Rouleur’s editor Edward Pickering on the Sustainability Issue
We like to think that cycling is among the greenest and most sustainable things we can do. And at heart, it is. I’ve almost eradicated short car journeys from my life, because cycling is cleaner, greener, cheaper, faster, healthier, more pleasant, more fun, quieter, more considerate and mostly easier than motorised transport. The same will be true of many Rouleur readers.
However, as an industry and as a sport… cycling has a long, long way to go. Like any commercial enterprise, cycling relies on riders buying stuff, whether it’s bikes and their constituent parts or clothes. There’s an environmental cost to making stuff, transporting stuff and even in owning stuff - how long an item of clothing or piece of gear lasts, how much we use it and how we dispose of it are all things we’d like not to spend too much mental energy on, but are actually hugely important in terms of their environmental impact. We’ve all heard the old cyclists’ joke: the ideal number of bikes to own is n+1, where n is the current number of bikes. Pretty funny, until you add up the air miles and the environmental cost of manufacture. (Still far better to own two bikes than two cars, however.)
As for professional cycling, the sport moves vehicles, infrastructure and thousands of people from country to country and continent to continent, and its carbon footprint is huge. There are fewer than 200 riders in the Tour de France, but a conservative estimate would be that there are 1,500 accredited vehicles following the race, and many thousands more driven by fans. The Tour doesn’t exactly win the green jersey.
This edition of Rouleur is based around the idea of sustainability. We wanted to take an honest look at the problems cycling faces, but also at the solutions that some creative, innovative and far-sighted people are coming up with. But we also ask how riders, teams and race followers sustain their own lives in cycling. I believe that cycling is as close to a silver bullet for many of the ills of modern life as you could find and it’s important to promote it, advocate for it and educate people about its benefits. As long as we face up to the challenges posed by the environmental cost the activity and sport still have, I believe that cycling can contribute to saving the world.
So what’s in the mag? On our central theme, Deena Blacking has taken a deep dive into the environmental impact of cycling clothing and its overlap with ‘fast fashion’, which is the general clothing industry’s business model of quickly designing and manufacturing the very latest trends. When we were discussing the feature in advance, Deena told me about the effect that reading Naomi Klein’s No Logo had on her when it first appeared at the turn of the century. No Logo examined some of the misdeeds of the fashion industry, and it’s true that the cycling clothing industry in the past has not always prioritised sustainability. Like any company, cycling clothing companies needed to shift units: the more, the better. However, the general public is getting a lot more savvy about environmental issues, and some forward-thinking companies have both hugely reduced the environmental impact of their product (by using recycled fabrics and renewable energy) and realised that it’s better to make long-lasting and good-looking kit that riders want to wear again and again. Deena spoke to some fascinating experts on this, and I learned a lot myself from reading the finished article.
One of my biggest impressions of the 2022 Tour de France, apart from how incredibly hot it was, was that it was the Netflix Tour. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but Netflix was both invisible and ubiquitous at the race. When I talked to team managers and riders, those who had one of the streaming company’s crews following them told me about how it was going; the crews were everywhere, and at the same time quite unobtrusive. But everybody was kind of excited about it, because the anticipation is that Netflix could do for the Tour and cycling what it did for Formula 1 with its highly entertaining Drive to Survive series. So who better than Laura Winter, who works as a presenter and journalist in both F1 and cycling, to look into the Tour getting ‘Netflixed’? Laura has seen first-hand the effect of Drive to Survive on F1, and she explains how cycling could benefit, but at the same time asks if this is a step to the expansion of cycling (and therefore its sustainability as a business model) or whether it will just turbo-boost the Tour de France and make it increasingly dominant in the sport. Drive to Survive has also blurred the line between journalism and entertainment: will the Netflix Tour series do the same?
I waxed lyrical about Jai Hindley when the last edition of Rouleur was published. His Giro victory was impressive and fully deserved. It was not just his maiden grand tour win, however, it was also the first for his Bora-Hansgrohe team. The interesting thing about Bora-Hansgrohe is that they haven’t just arrived in the WorldTour, spending a lot of money on big names in an attempt to buy success. They have built, built and built, starting as a Continental team in 2010 (itself built on the back of a development squad which started in 2007) and have slowly achieved success, through careful planning, realistic ambition and most importantly a clever signing policy and good racing strategy. Andrew Curry went to visit the team’s owner Ralph Denk, who has been there since the beginning, to find out about how he built such a successful and sustainable team. And, he found out, the Giro title is not the limit of Denk and Bora’s grand tour winning ambitions.
My first experience with Jojo Harper, the cycling photographer, was when she got in touch with me when I was editing Procycling magazine, asking if I had any work. Maybe, I said. I say that to a lot of people. However, it’s fair to say that Jojo was tenacious in following up on that enquiry. She mailed regularly, until I found a good job - a photographic feature on E3 Harelbeke, for which I did the driving. Jojo was as tenacious at finding great angles and shots of the race as she was at asking me for an opportunity, and it’s made me happy to see her become one of the best photographers in the sport, now working for Trek-Segafredo. Her work ethic and photography are both exemplary, but maybe the most inspiring thing she’s done was shoot this year’s Tour de France Femmes, with her baby Winter in tow. At the Tour, Jojo allowed the camera to be turned on her with her partner Oliver Grenaa and Dan King documenting for Rouleur Jojo’s work at the race. Amy Jones interviewed Jojo about the experience, and the result is a photo essay headlined You Don’t Have to Make a Choice which for me sums up what magazines are all about: brilliant words, brilliant pictures and brilliant layout.
A quick word here about our art editor Enric Adell, who really made You Don’t Have to Make a Choice look brilliant. The picture selection, order, balance, story and typography really elevate the whole reading experience. Anybody who is interested in magazine layout and design should look at this feature as an example of what magazines offer. Enric is also responsible for the covers of Rouleur, and he consistently hits the mark, as he has done with the cover of the Sustainability issue, which is incredibly simple yet has a direct and hard-hitting message.
Also in the magazine: I ask, Is the Tour de France bad for the environment? (Yes.) Rachel Jary sends us her dispatch from the Tour de France Femmes. James Startt visits the Solicycle workshops in Paris, a social enterprise that employs displaced people and formerly homeless people to fix bikes and continue the French capital city’s astonishing cycling revolution. Emilio Previtali interviews Daniel Oss, who has a reputation as one of the most entertaining cyclists in the peloton, but who is also one of the most thoughtful and philosophical. Plus: Marcel Duchamp, Mark Beaumont, Desire, Velocio, Attaquer, Isadore, Hammerhead and much, much more.
Want to find out more? Listen to the full podcast about the issue including an in-depth interview with Laura Winter on Netflix in cycling.