Jim Langley is a bicycle fanatic and seasoned mechanic, who began his fascination with bikes at the age of 10. Langley is employed at SmartEtaling, a company that helps specialty retailers to create and manage an online business. He has published several books, and written for several bicycle magazines; and is a free-lance writer for RoadBikeRider.com and Bicycling Magazine, “the world’s largest cycling publication,”as well as maintains a bicycle beat blog. Langley has had a successful career thus far, and his passion for bicycles and cycling is evident on his website and blog. Also, he is currently working on his 18th year of riding everyday.
1) What attracted you most to cycling and repairing bicycles?
I fell in love with bicycling when I was a boy and started taking day trips in my teens just to explore the countryside and have little adventures. Then when I graduated from high school my grandmother bought me a Peugeot 10-speed and while picking out that that bike I visited a few shops. As I hung out there and watched the mechanics work on the bicycles I thought it was something I’d like to do. Once I got my Peugeot, I bought Anybody’s Bike Book by Tom Cuthbertson, a very popular bike book at the time by a somewhat famous bike guy in California. And using that book I learned some basic skills. It made me want to become a professional bicycle mechanic even more.
2) Who inspired you to choose the career path you did?
I think it came from my father who rode a bicycle around Boston and Cambridge when we lived there and he worked at MIT. Him tinkering with that bike was cool to watch. He was also a gifted woodworker. Like him, I think it’s in my genes to enjoy fixing things. And enjoying cycling and working on my own bike made me want to do that as a career. It appealed to me to have a skill that let me help other people too. It might seem simple to fix bicycles, but when you take an old broken-down two wheeler and get it working like new again you can really make the owner happy. That’s really satisfying.
3) What bike blogs or twitter pages do you follow? Or which ones would you recommend people to read?
Oh boy, that’s a hard one to answer in an interview because there are SO many great ones today. Of course I would love people to visit my bicycle website called Jim Langley Bicycle Aficionado and at http://www.jimlangley.net I have been working on that site for over 10 years and it’s all about helping people with their cycling. I also have my popular Bicycle Beat blog which is at http://www.jimlangley.blogspot.com But there are so many great sites, like http://www.roadbikerider.com , http://www.cyclingnews.com , http://www.velonews.com , http://www.bikeradar.com , http://www.bikerumor.com I could go on and on. People could visit my links page on my site to find tons more http://jimlangley.net/bridge/bridge.html
4) What were the steps you took to get to where you are today?
Once I knew I wanted to become a bicycle mechanic, I got lucky and got a job in a bike shop in Concord, NH. It was a summer job before my last year of high school. It was a brand-new shop and I just happened to walk in before they put any ads for help up. So they hired me even though I didn’t have any real experience. I worked there and read as many bike books as possible to learn enough to do the work on the bikes because the owner was just a businessman, not a bike mechanic so he couldn’t show me things. Then, when I went to college I managed to get a job in a real bike shop that had been in business for 25 years and it was there that I got taught by several very good mechanics. After 5 years there I felt like I wasn’t learning anything new so I moved to a shop that worked on custom bikes building them one at a time for each customer so I could learn about framebuilding and fitting and more advanced things. I worked there for about 4 years and then rode my bike across the country to California where I got my last bike shop job in Santa Cruz. I stayed there for about 8 years and managed the entire service department during that time.
5) What has your experience been like writing for a magazine?
