters.

Also, unlike vulture capitalists, they’re funny.

• Editor’s note: Today’s blast from the past includes a bonus audio component — episode 19 of Radio Free Dogpatch from February 2019.

Life in the Fat Lane: Everything, all the time. With fries.

March 10, 2019

If you’re seeing a little more sun all of a sudden, it’s not just because it’s Daylight Saving Time. It’s because the Fat Guy is throwing a little less shade.

The Old Guy Who Gets Fat in Winter turned 30 today, and he’s been on one of those weight-loss programs for celebrity has-beens, the kind where you don’t look quite so porky because hardly anyone ever sees you anymore.

When I turned 30, back in 1984, I was on a weight-loss program of my own. It had occurred to me that I had problems, which included but were not limited to drugs, booze, food, voices in my head, and newspapers, and I found that vigorous bicycling helped me sweat out the cocaine, alcohol and gravy.

Didn’t do shit for the voices in my head, or the newspapers. But what the hell, a guy needs friends. And a job’s nice, too.

Five years later I finally put those friends in my head to work, when I signed on to draw cartoons for VeloNews, which was just settling into its new digs in the People’s Republic of Boulder. I was two more newspapers further on down the road, in Santa Fe, and the voices were telling me that once again my days were numbered, probably because the publisher kept saying things like “Are you still here?”

I’d been racing for a couple of years, and out of an abundance of caution and a desire for some sort of change that involved more than my ZIP code I applied for the managing editor’s job at VeloNews. Didn’t get it. But the honchos liked the cartoons, and the first one they published featured the Old Guy Who Gets Fat in Winter, who debuted in Volume 18, No. 3, cover date March 10, 1989.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Back then the Fat Guy didn’t look at all like he does today. In fact, he looked a lot like me. Long hair and a full beard, both of which gradually went away, and a variety of undistinguished and too-tight jerseys that by the mid-Nineties had stabilized into the familiar yellow-and-red kit with the “Spare Tire Ale” logo on both sleeves, the one we still sell today over at Voler.

The shorts sponsors tended to change whenever I had a notion. Lardasche Jeans. Juan Ton’s Asian Tacos. That sort of thing.

And the dude just kept getting larger.

At one point Fais Dodo couldn’t find his bike (turns out he was sitting on it). At another he had sucked a few smaller riders into orbit around him. Almost everybody was smaller. Entire teams were.

He even tried to sue the bicycle industry for making him a great fat bastard, when it had done the exact opposite for me.

“Yep, cycling did this to me,” he tells the lawyer, hot dog in one hand, sack of pork rinds in the other. “Couple hours in the ol’ saddle and I gotta eat a 7-Eleven.”

“You don’t say,” replies the lawyer. “Sounds like a no-class-action lawsuit to me!”

Every time I revisit that particular cartoon I see and hear John Goodman, playing Walter Sobchak from “The Big Lebowski,” and not just because Goodman’s first TV appearance was in a Burger King commercial. I just like John Goodman.

I like the Fat Guy, too, and he went with me when I left VeloNews in 2012, not long after the original honchos sold it to the publishing equivalent of a chop shop run by meth-heads. We didn’t go bowling, though. We teamed up with Charles Pelkey at Live Update Guy, where Il Fattini was cast as a gender-bending Fat Lady Singing.

“It’s over!” he’d croon whenever a break got caught.

And El Grande started appearing more regularly in the “Shop Talk” strip I still draw for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, though he’s basically down to walk-ons and cameos behind that strip’s stars, the Mud Stud and Dude. He’s the kind of customer who dollars up on the wrong side of the ledger, drinking all the beer in the shop fridge and grazing the energy-bar display right down to the bedrock.

A customer once asked the Mud Stud if he had any fat bikes.

“Nah,” said the Stud. “We got a Fat Guy, though. Sell ‘im to you cheap.”

Behind him The Large One is mumbling through a cloud of hoagie crumbs. “This shop needs a deli. Maybe a brewpub. A bakery? Funny, I don’t climb so good lately. Bro’-deal me on a lighter bike?”

