Listicle ahoy! Yes, in the spirit of modern cycling journalism, here are six guaranteed ways of making a successful career in cycling journalism.
1 Change your name
In order to be a successful cycling journalist you must not have a surname. If you are cursed with such a thing, change it to a Christian name immediately. Cycling journalism is full of people with two first names: Timothy John (Rouleur), David Arthur (road.cc), Matthew Allen (C+), Daniel Thomas (CA), Peter Stuart (Cyclist), Dan Joyce (Cycle), Guy Andrews (ex Rouleur), Tom Marvin (BikeRadar), Lionel Birnie (author). If absolutely necessary, change your Christian name to a surname: Warren Rossiter (C+), Wesley Doyle (ex NutsEtc), Ellis Bacon (Cycling Anthology), Carlton Reid (BikeBiz), or go for something properly comedic such as Will Findlater (BikeRadar).
2 Apply for a job
Hmmm…this isn’t quite so easy. Being a cycling journalist is second only to being a motoring journalist in terms of cushy numbers, so jobs don’t come up all that often. When they do, you need to get a letter off to the Editor outlining your credentials. Don’t worry if you’ve never done any journalism before…that will probably act in your favour and the Ed will see you as someone he can mould into an efficient and inexpensive content provider. If you do have some journalism experience, don’t over-sell yourself. The Editor doesn’t want to be looking over his shoulder in case you’re after his job after six months, nor does he want to get shown up as the indolent slacker he is.
3 Ace the interview
If you’re fortunate enough to get an interview, make sure you cycle there. And pray for rain…it will underline your deep commitment to cycling and prove that you are prepared to ride in all weathers (something the Editor absolutely never does). Don’t worry about being sweaty/smelly/wet…cycling magazine offices are full of stinky young men who have been doing intervals on their way in to work. During the interview don’t express strong views about disc brakes/electronic gears/Strava/tubular tyres/Rapha. Preconceptions and prejudices are the Editor’s domain…you’re expected to be impartial and professional, even if that never actually happens. If you can, show some in-depth knowledge about something cycling related (hubs is a good one, because Editors don’t really know much about these), but don’t over-do it. A knowing mention of bracing angles on Zipp 188 hubs will probably do the trick. Also, make sure you tell the Editor that you are “commercially savvy”, that way he knows you’re not going to upset the advertisers.
4 Settling in
Should you be fortunate enough to get the job, the settling in process is very important. From day one you need to underline your cycling credentials, even if thus far they amount to riding to the pub on your girlfriend’s commuter. If you have a bit more experience than that, be self-effacing and down-play your achievements (“yes I did some Cat 2 racing, but it was just a bit of fun really”, and “the Zoncolan? Yeah, ridden it a couple of times”). Under no circumstances allow any of your new colleagues to follow you on Strava or any social media…you really don’t want them knowing you’re a fraud, unless you create an entirely bogus on-line presence (using one of those Strava-manipulation sites, Photoshopped pics of you up mountains and in races, and so on).
5 Writing stuff
This is the easy bit. With one or two notable exceptions, cycling magazines are not written by writers, or even journalists…they’re written by cycling enthusiasts. And mostly the mags are written for people who have little cycling experience. So, KISS (keep it simple, stupid) is your watch-word (or acronym).
For news and new products, ctrl C, ctrl V is the way to go. Top and tail the press release, adapt to House Style, and you’re good to go.
For riding-event pieces, check out the formula here.
For bike tests you just ride it around for a few days (good excuse not to be in the office), throw in a few standard clichés (laterally stiff, vertically compliant, etc), gloss over crap design features (underslung rear brakes, etc) and find something innocuous to criticise (bar tape, cheap wheels, etc), and then give it 7 out of 10 if it was shit, and 8 out of 10 if it was OK.
For general features the mag will have a list of go-to people for quotes. If they accidentally say something contentious and interesting, don’t feel you have to write it down. No one will thank you. Actually, you won’t have written it down anyway, because everyone has a voice recorder on their phone and no one has used shorthand (a series of squiggles and dots that were impossible to transcribe afterwards) since 1983.
6 Stay put and write books
No matter how lazy your Editor is, no matter how inept, no matter how much more than you he earns, YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE THE EDITOR! Seriously, you don’t. Yes, the money’s nice, but the grief and hassle are just not worth it. A strata of middle-management (Publishers, Marketing Drones, Circulation managers, etc) will attempt to justify their existence by constantly demanding reports, meetings, budget cuts, HR issues, and all the other bollocks that has nothing to do with producing a magazine or website. So sit tight, maybe aim for the Deputy Editorship if you have a modicum of ambition, keep your eyeballs white and your needle clean. With luck you will establish a huge contacts book that will be invaluable when you leave and become the Press Officer for a cycling company/team. In the meantime, start writing books about cycling in your spare time (I’m just finishing off one called Cannibalising The Badger, in which the Vulture of Toledo swoops down from the Col de Jeux sans Frontiers and carries Bernard off to its mountain eyrie and makes him into a soufflé for Roger de Vlaeminck). Books are your passport to better, more respectable things and free you from the yoke of vertical compliance and search-engine optimisation.