A lot of you reading these words came to The Cycling Independent after a decade and a bit more of reading Red Kite Prayer. For everyone else, the occasional references to RKP might be confusing, so here is something I wrote about RKP very near the transition from that site to this one, and maybe it puts more of what we do here in context.
I’m probably not in control of my own life really, right? Somewhere between strict determinism and inertia there are forces beyond my control and beyond my ken that have delivered me to a place that I never expected and certainly don’t deserve to be. Maybe if I’m grateful then I become, somehow, worthy.
I should back up.
I really don’t know what I was thinking, writing to a guy I didn’t know who had just started a new blog, wondering if he’d run a piece I was working on, but as it turned out that was the tipping of a domino that cascaded through my life, changed everything, and brought me here, to this weird moment.
I was obsessed with cycling, and I wanted to read things that expressed what I felt about riding a bike. That’s when I discovered Belgium Knee Warmers, written by a guy who called himself Radio Freddy. Freddy was in tune with the zeitgeist in a serious way. He knew how tall your socks were supposed to be, and also didn’t care. He could reminisce about races decades past and describe what it felt like to turn yourself inside out on a long climb. BKW caught lightning in a bottle. It was the deep dive on cycling culture I craved, and it didn’t take itself too seriously. Even the name is an inside joke. Belgium Knee Warmers is a term for embrocation, the grease the toughest riders slather on their legs for cold weather training, in lieu of tights or actual knee warmers.
Here’s a classic excerpt from Freddy’s work:
When the sh*t goes down and the screws are turned, we all wage the war against the ingress of doubt. Like cold, salty ocean water, doubt will find its way inside a breach and then… it’s only a matter of time before the ship goes down.
Later, Freddy was joined by another writer, Padraig, who brought more writerly polish to the project. He’d run his own cycling magazine. He’d been published across the industry, but he wasn’t stiff. He wasn’t anodyne like so many sportswriters. Together, the two of them educated me on so many of the finer points of the weird sub-culture that lives inside bike shops, bike races, and in the mind of a serious rider.
When Padraig left BKW to start Red Kite Prayer I didn’t know what to think of it. To say it was like the Beatles breaking up is wrong, because BKW was only ever a cult band to begin with. It was more like when Uncle Tupelo became Wilco and Son Volt. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, then that’s probably right.
Later I would learn that Padraig started RKP because he was bursting with words. He had too much for it all to find its way into print or onto BKW. He needed RKP as an outlet for the riot of ideas bursting out of his fingertips. Right away I loved RKP too. The Red Kite Prayer, incidentally, is the prayer the breakaway rider in the lead of a race says at the 1km to go banner, the red kite, in hopes of staying away to the finish and winning the race.
Around that time I was, as I said, obsessed. I was devouring every bit of cycling history I could and had developed a particular love for the journalism of Samuel Abt, who covered the Tour de France for more than 30 years, writing for the New York Times and International Herald Tribune. Reading Abt’s pieces about races whose outcome I already knew was something special, because he brought the events and the characters to life in extraordinary ways. Even writing this, just now, I can see how odd my frame of mind was then. I was all the way down the wormhole.
That’s when I wrote to Padraig to see if he was interested in a sort of homage to Abt piece. I had been leaving comments on RKP posts for months, long, tortured rants, so he was aware of who I was, but I was surprised when he encouraged me to send him the piece. And then, quite curiously, but also thrillingly, he let me send him some more stuff. I had spent years writing about soccer as a freelancer, and I missed the rhythm of regular sports writing. Padraig and RKP gave me an outlet.
And then some big things happened.
I was looking to change careers. I had been in educational publishing, managing big textbook development projects, and I was burned out. I wanted to get into the bike business, and Padraig and Freddy helped me find a job at one of the best bike companies in the world (another story).
Freddy and I became friends. Padraig and I grew very close. We worked together and visited each other, and met up at industry events and out on the road. Then Outside Magazine named RKP the #1 Bike Blog on the internet. And via all that I learned so much more than I ever could have imagined and met so many great bike people all over the planet, and it’s sort of cliché to say that it changed my whole life, except that it did.
I had been desperate to escape corporate life, soul sick with the banality of it all, and those guys helped me do that. On top of that, they helped me see that there is a good life to be made from going outside, exploring in whatever way you can, and then writing about it.
It’s more than a decade since I wrote that first piece for RKP. More than 750 posts followed that one, including more than 500 of the Friday Group Ride, which morphed into TCI Friday. If you can’t be great, maybe try to be prolific?
Without RKP, I’m not here. I’m probably not writing about bikes anymore, and I’m probably not celebrating my second decade in the shambling circus of the bike industry. The Cycling Independent is its own project, one I frankly didn’t see the point of initially. Why not just keep going with RKP, but Padraig was right, and I stayed on his wheel and kept going, and here we are. Here we are.