JRA with the Angry Asian: Set adrift

Where do things go from here?

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The past three years have been incredibly stressful, and I’m in the middle of a few weeks off that I pushed hard to get in order to try and recover from what was turning into pretty gnarly burnout: the irritability, the inability to sleep or concentrate, yada yada yada. I’m no longer feeling very relaxed or refreshed, though, and I’m not sure I should even be writing this at all. But after what happened a few days ago, it doesn’t feel right to say nothing, either.

There’s no sense in beating around the bush, so let’s just rip the band-aid off.

Earlier this week, Outside Inc. – the parent company of CyclingTips – bid adieu to three key members of our staff: editor-in-chief Caley Fretz, senior technical editor Dave Rome, and managing editor Matt de Neef (and that’s in addition to bulldog news editor Dane Cash, who was let go back in May). I’m still trying to fully come to terms with the rationale for all of this, but as is often the case with these sorts of things, we’re told it’s due to budgetary reasons related to general and dramatic downturns in advertising revenue (which, despite steadily growing membership, is still our biggest source of income). CyclingTips wasn’t the only group affected, but it’s the only one about which I can explain the impact. It hurts. Dane’s departure was hard enough to stomach already, but it now feels like our legs have been cut out from under us. 

These weren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet to us, or to you, because CyclingTips isn’t just a cycling web site. It’s a community of people, and we just lost three key members.

Caley had been doing a masterful job of steering the CyclingTips editorial ship, keeping us relevant and interesting and different in a sea of sameness dominated by lifeless commodity news of who-said-what and toothless flipped press releases. He’s always been firmly committed to doing things the right way and for the right reasons – he’s no fanboi, and his judgment is better for it – and I’ve long envied his ability to see the bigger and longer-term picture (I’m more of a task person). The only downside of him occupying the EIC chair is it didn’t leave him much time to do anything else. As good as he was at managing things, he’s an even more talented writer, and to this day, I can’t look at an avocado without thinking about tires. I can write about bike gear, but Caley is a writer. There’s a difference.

Dave… What can I say? Dave is Dave. He and I were trying to figure out how long we’d worked together. He guessed eight years, but turns out it’s more like eleven. His attention to detail is second-to-none, he’s a walking encyclopedia of (only occasionally useless) bike knowledge, and his quirkiness is his superpower. Faffing is also his middle name, and we love him all the more because of it. I’ve watched as his writing matured over the years, and along with that, the long-overdue self-confidence that he’s as good as the rest of us have known for ages. It’s only been in the last couple of days that it’s hit me how regularly we’ve chatted over the years (and not just about bike stuff or work), and my evenings now feel a little quieter than they used to be. 

I’m not sure I can even convey how fundamental Matt has been to making CT what it is today. His byline may not have popped up as often as some others, but he’s been the behind-the-scenes editorial bedrock that formed our foundation. He’s a wildly underrated writer and editor, and no one has been more passionate about ironing out the dichotomy of Aussie/British vs. American English – or proper grammar in general. If you’ve ever found a typo in a CyclingTips article, it’s only because Matt didn’t find it first.

Lost in the conversation has been Steve Brawley. He’s been our “ad guy” since 2017, and a big reason our paychecks continue to cash. Folks on the commercial side of media often have a reputation for being slimy and having questionable ethics, but Steve’s anything but. He may have a suspiciously perfect and welcoming smile (what is it about ad people like that???), but he’s never even hinted that we compromise our editorial integrity just to land a deal. The fact he never told us about the increasing headwinds he was facing only speaks further to his character. I’ve never told him this explicitly, but he’s also been a role model to me in how close a father can be to his daughter. You’ve done well, Steve, and I hope to hear more soon about your new life as an empty-nester. 

Let’s not forget that over at sister site Velonews, editor-in-chief Dan Benson got his walking papers, too. I worked with Dan for a long time at Cyclingnews back in the day, and I can think of few cycling reporters who are as determined to get to the bottom of things as he is. I’ve long judged the success of a cycling tech journalist by how many awkward phone conversations you have to have with brands (and Dave and I have had *a lot*), but I can only imagine how many riders and teams wriggle uncomfortably in their seats when they see Dan’s hand raised in a press conference. He’s quite possibly the worst driver I’ve ever known (second only to my mother), but there wasn’t a doubt in my mind he’d do a great job at VN – and he most certainly did. 

Everyone I’ve mentioned here is immensely talented, hard-working, and just plain amazing at what they do. I’m confident they’ll all land on their feet, and in short order. But it saddens me deeply that their talents will be utilized somewhere other than here.

As for the rest of us left behind, I really don’t know what to think yet, and we’ve only just begun to figure out answers to the questions that are left with the departure of our friends. Some of these questions are practical: Who’s steering the ship now? What’s happening with the podcasts? What’s our new workflow? Who’s going to give me the green light to spend a couple of hundred bucks on an old Schwinn Homegrown URT mountain bike frame for a totally misguided tech feature on gravel bike conversions??? (Yes, I really did). Other questions are more existential, but they’re all questions that need to be answered nonetheless.

I still vividly remember when CyclingTips founder Wade Wallace came to Boulder seven years ago and pitched his case for why I should join CyclingTips. I was drawn to the premise of title-wide editorial freedom, and I was struck by his sincerity. It was hard not to say no, and even now, I have no regrets in putting pen to paper on my contract. In a professional sense, it’s the best decision I ever made. But I never would’ve guessed at the time that switching jobs was also going to land me a second family. Speaking of which, I’ve been fortunate to watch five CT staffers either start or grow their own families since I came on board in 2016. Video calls may have occasionally gotten a little less productive at times (right before nap times, more specifically), but they’ve also been more entertaining.

A lot of people have helped to build this amazing place over the years, and like any project born through collective blood, sweat, and tears, we’ve all grown closer in the process (and to be clear, I include our audience in that group). It’s always felt good to stand back on occasion and look proudly on this lovely house, although it now feels pretty different. Iain, Andy, Abby, Shoddy, Phil, Ronan, Jonny, Kit, José, and Amy still occupy its rooms and wander its halls. The walls look the same. There’s still conversations and laughter and warmth. Happiness and sadness, tragedy and triumph. All shared. It’s a house full of life, but it’s also one with a growing collection of memories of family members that have sadly moved on.

It’s a good and solid house, with strong bones and a lot of history. Built with love. I hope it’ll be once again be full someday, but even the sturdiest of houses is prone to the whims of Mother Nature. For now, I’m going to stand quietly at the window and watch longingly as the sun sets. I know it’ll come up again in the morning, but at least for a while, those dawn colors I always look forward to won’t seem as vibrant as they usually do. Winter may have arrived, but as long as it sometimes can feel, spring does eventually follow.

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

Sorry for any typos. Sadly, Matt wasn’t around to edit this one.

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