The first bicycle magazine that I subscribed to was Bike.
It was a long time ago. The glossy photos accompanied by the words of Ferrentino and Felton inspired me through many adolescent daydreams and were the motivation for staying in the cycling industry at the turn of the century. The style the magazine possessed and these two writers embodied for me was part of what defined the sport. There was always adventure and good writing involved that kept me waiting for the next rag to show up in my mailbox.
But as all good things must come to an end, so did the quality of Bike.
As one who must read on a regular basis, I fell in love with Dirt Rag. Their grass roots take on the industry and push for simplicity and all riding styles, even those considered to be fringe elements of the industry intrigued me for many years. There was always something fresh which had a lot to do with their use of constantly rotating contributors.
I stopped subscribing to any magazines a few years ago due to the lack of funds while attending college. It was either the rags or beer, I think I chose wisely. Of course, I would grab one on occasion and enjoy some glossy photos and inspiring words at the grocery store magazine rack.
This past 25 Hours in Frog Hollow saw me being given a “Gift Subscription” to Dirt Rag. I’m not gonna lie to you, I was ecstatic. A free year’s worth of reading material, for free. Yea, I’m in. Then I received my first issue. Things had changed a bit. Sure the general platform was the same, but the grammar and spelling errors were atrocious.
The last issue that popped mysteriously into my mailbox, had a review on “Tuner” bikes. When I read the giant letters scrawled across the page it caught me off guard as I was not aware of Tuner bikes. I proceeded to read the review only to realize after the first paragraph that this was not a new bike company but rather a typographical error. The review was for a Turner DHR.
After finishing the last issue, I was tempted to read it again with a red pen and then return it to Dirt Rag in hopes of helping them improve. (As a side note, I am about half way through the latest issue and things are much better. Even if the word handling doesn’t exist in the Dirt Rag lexicon.)
It was the National Bicycle Dealers Association’s newsletter where I read that it takes at least three years of wrenching for a bicycle mechanic to be efficient enough to break even on his wage and at least five years to make a profit. I think any service manager in the industry could nod their head in agreement to those numbers. However, if you look at many shop’s service staff, there is a traditional “Head Mechanic” who knows his shit and has been around the block a few times.
And then there is the rest of the staff, usually high school kids who are stoked on cycling but couldn’t tell you the difference between a freehub and a freewheel if their lives depended on it. Excitement and passion are only going to get you so far.
Within this under staff there is usually one or two highlights that get it and stick around long enough to procure the requisite experience to ensure they can fix a bike. About this time, they graduate from high school and move on. And the cycle begins again.
What’s my point? This industry needs some professionals. We can’t continue to expect people to pass up better paying jobs and better benefits simply because they love the sport. The mediocrity of much of the industry is a direct result of the shedding of professionals who just can’t continue to make peanuts. About the time that they are profitable, they will be offered something better and they move on.
Whether it be magazines, shops or bike brands, as an industry it is time to stop screwing around and time to start building a place where people who are passionate about the sport can continue to make a real wage. Where good writers and good wrenches aren’t forced to pick between being able to afford to live and doing what they love.
Yes, I think it is possible, but even more importantly, I believe it is a prerequisite for survival.