I was the technical editor for California Bicyclist magazine (a California regional magazine) from 1983 to 1989 and contributed technical articles every month. That was my first editorial job and it was a lot of fun sharing my technical knowledge from working a bike shop with all the readers. I got a reputation and was able to get people in the bike industry to send me new products to try out and write about. And I was able to help people with their bike questions. Next, I got a call from VeloNews and they wanted some technical stories and I wrote quite a few articles for them, covering the exciting new bike things at the time. There were a lot of innovations in the 1980s to talk about, like index shifting, clipless pedals, mountain bikes, suspension forks, and so on. Around that time I wrote my first bike book, called The New Bike Book. It was an owner’s manual for your new bike. We sold over 10,000 copies which isn’t bad for a book like that. In 1989, late in the year, I got a call from Bicycling Magazine and they hired me to open their first branch office out here in Santa Cruz. And that’s when I left the bike shop for good and became a full-time editor, running their west coast office for 11 years. That was an extremely exciting time working for a major magazine. I got to travel the world and do everything any bicycle nut like me dream of. That was a wonderful 11 years. Today I still write for Bicycling Magazine in a freelance capacity. I also write a weekly column called Jim’s Tech Talk in RoadBikeRider.com. And I recently published an eBook with RoadBikeRider. My book is called Your Home Bicycle Workshop and tells how to set up an excellent home bike shop. More information is here: http://jimlangley.net/hbw/hbw.html
6) In what ways has Twitter affected your career and how you interact with other cyclists, people in your career field, or the general public?
I love Twitter and think it’s a fantastic way to keep up on the news and share your own news. I love the way it integrates with cellphones and how fast and easy it is to tweet and to read them, too. I follow lots of people in the bike world and they do me and in that way we keep on top of trends and know what’s cool to write about. It’s a super reference tool and it helps build your brand too.
7) You have an impressive resume. Have you had a high point in you career that you cherish above all else, or have you loved it all equally for the different experiences you have had?
It has all been great and it still is great. Currently I work for a company that helps bicycle shops have professional websites. So I am still in the business doing what I love. That’s been the key thing for me: I have always stuck with what I was passionate about. It was never about anything else except to do something I loved to do.
8 ) Are there any tips you would give to beginning journalists?
I would say that as long as you have something to say or a story to tell, write it! Don’t be worried or afraid that it won’t get read. There’s a huge audience for all writing today. So don’t be afraid. Just write and tell your story and put it out there however you can and people will find you and your writing. With so many publications and websites there’s more need for good writing today, too, so write and get it out there and opportunity will find you.
9) How about advice/tips you would give to beginning cyclists?
Oh, that’s almost an endless topic and I could never do justice in this format, but as just one very important tip, when you ride with traffic always ride in the same direction, never against traffic. I find that a lot of people are confused about this and think that they’re supposed to ride the other way. But that rule is for pedestrians, never cyclists. A simple technical tip is to check your tire pressure before riding if your bicycle has been sitting for a few weeks. That’s because bike tires lose air naturally so you have to inflate them to keep them pumped up. For many, many more tips, I would send people to my website http://www.jimlangley.net
10) As an avid cyclist, do you have any bike rides/routes that you absolutely love and feel everyone should experience?
Yes, there are a great many all over the country. Almost anywhere you live, you can find awesome rides. Here in Santa Cruz I would tell road riders to ride Smith Grade in the Santa Cruz Mountains. If you want to ride off road, I would say hit Nisene Marks. Now if you’re in Oregon or NY, etc. the thing to do is to check out http://www.mapmyride.com or if you can also contact any bike shop in the area and ask them for their favorite loops to ride. That almost always works.
11) How do you deal with editorial vs. advertising (on your blog/twitter page), or how do you find a balance between the two?
I think of the reader first and foremost and try hard to be honest to the reader. I was the New Products editor for Bicycling Magazine for 10 years so I am familiar with the pressure that the companies can put on you to say good things about their products. Typically the best approach is to not write anything about the products you don’t like and reserve your comment/editorial for products worth writing about, i.e. the good stuff. When you write your own website or blog, you can choose whatever you want to review or write about and I still use the same technique: choosing things that I feel are worth writing about and doing the best I can to test them fully and give an honest opinion to my readers about them. I am also completely accessible by email so that people can ask me questions about things I say or criticize me in the comments, and that’s all okay too. But, overall, I try to be honest and fair with my readers and the bike industry too.