As anyone who has been reading this column since its inception knows, it operates within a rift in the space-time continuum, unlike the rest of Cycling Today, with the possible exception of the cartoon World of Pain. Like all respectable bike magazines, CT labours under a serious mission statement ("by cyclists, for cyclists" is only the tip of the iceberg) and in the framework of a code formalised in the Byrminghame Treatie of Byke Mags of 1487, also known as the Mag Carta, which specified acceptable content of "Periodicals whych do serve at the Kyng's pleasur" in exchange for the right to hold sway over "vast domynions of ryders [that's 'readers']." So, while this may explain helpful and informative features like News, Bike Tests, Health & Fitness, and Cycle Active, it leaves the real estate which lies in the immediate wake of the letters page a mystery to some, an enigma to others.
That I remain in business despite the ancient charter is a testament to the courage and vision of one man, the editor of CT. That's the official line, anyway. Here's the truth. From the beginning.
Guy Aloysius Andrews was born in Leicester, the 13th of 12 planned pregnancies, hairless and without immediate prospects. His father had slots in his prosperous haberdashery business for the first dozen pups, but let Guy know he was on his own, "nothing personal."
Upon reaching the age of majority (11 in Leicestershire, or so his parents told him), the youth set out on his own to "see the world." He got as far as Wigston before running out of money. The only job he could find was in a bike store, tightening spokes, but a love affair was born. Financed from his pitiful pay packet, he soon had the largest spoke collection in the southern Midlands.
He worked hard, thought big, and was eventually promoted to rims, where this story might have ended were it not for his chance meeting with cycling legend Fausto Coppi, who found himself in Wigston one evening with nothing much to do. Fausto stumbled into the bike store, drunk with boredom, and heard from the back room the most learned discourse on spokes he had ever heard or cared to hear. He told the owner it was giving him a headache. The owner called the bright-eyed apprentice up front and promptly fired him. Fausto was shocked but relieved, though later that night in his hotel room, he suffered a bout of conscience and ordered the boy to be found. The bewildered ex-employee was duly tracked down to Wigston Pier, getting ready to jump. He was brought back to Fausto, given an offer he couldn't refuse, and found shelter under the wing of the Tour champion.
"Fausto taught me everything I know," he would later say of those years, always a bit foggy on specifics.
Fast forward now to sometime in the late '90s, when a summit meeting took place in an undisclosed bed & breakfast in the old growth area of the New Forest. Let's just say that the audit bureau wasn't invited. All the editors of the major bicycle magazines and their lieutenants were compelled to attend. They were gathered to carve up the reading public. The chair at the head of the table was left empty out of respect for 'Lefty' Lisa Gosselin, Capo of the American magazine Bicyling (circ: 1.9 mil).
No one from the racing mags showed up; some wise guy smirked that they were probably home shaving their legs. He was shot. The preliminaries consisted of the heads of the mountain biking families, who owned the bulk of the readers and didn't let anybody forget it, ever, going off together down the pub to leave the less specialised titles to fight over the scraps.
Which they did. Amongst the editors present that sinister day: Dan 'Mad Dog' Joyce, of Cycling Plus; Edgar 'Edgar' Newton, an underboss of Bicycle who would later get his neck broken in a nasty 'accident'; and Guy 'The Spoke' Andrews, attended by his concigliori, Fraser 'Dr. Death' Malloch.
They hammered out an agreement tailored to equalise market share. CT had to drop the "& Mountain Biking" from its masthead and take on a dangerously unproven columnist. 'Edgar' agreed to alter the spelling of his magazine to Bycycle, and accept the advertising that his don, Jim 'The Octopus' McGurn, refused to let sully his other properties. Mad Dog had to keep the name of his magazine unchanged, and run a high proportion of cover shots off-kilter. To a man, each claimed to be "delighted" with his new editorial direction.
There you have it. That's pretty much how I got my job. I've left out a few parts, like how I got arrested for jay-walking in Trafalgar Square (as if I had a choice?) and was given the option of prison or a column, and the story of Andrews's early years at CT, which reads a bit like Godfather, Part III – "Every time I try to get out, they pull me back IN!"
As to how some others washed ashore at Southend-on-Sea, well...
Designer Michael Lowther was cherry-picked from the prestigiuos Faffer Institute in London. Assistant Editor Caroline Griffiths came to CT by way of The Times. Assumed by the rest of the staff to be a Murdoch plant, they waited in vain to be taken over by The Dark Side. Production Editor Duncan Slater was chosen after being spotted looking lost on the back of a milk carton. News Editor Mark 'i before e except after b' Beisiegel just showed up one day. Technical stuff guy Alan Muldoon won second prize in a pub quiz. Photographer Gerard Brown had incriminating photos of somebody, he wouldn't say who. Health & Fitness writer Darren Ward was rescued from rehab. World of Pain's James Jarvis offered his services for an annual fee of one peppercorn, which just goes to show how cool and freaky artists are.
And the editor? Sometimes, when the office is quiet, he can be found in the garage tightening spokes, with a faraway gleam in his eye.