For those of us that love—and even obsess over—cyclocross, print coverage of the sport has traditionally been hard to find. Every once in awhile VeloNews would have a couple pictures, or show a couple bikes in the buyer’s guide. And Bicycling magazine would explain to us how a cyclocross bike is a great option for a commuter bike, with its fender eyelets and optional disc brakes. But there was no magazine devoted to ‘cross culture and ‘cross racing. In 2007 that changed with the first issue of Cyclocross Magazine.
What started as a brainstorming session for a friend looking for a career in the cycling industry has resulted in a national cyclocross magazine with growing readership and an impressive online presence. Cyclocross Magazine’s Publisher Andrew Yee is not a journalist by training nor does he have a background in publishing.
He does have an MBA but is the first to admit that this is not the typical career path for those holding such a degree. What he also has is a passion for the sport, a willingness to do what it takes for Cyclocross Magazine to succeed, and a community ready to help. The publication, much like the U.S. version of the sport, is truly a grassroots affair. Many of the photos and a portion of the articles and interviews are submitted by unpaid contributors that share the staff’s goal of supplying the nation’s ‘crossers with an entertaining and informative periodical.
When the world is rapidly moving exclusively online, starting a print magazine seems a little crazy, but that is what Yee and the Cyclocross Magazine’s crew set out to do. I recently talked to Andrew about how this venture started and where he hopes it will go. Here is part one of our interview. (You can find Part II here.)
Do you come from a cycling family?
Yee: Yeah…my dad got into cycling after moving from Hawaii to Pennsylvania to do a PhD in Philosophy at Penn State in the 60’s. Later he took up racing, and was involved with the local county club, Berks County Bike Club, which still exists. He got my older sister and me into it. As a family, we’d go on rides on the weekend in rural roads, and being the youngest, I quickly got used to being off the back. My dad had to push me up every hill.
My dad, sister and I raced on the road and on the track at Trexlertown, but my favorite type of riding was probably riding my little road bikes through our big yard and the farm fields.
My sister had talent and was actually a National Champion in the Midget category—that’s what they called the youngest junior age group then—on the road in 1982. I never really achieved much myself though, a few random medals from Districts as a kid in Pennsylvania and then Hawaii.
It has to be said that without my dad’s influence, Cyclocross Magazine would have never happened, and I’m thankful for him always finding me a good used bike to ride and a race to go to.
Do you come from a publishing family?
Yee: No, in fact the opposite. My dad stopped being a philosophy professor because he hated the research and publishing part. But I’ve always helped shoot pictures for school newspapers and yearbooks, and have been into photography since I was young. I’ve got degrees in engineering and business and have mostly worked in tech, although I sorta always enjoyed writing classes and did quite well in them. But print publishing was totally new for me had a steep learning curve. The Web stuff and social media were very familiar though.
How and when did you first get interested in bikes?
Yee: I sliced off my pinky when I was an infant in one of those walker-jumpers where you’re just sitting there, dangling your feet but not really going anywhere. I think after that traumatic experience I must have decided I never wanted to be stationary again! I needed two wheels that actually took you somewhere. From as early as I remember, I’ve been riding a bike. It wasn’t really even a choice when I was young, that’s just what my family did. We would bike, hike or cross-country ski. We weren’t rich and it was cheap, quality family time.
While both my sister and I rode bikes, I was always much more into tinkering with them than she was. I remember every bike I had, and what I liked and didn’t like about each. It eventually progressed to working in bike shops starting when I was 14.
When did you first discover ‘cross? What was your first race like?
Yee: When I was really young I used to ride my drop-bar three-speed around the woods and farm fields. I remember going down some big hills and would just have to push the bike up them. I guess you could say that explains why ‘cross appealed to me.
But my first real ‘cross race was the first race Adam Myerson promoted, at UMass Amherst in the fall of ’91, my first year in college. I was at Tufts, and the collegiate team drove out from Boston for it. I didn’t know much about cyclocross. None of us had ‘cross bikes.
We raced on our mountain bikes and I think there were two logs as barriers. There was just one collegiate field, and I was probably second to last or something. I loved it though. I do remember one spectator on a downhill kindly cheering for me.
Shortly after college, I was one of the early guys of the semi-underground club Boston Cross. Our first jerseys were black jerseys we bought on blowout from Nashbar and then silk screened them. I still wear that jersey sometimes, and I’m still in touch with most of those guys—many moved out to the Bay Area, and a couple help out the magazine.
