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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  2/1/2004

Mr. Congeniality

Is there anyone in the cycling universe who doesn't like Jim Langley?

Much more than the typical family man from Santa Cruz he appears to be, Jim is also:

  • a) a bicycling nut who's gotta ride every day, no matter what;
  • b) a top-flight bike mechanic;
  • c) a respected cycling journalist;
  • d) a talented writer;
  • e) an avid cycling historian;
  • f) a collector of cycling memorabilia;
  • g) a popular Web publisher whose site, Jim Langley, Bicycle Aficionado , garners tons of fan email
  • h) oh, and did I mention an ace table tennis player?

I mean, what's not to like?

The best thing to like is that he likes everybody. If anyone deserves the title of Mr. Cycling Congeniality, it's Jim.

Jim and I first became aware of each other in the early 80s when we both started writing for California Bicyclist, a now defunct Bay Area magazine. We didn't actually meet until some ten years later, when he showed at a bike club meeting in San Jose.

Since then I've learned just how dedicated a cyclist he is. Jim is so addicted to riding that he insists on some form of pedaling every day. If weather, business or other commitments keep him indoors, he rides his trainer and watches DVDs. He packs his Bike Friday for the Interbike trade show in Las Vegas, rising at 4:00 am each morning for an indoor training session.

Jim first fell in love with bicycling as a lowly apprentice wrench. "I was so taken with wrenching," he remembers, "that I dreamt of bike tools at night." He would get to work an hour early each morning, "eager to get back behind that repair stand and start assembling and tuning two-wheelers."

He spent 17 years at a repair stands all over New England, and finally at the Bicycle Center in Santa Cruz. All that wrenching was just the first step the career that combined all his natural and acquired skills. And he still thinks that bicycles are "darn easy to fix; fun to fix, too."

You can read about just how much fun he thinks it is and pick up a lot of bike repair tips on his Wrench pages.

Lucky for the rest of us, about 20 years ago Jim got a phone call from Michael Rosenberg, the entrepreneur originally published California Bicyclist Would Jim be willing to author a column called "Technicalities"?

"I didn't take him very seriously," Jim admits today. But Rosenberg persisted, asking him what his college major was. When Jim replied "English," Rosenberg said, "Why didn't you tell me? Send me 1,000 to 1,200 words and I'll pay you." How much (or how little) he got away with his Jim's secret (and mine -- I was working for peanuts in those days too).

But for Jim it led to freelance work with VeloNews and Bicycling. In 1989 Bicycling opened a West Coast bureau in beautiful downtown Soquel and asked Jim to manage it. He jumped at the chance.

"I was Bicycling's Technical Editor for ten years, during which time I wrote about all of cycling." His "Repair Stand" column was so popular, libraries were complaining that cyclists were coming in to Periodicals and cutting the articles out!

A good deal of Jim's work formed the content for his best-selling book, "Bicycling Magazine's Complete Guide to Bicycle Maintenance and Repair" (still available at your local bike shop or from Amazon.com.

Bicycling folded its Soquel tent and vanished in the direction of SoCal several years ago. Jim's reputation, however, landed him quickly in the Internet universe, writing copy for an online sports company. We all know what happened with that sort of enterprise, and his employer was no different.

But thank goodness Jim kept writing. Because he knows his technical stuff and he can put words to work efficiently and charmingly. He has a natural ability to leap the gap between page and reader, speaking directly to each of us with a tone of respect and camaraderie.

So I was elated to see Jim's byline recently in an email newsletter put out by two former Bicycling editors, Ed Pavelka and Fred Matheny, who run their own online business, RoadBikeRider.com (aka RBR).

"There's no finer source of information than the books Ed and Fred produce," says Jim, "unless you hire Chris Carmichael as your coach."

In fact, Pavelka was the one who originally hired Jim for Bicycling. "No one is more reliable and dedicated to cycling," Ed emailed me. "I'd bet my Litespeed on his coming through in the clutch and always doing his best work."

Anyway, it's a good thing that you can still read Jim's stuff, either at RBR or on his own site. "I have a lot of bicycle knowledge that's just sitting there," says Jim," and I like to share it."

For your own share, you might want to start with his Crank section. Not only will you find great advice on how to buy a new bike, you'll also pick up some "Stupid Bike Tricks" like how to become a "human Coke bottle."

Or take a quick course in cycling history by reading the articles in Spin and checking out the bikes featured in Ride.

For just a hint of what a voracious collector Jim is, be sure to peruse Brake. It's crammed with headset badges (aka nameplates), vintage bicycle ads, and even New Yorker covers devoted to bikes and bicycling.

"One of the things I like most about the Web site is receiving email from around the world," Jim says. "I enjoy answering questions. So if you have a question, email me and I'll reply as soon as possible."

Lest you think Jim is raking in the bucks doling out all this advice, think again. He's not about to quit his current day job, working for Smart Etailing, an e-commerce firm that specializes in sports retail Web sites. "Almost every top bike retailer in the country uses us," he told me.

Whatever Jim does, you can bet it involves some kind of bike. "Good bicycles turn effort into emotion," he claims. They provide the means to reach, and sometimes exceed, your potential.

"Even pumping a one-speed cruiser around town is magical to me -- the breeze, the feeling of flight with a tailwind or downhill, the joy of zig-zagging or skidding to a stop. The great freedom of being able to go pretty much anywhere you can pedal with little effort and no harm to anything or anybody."

"It's hard to know how Jim finds the energy for everything he does in cycling," Ed Pavelka comments. "It must be the passion." And the magic, Ed. Don't forget the magic of a guy who's everyone's friend.

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net



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