Rouleur Issue 4
If you appreciate the bicycle not as a mere machine, but as art, you'll probably be moved by Rouleur. The magazine out of England states on their website, "Rouleur has been created to celebrate the drama and beauty of road racing. It is aimed at those people who, like us, are passionate about the sport." It's little surprise that it is backed by Rapha, creators of exquisite wool cycling clothing and champions of high-art photography to sell their wares. Rapha is the publisher and houses Rouleur's website on theirs.
It looks like an art magazine. The cover seems to be coated 100-pound paper stock with a rich matte finish. Perfect-bound pages so the mag can stand on its own or be housed on a shelf. The cover is a black-and-white image with nothing other than the mag's title adorning it. Flip over to the back cover, and the image continues, with only a small UPC code and the price interrupting the image. Simple, refined, deliberate. The interior seems to be coated 60-pound stock.
There are only 11 ads in 83 pages. All of them are full-page. Besides Rapha, there are a few British bike shops, a few bike manufacturers, and the clothier Paul Smith. Many of the ads share the same artistic vision as the mag itself. While this convergence heightens the aesthetic pleasure, to skeptics it could perhaps raise concerns. We want the "church and state" separation between advertising and editorial upheld in our media; the ads looking like some of the editorial might leave some wondering.
Still, they state they're not going to do bike tests and race reports, which are two departments where advertisers often get their hooks into editorial departments. The decision not to pursue these two things is also a practical one. They depend on both the bikes and races being current, and having content that doesn't depend on being "new" can lead to issues still seeming fresh and new, even if you're reading them a year after they were published. Considering how the web has taken over most race reporting, we applaud Roleur's decision to stay away.
The first feature in issue #4 is called "Finale." It's a photo essay by Timm Köln. The pictures look like they're lifted out of the Rapha catalogue, particularly the first of Manuele Mori. He could be a model wearing their Softshell jacket. The other pictures, all racers at the Giro or Tour photographed in front of a white background, capture racers immediately post-stage. Some riders look hollow, empty, with others are tired, inquisitive, or tough. We're not among those who believe that photos reveal truth, but the images are striking and memorable. When we read that it took him all the Giro and all of the Tour to make the 12 portraits captured on these pages, our breath was taken away. It's dedication to a project beyond money or love. It's an obsession.
And obsession is, in many respects, what the magazine celebrates. An entire feature dedicated to the Col de la Croix de Fer is an example. Few publications would take so much space with just one col. The author of the piece seems to have a story from every time the Tour crossed this peak. The pictures of the mountain are likewise amazing. So moving are the photos that we want to chastise the author for failing to climb to the summit, even though he was chilled by a cold mountain rain the day he chose to ascend the Cross of Iron.
Likewise the essay "At The Table," by Paul Fournel, captures something essential about cycling. It captures the joy of the physical hunger that comes from riding too much. And the appreciation of the movie Breaking Away is something that most cyclists can agree upon.
A flip side to the obsession is there appears to be a fixation on building the mythology of everything related to cycling. While we agree that cycling is glorious and want more publications to call attention to it, we were disappointed that the Colnago feature seemed a bit unhinged from reality. As amazing as some of Colnago's frames are and have been, there was certainly a long period in the 80s and 90s, when the most remarkable thing about the frames was how many times Colnago could squeeze his logo on frame tubes. The bike Saronni rode to his world championship victory in Goodwood stands in as one of the iconic steel frames of its era, but it was barely different than most of the frames of that era. Great red paint, lots of Colnago logos, and lots of chrome is what made the bike stand out. Much of the tube profiling Colnago employed back then (Bi-Titan, anyone?), despite the author's praise, still seems like marketing hooey and gained no enduring traction in the Colnago frame line over time. Some of Colnago's innovations, further, seem to do more with ease of production rather than greater performance; we don't begrudge il maestro making work easier, but we don't like it dressed up as an innovation in performance. Still we loved the photo essay of the Colnago pantographed parts, even if we would have loved to learn why he was such an egoist as to need his name splashed on every frame tube and component several times over.
While we're picking nits, we're still struck by the choice of showing the grupetto ascend the Croix de Fer for their current shot of the mountain. While it is something we haven't seen before, the riders appear to be plodding and saving energy; the riders lack drama, which is a striking contrast to the dramatic backdrop of snow-covered mountains and a ski chairlift.
Overall, we thought quite highly of Rouleur and would recommend it. Nothing is perfect, and the overall package, despite the faults we found with this issue, is a great look and an excellet read. We've been going back to the photos of the Croix de Fer more than once for inspiration.