Thursday, March 11, 2010


I don't speak French. I enjoy French Fries and am glad to drink French wines, but failing to understand in the 7th grade what an obsession cycling and the Tour de France would ultimately be I spent my formative years sitting in Spanish class instead of French. Please note that I did not say "studying Spanish" or even "learning Spanish", because, frankly, my years of Spanish were enough for me to be able to take one boondoggle "language" trip, in which I was able to order beer and a meal with confidence, but that's about it. Shortly after that trip, I carried the memories of the mischief and architecture for many years, but I appeared to carry the Spanish language for about 6 more months. It failed to trouble my consciousness much beyond that.

As a result, I watch a great deal of cycling on television that all comes from France, but I am not able to follow any native language discussion. And if it were just television coming from France it wouldn't be too much of an issue, but a lot of our cycling traditions and language comes from France. Words like peleton, echelon, domestique and suitcase-of-courage are all foreign to us. Another of these words is rouleur.

The word rouleur is much less common than domestique or peleton, but it has served as the inspiration for an obscure cycling magazine of that name. Rouleur is printed quarterly by the company that makes Rapha clothing. It is quite pricey even when you aren't paying for the shipping from England and it is literally double the pricey to get it from England. Nonetheless, this quarterly is an exquisite piece of the cycling world and I look forward to it immensely.

It is hard to describe the magazine without holding one in your hands. There really should be a word other than "magazine" for this publication, because it is printed on paper dramatically more substantial than that of any other monthly periodical. It is bound more like a paperback book than a magazine. The quality of the graphics and substance of the stories make it a shame to consider disposing of it. Although obviously, not everyone agrees with me.

From Misc Bike Pics

The stories in Rouleur tend to be very long and very involved. This is unlike Bicycling magazine, which I understand has studies correlating the length of its articles to the average time the American male cyclist spends on the crapper. They also tend towards insipid, but that is another matter.

Rouleur also tends to spend much more time on bikes produced between 1965 and 1985 than doting after the latest carbon fiber miracle. Much more leather saddle and steel frame than gel saddle and carbon frame. As a result, they focus on bikes that featured components either from Campagnolo or now-defunct companies. Shimano and SRAM just weren't competing for space on the derailleur hanger of the Molteni Team. A few issues ago they gave some time to the Dura Ace versus Record discussion, but it is hard to compare "efficiency" versus "history", when your prism is respect for tradition.

The latest issue, however, features a lengthy interview with Mr. Shimano and it includes numerous pictures from the factory. It also features a long article about the "Z" team, or Team Zed if you prefer, and pictures of the Tour of California that purposely feature the gray wet days of last year's race that make it look like it was held in the English countryside. Once again, it draws a spotlight to the beauty and anguish and joy and struggle and pain and elation that makes up this sport.

I just had time to glance through the issue, but as I put it down, I realized that the definition of Rouleur was not "good all rounder" or a moniker for guys like Jens Voigt and Sean Yates. No, the definition is "love". Of course, "love" in a manly way. No, not in a Roman gladiator movie-manly way, just manly. Because it is a celebration of the part of cycling that is so tough and, if we are honest with ourselves, that we love.

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