Embrocation Cycling Journal
It should come as no surprise that we love the written word. It might be a surprise that we particularly enjoy it on printed paper. Magazines, seemingly disposable, mere ephemera designed to consume and forget, are hard for us to let go of. The combination of words and images into short stories has a hold on us we can't shake. The permanence of paper might be some of the appeal. Paper can last decades, easy to search, easy to remember, easy to pick up where you left off.
We're not alone. After lugging boxes of Winning magazine to various abodes, we finally decided to eBay most of them. Sold in year batches, they did pretty well there.
When Embrocation Cycling Journal, Volume Two arrived, we tore open the envelope. We have a particularly strong bond with cycling magazines. They can be stashed alongside a sofa, a bed, a toilet, in a backpack, ready to be accessed when the mood strikes. The content is usually such that we can read without getting too involved, but get more involved if the mood strikes. Watching TV and a commercial comes on, we pull out a mag, examine a picture we've seen several times before, re-read an article on a race we never saw, ponder training advice we digested and mostly forgot. If our program returns and we're more interested in paper than the flickering screen, we know it's time to turn off the idiot box and get on with reading.
Embrocation starts with a surprise. While the trim size is 8 3/8" x11", the binding is on the short side. It's a small touch, but thinking different is good. The only bummer is our mail carrier tried to bend the mag to fit in our box. We've got a little crease where he folded, and some ripples on the back. Maybe not for eBay anymore.
The feel and look is closer to an art book than a magazine, though one that isn't too fancy. The cover is heavyweight glossy paper, perfect bound. Designed to last. The image, some kind of green stuff on yellow is something we stared at and sussed and stared and turned the magazine at various angles to "get it." The table of contents reveals it's probably yellow lines on a road. Still, intriguing; something we can look at over and over.
The pages are heavyweight, too, though matte instead of glossy. They flip, but not floppy. There is both text and photos, but never too much text on a page. The balance is more toward the visual than towards words.
The first two pages contain the table of contents. The inside cover is one of the most prized advertising pages on a magazine. No ad. There's a short description of the mission. "A quarterly publication highlighting the culture surrounding cycling. While cyclocross is a passion, its not entirely the focus, as embrocation condones all levels and types of cycling and cyclists."
With that, we know Embrocation is part of a growing breed of cycling magazines. They seem to be a rebirth of the 'zine phenomenon. During the short window between the appearance of user-friendly desktop publishing programs and the rise of the web, there was a flowing of 'zines. Everyone with a passion, a desire to write, and sufficient focus was putting out her own 'zine. No matter how obscure the topic, once word was out about a new one, others who shared that passion and desire to write were sending in essays.
'Zines disappeared for good reason. The biggest reason is that putting up a website is much easier than arranging for a print publication. But aiding in the disappearance was the fact that getting word about 'zines was hard, getting them into stores was harder -- probably due to the disappearance of non-chain bookstores, most 'zines had writing of uneven quality, they didn't publish on a schedule, the page designs were terrible, and most, after a few issues, narrowed their world view so that few readers were interested and fewer would willingly search for the 'zine they thought they may have liked several months earlier.
But the 'zine movement has an enduring place, even if it is largely confined to the web. Look at Belgium Knee Warmers and Bike Snob NYC. Singular visions, the writers only publish on topics they feel passionate about, they link to lots of good stuff, and they publish so frequently that if you visit on a regular basis, you'll almost always find something new. Bobke Strut is another we really enjoy but is updated haphazardly, much likes 'zines of old. At least it is a single author who pours himself into everything he does.
As with 'zines, the writing is largely first person. "The Stones of Belgium" by Whit Yost does a great job of capturing something he found living and riding in Belgium to be about. Another piece on Belgium, by the pseudonymous Niels Hoolgenshoten, "Laat het gebouw nu!" almost taunts as it evokes a warped fantasyland Belgium that may or may not be real. There is practical advice on the art of tubular gluing from Molly Cameron, and the art of the bike wash, a piece already posted to the web on Belgium Knee Warmers.
There are several others. Our copy contained a printing error in the interview with Taliah Lempert, "Gilded in Gold." Some of the interview is missing and some is repeated. When we brought this up with the editor, he told us we were only the second person to notice, the first being Lempert.
That no one else made a point of noting the mistake is a sign of how important words are to most readers and justifies the emphasis on the visual. A profile of the New England announcer Dick Ring runs eight pages, with four full-page photos and every text page has at least one picture as well. Since we've experienced the inimitable Mr. Ring for years, it's hard not to weigh in. We're not fans of his announcing style. Always found him shrill to the point of being off-putting. While there is an interesting story told of him, and plenty offer praise, we're still at a loss to understand his appeal and fail to see a legend as he's taken. He does appear to still be in good shape for a septuagenarian, though we pegged him to be a decade older.
The piece on the North American Handmade Bicycle Show is six pages heavy on white space and the text reading more like advertorial. What makes the piece work are the final two pages, where the photographer relates being at the show and finding out that Polaroid stopped making their namesake film. He goes on to take 87 Polaroids of people at the show, giving an intimacy to the experience that the previous four pages lacked.
Intimacy is really what Embrocation conveys best. The photos are not sweeping panoramas, but close-ups, sometimes extreme close-ups. Whether it is chatting with Taliah Lempert, Chris Milliman discussing using traditional still cameras with film for the photos he shares, Peter Rubijono's artwork, or Brian Palmer discussing his love of Robert Millar, we're treated to exacting detail. A singular vision shows through with literary quotes and a detour into a New York City Egg Cream.
Looping back to the first page mission statement, it is a celebration of cycling culture. It's a work of passion and vision. For our tastes, we'd prefer sharper writing, and more of it, but considering we're evaluating Volume Two, the learning curve is looking pretty good. We expect Volume Three to be an improvement. With Two, we enjoyed, will flip back mostly for the pictures, but were left wanting more. Whether or not that's a good thing is hard to determine.