We’ve all ridden a few kilometers in those Sidis, eh? Any cyclist worth his kit knows that to find the shortest distance between two points you have to cut a few corners, or at least round them off a little.

And lighter is always better, amirite? Fatso is not the Road Runner, so bloody fast that his sheer velocity straightens out the curves and flattens all the hills. He’s Wile E. Coyote with an eating disorder, shopping for solutions at Acme. Or Walgreens. At least he’s out there, putting in the kilometers.

He was the guy the legendary Dong Ngo had in mind when we were discussing the 1987 Trek 2500 on display at the Denver Spoke.

“Who buys this bike?” I asked, stunned by the price.

“You wouldn’t believe who buys this bike,” he replied.

The Fat Guy, that’s who. The last guy who needs one. His eyes were never bigger than his stomach. Nothing was. Or is.

Maybe that’s why the Fat Guy struck such a chord. He wants what we want, which at rock bottom, basically, is more. Or maybe it’s because he seems so obliviously comfortable in his oversized skin.

Oddly, the jersey he covers it with seems especially popular with little skinny climber dudes, probably because people go “Oh, yeah, right,” when they see them wearing it.

But you know what’s really odd? Nearly 30 years to the day after Fatso and I pranced onto the VeloNews stage together, we’re both working for Felix Magowan again. A full circle, that is.

Yep. Felix was one of the honchos back then, and he’s one of the honchos now, ever since Pocket Outdoor Media bought Bicycle Retailer in January. I got my first check from the new owners in March. It didn’t smell like meth, and it didn’t bounce, so I guess we’re all one big happy family again.

We’ve been downsized, of course. Before this latest acquisition BRAIN published 18 issues per year, and now we’re down to 12, which accounts for Fatso’s sleeker shadow, and my slimmer paycheck.

Still, 30 years is a nice long first lap. We may be off the back, but we haven’t been pulled yet. Good thing the Old Guy Who Gets Fat in Winter has been taking his turns on the front. It’s been like drafting the Budweiser beer wagon with a full hitch of Clydesdales.

Can’t find my way home

February 11, 2019

Good thing it doesn’t matter when a virtual press runs, because someone has been intercoursing the penguin as regards his self-imposed deadlines.

Radio Free Dogpatch is intended to be a weekly affair, scheduled for Fridays, but just ask the penguin how well that’s worked out for him (whoops, too late, he’s exploded). To date the thing has reared its ugly head weekly, semimonthly, and on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays.

After three or four goes at this most recent episode, which came this close to becoming a plain-vanilla blog post, I’m starting to think Wednesdays are the ticket. Showtime. Whatever.

In any case, and without further ado, here’s episode 19 of Radio Free Dogpatch. Too bad I couldn’t get it finished in time to win a Grammy to go along with all my Pulitzers, Reubens, Emmys and MacArthur Fellowships.

Oh, well, there’s always next year.

P L A Y    R A D I O    F R E E    D O G P A T C H

• Editorial notes: Shannon Hall wrote about the meanderings of magnetic north for The New York Times. Steve Frothingham has been following the trials and tribulations of ASE and the various media-consolidation stories for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News. John McNulty wrote about super-salesman Elmer “Sell the Sizzle” Wheeler for The New Yorker way back in 1938. And Sam Dean of the Los Angeles Times gave us a peek at Zwift’s e-sports ambitions.

• Technical notes: This episode was recorded with an Audio-Technica AT2035 microphone and a Zoom H5 Handy Recorder. I edited in Apple’s GarageBand on a 2014 MacBook Pro, adding audio acquired through fair means and foul via Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack (no profit was taken in an admittedly casual approach to various copyrights). Speaking of which, Buck appears courtesy of the 1935 William Wellman film “Call of the Wild,” while Nick Danger took a break from his Further Adventures to ask directions to The Firesign Theatre’s Old Same Place. The background music is “Crusin” from Zapsplat.com. And Blind Faith wrapped it all up with “Can’t Find My Way Home.”

And in other news …

January 31, 2019

VN and BRAIN, together at last.

… we have this. More later.