Friday, 13 April 2018

Rouleur- We need to talk about Okbo...

For many, Rouleur magazine (or I'm guessing they would probably prefer something like "velocipede linked lifestyle journal") typifies a certain type of approach to cycling. Overpriced, fashion led and trying to take itself too seriously- pretentious even. Arty close-up photos of bikes (so up-close that you very rarely actually get to see the entire bike), merchandise and adverts that veer perilously near to parody... these, and of course an astronomical cover price, all combine to create a climate of suspicion and inverse snobbery . Hands up- that was generally how I used to feel about it. I would buy every cycling mag I could lay my hands on (and still miss the dearly departed Cycle Sport Magazine which was so shamelessly sabotaged by its publishers to force more people towards The Comic). But Rouleur was different- I really couldn't bring myself to hand over so much money for something that seemed to be exclusively for the well-heeled whose runaround to the shops was a Cervélo.

However a few years ago I had just lost my job and needed reading material to fill the hours until I landed a new one. Flush with redundancy I decided to buy a copy and was surprised by one, major, thing. The quality of the articles was fantastic- not the usual guff about disk brake arguments, or writers trying to find new ways to say "compliance" and "stiffness". Here was a channel for Matt Rendell, Phillipa York, Matt Seaton and other talented and interesting writers. If you get past all the ads that try to so hard to be unique they all end up looking the same, there were great articles and the slightly cheaper "travel" edition (basically the same content as the full size subscription copy without the up-its-own-arse cover art and smaller) meant this was something I would look forward to buying each month- for once a magazine that really was about the articles.

By this time I had reduced my bike magazine purchasing to a minimum- Cycle Sport was gone, Cycling and Cycle Plus were basically the same magazine each month and Cycling Weekly had tried my patience for the last time (Dr Hutch being the only reason I kept up with it for so long). Procycling Mag and now Rouleur would be generally all I would buy and all was well- until a certain journo came to my attention.

The first clue was an article about Floyd Landis in Las Vegas and his cannabis business. It was dire- an attempt at being cool and edgy but simply read like a couple of spoilt teenagers who think that their stoned stories are interesting to everyone else- it was as far away from a cycling piece you could get. The hack put himself at the centre of the story, and all the other elements were seen as supporting objects, and he seemed to be under the impression that readers were more interested in how baked he was and what other K-eerrrrrazzzzyyy stuff he got up to in Vegas. I have been employed as a drug worker for the past 16 years (minus the month and a half of redundancy mentioned above!) so can clearly state that people's stories about what they get up to when they are stoned are really, really uninteresting to everyone except the teller of the tales. It reminds me of the person in the school or work place who would get plastered or wiped at the weekend operating under the misapprehension that it would result in great stories to share in the class or office on Monday morning.

So this was my first real introduction to the work of Morten Okbo. Perhaps it is a blip, I told myself, that something so self indulgent should past muster- maybe the temporary insanity of an editor under pressure to fill space for one edition. However it was soon clear to me that Okbo had previous- I tweeted simply that I had just read one of the worse cycling articles I had ever come across. Without prompting, someone on my timeline asked - "It wasn't Okbo by any chance, was it?".

A few more issues passed and occasionally his name would crop up and what would follow would be self-indulgent "wackiness"- an attempt to be different but generally infuriating. So much so that when I went to pick up a copy of Rouleur I would flick through it quickly- if Okbo had a byline it went back on the shelf and my £7.50 stayed in my pocket.

This month however I was not as alert. The front cover promised an interview with Cancellara so I forked over some of my hard earned cash and took a copy home. It was then I realised my mistake when I saw who the hack behind it was. This wasn't an interview about Spartacus- it was Okbo talking about himself and basically Cancellara was a crutch to allow the Dane to spout nonsense disguised as existentialist, gonzo fare. Look, Morten-here is the thing. I have no interest in your personal thoughts or "whacky" pseudo-nihilistic worldview. I buy cycling magazines and books to read about the folk and things who really matter- the cyclists, their DSs, their teams, their gear, the races-or interesting perspectives. I don't need the hack to be the centre of the story- I have read plenty of great stuff by the Fotheringhams, Bobet, Abt, Moore, Pickering, Friebe, Bacon, Benson and many more who don't feel the need to put themselves at the centre of every story.

I had toyed with the idea of asking Rouleur to put a warning sticker on the cover anytime they featured Okbo's work but somehow I don't think I have the clout that would encourage them to follow through. And I do have to ask- am I over reacting? I'm not sure- all I know is that I am passionate about reading great cycling articles and books. I have said before that our sport has encouraged the greatest sports writing and being a failed journo myself I revel when I indulge myself with the finely tuned words that capture and chronicle history. There are many great races in the past, even from before when I was born, that I can summon up clearly in my mind, despite never having seen the TV pictures because of how well they have been written about. And it just really grates that, in the future, some yet unborn cycling fan will have Okbo's submissions to fall back on as an example of how pretentiousness and fake nihilism took the place of well crafted pieces.

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