Steve Ransom is our crash test dummy and my CXM Labs research partner in crime. Sean Horita does illustrations for the magazine. And the Boston Cross club has gone on to do some impressive things. In addition to Boston Cross having a major role in cementing my passion for ‘cross, the club’s Mark Abramson is now president of the USAC board. Boston Cross also inspired the formation of the national club, Hup United, of which I’m a member.
Did you ever race on the road or MTB?
Yee: Yeah! Road, track and mountain all came before ‘cross. My first road races were short, 100 yard sprints when I was seven or eight. I was the only kid at the start with toe clips.
If I got in them fast, I could usually win, and if I missed my pedal, I’d have no chance. I would practice getting into my toe clips again and again. Not too different than ‘cross right?
Then eventually I was old enough to do a lap or two of a crit course. Junior racing was big back then on the east coast in the 70’s and early 80’s. We’d show up at races like the Skippy Peanut Butter Classic in Nutley, New Jersey, and there would be 100+ “midgets” out there. I also did the “midget” handicap races on the track in Trexlertown in the summers. Our gear restrictions were so low, they would call us “eggbeaters.” Racing at T-town and riding Pennsylvania roads are two of three things that five-time cyclocross National Champion Katie Compton and I have in common.
And the third thing?
Yee: Oh, we both suffer from mysterious things that seem to wreck our racing. For Katie, her leg cramps and me, my chronic side stitch. But that’s about it. I really have nothing in common with her talent, power and class!
So you’ve kept racing ever since you were a kid?
Yee: When my parents moved back to Hawaii when I was 12, I kept at it, but fields in Hawaii were dismal…they peaked one year at around 12 kids, and that was because I dragged four friends out there.
I always wanted a BMX bike when I was a kid and never got one. But my parents more than made up for it by getting me a mountain bike in 1986 after years of begging. Following years of riding my sister’s hand-me-downs, it was my first-ever brand new bike and it was sweet—a quad-butted steel Miyata Ridge Runner with an XC Roller Cam brake, Deore XT Deerhead Superplate rear derailleur and Araya RM-20 rims. I rode and raced that thing hard in Hawaii before most of the trails were closed.
In college I raced road and mountain, and after college did a few years of road and a lot of ‘cross. I don’t think I’ve gone a year without racing since I started. And my body is starting to pay the price.
Where did the idea for CXM come from? Walk us through the process of getting the magazine up and running.
Yee: Ever since my passion for ‘cross started, I’ve long been hard-up for ‘cross content. I remember being so excited when Outside Magazine had a bit about the sport in the mid 90s…and really had hoped that trend would continue. And then when that one issue of VeloNews would have a few ‘cross pictures in it, I’d read it over and over again. So I’ve long thought the sport needed more attention, both in print and online.
A couple years ago, a friend was thinking about working in the cycling industry, and was brainstorming career opportunities with three of us. I said there needed to be a dedicated cyclocross magazine and Web site, and they agreed. Two of us, my buddy Mike and I, decided to actually try it, and Cyclocross Magazine was born.
Haven’t you heard print media is dead? What on earth made you think you could start a magazine?
Yee: Really? I thought all those mainstream newspapers and magazines were going bankrupt because we were stealing market share from them! Hmm.
In all seriousness, surely the print industry has challenges, but if there’s anything on paper that can survive, it’s niche publications. But with the down economy it’s not easy. And by no means are we just a print publication. A lot of my time is spent working on our online piece at cxmagazine.com—even during the off-season we’ve maintained daily content! It’s just about a year since we pledged to do that, and it wasn’t as difficult as I thought, especially when you’re always thinking about ‘cross and have a ton of community involvement. Plus our online community for ‘crossers stays true to the community-feel of ‘cross. And of course we’re connected to the ever-increasing number of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.
Do you think you’d ever go 100% digital?
Yee: For me personally, reading a print magazine is a far different experience than reading something online. I like to read short, timely pieces online, but it’s never relaxing and always feels like work, since my jobs have always involved spending tons of time in front of a computer. Reading a print rag is a lot more relaxing, and with a magazine I can go anywhere, tune-out from everything else and avoid the fifteen other things that can interrupt or distract me on the computer. Plus, if done right, a magazine can offer some in-depth articles that you can really sink your teeth into, instead of the typical ADHD-styled short online articles or top 10 lists you find in mainstream magazines.
I think one thing that we’ve done well from the beginning, that you now see some other racing magazines do, is focus on in-depth “lifestyle” content in our magazine: interviews, behind-the-scenes-reports, culture stuff, and tech pieces and reviews. We have never attempted to have real “news” or “race coverage” in our magazine. It’s not very interesting to just read a report only about how a race went down a couple months later after we’ve read it online, especially in our case where it’s several months between issues. So in that sense, our magazine and website are very complementary, because you can go online to read short pieces about the races or new products but then really immerse yourself in the sport through our print mag.
Seems like you are doing something right, the popularity of the publication continues to grow. Has the New York Times come to you for tips on how to stay viable?
Yee: Hah! I wish! But a handful of newspapers, a few Web sites and Outside Magazine and Bicycle Retailer have interviewed us to talk about cyclocross. It’s nice to see they’re paying attention to the sport and respect what we’re doing.
Do you have a background in journalism? Business?
Yee: No, besides a bit of photojournalism in high school and college, not at all. I do have a graduate business degree, which has been helpful but this certainly isn’t the traditional MBA career path. It’s weird. I’ve always been better at math and science than the other stuff in school, but always did well writing research papers and enjoyed that. I think maybe the fact that my vocabulary is that of a six-year-old, unless it’s related to bikes, kept me from liberal arts.
What has been the hardest part of running Cyclocross Magazine?
Yee: I guess there are two things. One is typical of most entrepreneurs—balancing the work that you love with spending time with the people that you love. Bless my friends and especially my wife for their amazing support and understanding—they certainly see me much less as I work to grow the business. When you’re always working, you’re often spreading yourself too thin. That’s why it’s taken us so damn long to sit down and do this interview!
The other thing is more personal. A great business person is always out there networking, getting his name out there, building connections. And while I think I’m pretty good at talking to anyone and building relationships, especially related to cyclocross because I’m so passionate about it, I have no desire to be famous. I really couldn’t care less if not a single person knew my name or recognized me as the publisher of Cyclocross Magazine as long as the magazine is successful. And I really don’t want special treatment on group rides, at races, or in shops. But the reality is that reputation, recognition and relationships are essential to building a business, and so if I want to be smart in building this business, I have to work harder to get my own name out there as a representative of the magazine, because relationships often start because people know who you are and recognize you for what you do.
A lot of bloggers do that a lot better than I do, partly because their blog is often all about them. There are a few exceptions, however. I really admire the guys at Belgian Knee Warmers and the guy or gal at Bike Snob NYC [a contributor to the magazine] because they’ve developed quite a following while being sorta anonymous.
Oh, I lied and will be lame and list a third thing. The USPS! Man, cracking their paperwork, policies and permit approval process has been harder than beating Trebon at CrossVegas.
You have an amazing cast of contributors that give the reader a rare behind the scenes look. Instead of relying on jaded cycling-journos, we get an accomplished professional ‘crosser, Christine Vardaros, running down A-list interviews, and Mark Legg giving the inside scoop on the Euro scene while wrenching for his wife, Katie Compton. How did you manage this?
Yee: Hmm. Maybe it was my incredible smile or sweet talk? Or they knew helping out was a small price to pay for a limited-edition Cyclocross Magazine t-shirt? [laughs]
Well, I’m guessing it’s because they thought it was overdue for a magazine to put sufficient attention on the sport, and it was their way of giving back to the sport they love. You might want to ask them directly for the real scoop. And there are a ton of people behind the scenes that deserve major kudos and attention too for helping out big-time with the magazine, whether that’s photography, layout, editing, the Web site, or reviews. We couldn’t do it without them, and they’re certainly not doing it for the money, I can assure you that.
One thing I love about Cyclocross Magazine features is the excess. Most publications give you a column or two of testing or analysis and move on. You guys drive it into the ground. The tire reviews were amazing. What’s your philosophy or mission statement behind such features?
Yee: Well, I guess when you’re so passionate about something, think about it all the time, and have long lamented the lack of coverage and attention, when you finally do something, it’s in great detail. We’re proud of that and things like our tire pressure research and doing interviews with all national champs from the last two championships. Our magazine is by no means perfect, but hopefully the passion, detail, and creativity is evident.
The beauty of the sport is that it’s so welcoming to all types and all abilities, and if we’re going to be successful as a publication and business, we can’t just focus on pros or beginners or cross-dressing sandbagging unicyclists. Focusing on a niche within a niche won’t work. We love them all and in a way, I can relate to them all. Our motto is we have something to inform and entertain all ‘crossers, and we’ve been working hard to stay true to that. Based on our recent survey results, it seems to be working for the most part. New people are still subscribing to the print mag, visiting the website, and joining our online community. But we’re working hard on constantly improving!