Interview: Eben Weiss, AKA BikeSnobNYC
By Matt Pacocha, US editor | Saturday, April 10, 2010 7.00am
The elusive figure behind the cult BikeSnobNYC blog has been revealed to be New York City cyclist Eben Weiss. BikeRadar caught up with him to ask about his life as the Bike Snob, his newfound media attention, his new book and, of course, riding with Lance Armstrong.
Above all things, we found Weiss to be ultimately humble and not snobby at all. He’s a regular guy who maintains a zealous love of cycling and actively practices spreading that love. In fact, if you enjoy cycling and Weiss’s writing makes you laugh, let him know, because it’ll make his day.
Weiss has a book out next month – Bike Snob: Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling – and it's this that ultimately led to his unmasking, with the New York Times and Wall Street Journal newspapers competing to reveal his identity. The mild mannered Bike Snob found this drama ‘irritating’, but it brought his writings to a much bigger audience.
BikeRadar: First, what’s the business between the New York Times and Wall Street Journal? It looks like the Times scooped the story?
Eben Weiss: I didn’t actually have any plan for revealing myself with the book. I wasn’t going to do anything special. But then, Jason [Gay, reporter with the Wall Street Journal, who had previously written about Weiss without revealing his identity] came and asked if I would do a story about it.
So he interviewed me and obviously interviewed other people, then somehow the Times got wind of it and … figured out that the Journal was going to do this reveal piece and suddenly, because they have a rivalry, they decided to try to scoop them.
They basically did it to screw the Journal. It was irritating. The Journal piece almost didn’t run because of it and the Times linked to a wedding announcement … we’re not even married anymore. It was kind of petty. Anyway, that’s what happened: they tried to snipe the Journal and cockblock them.
It must feel good to be fodder for two publications of that quality, though?
It was irritating at the time. You know the funny thing is, writing this blog as long as I have and being a real wiseass and making fun of a lot of people, I almost never have any bad encounters with people. I’ve found that there’s a lot of goodwill in the cycling world. People enjoy the blog and I enjoy their stuff. It was kind of the first time, in terms of writing the blog, that anyone pulled a dick move.
On that note, who is the Bike Snob? What would you want people to know about Eben versus the Bike Snob?
Nothing, really. The great thing about writing the blog anonymously is that I absolutely love writing and I absolutely love cycling, so to be able to write about it and for people to enjoy it the way they do, and to be able to do it so they can read it for free every day, just makes me really, really happy.
Being anonymous allowed me to keep the focus entirely on the blog and that’s the way I still want it. I don’t want any attention, really. I want attention paid to my writing and to the blog – and my book, of course.
As far as who I am, I’m just some regular guy who races; I’m like a cat 3 and a lousy racer. I haven’t had a result since I upgraded many years ago. I commute, I run errands on the bike, I ride mountain bikes – I like to ride. I’m a low-key guy. I lead a pretty quiet lifestyle and that’s it really.
Why did you start the site?
I didn’t put any thought into it when I did it. It wasn’t a premeditated thing that I was going to write this anonymous wiseass cycling blog. I’ve always written and I kind of off-the-cuff started it. I’m a cyclist, I read cycling stuff everyday, either browsing the classified or the forums and reading Cyclingnews.
In my head, I’m always reacting to it. I’m just a wiseass by nature. I mean, I do that with everything; I comment on everything. So one day I just decided to play with the blog thing, more to experiment with blogging, which I'd never really done.
I enjoyed doing it so I made a point to do it every day and I was lucky that people picked up on it. As soon as I started to see people reading I was really excited. I committed, I said, ‘I’m going to do this every day, no matter what it takes.’ At the time I was pretty busy with my regular job. I was working at a literary agency.
Who influences BikeSnobNYC? Where does your daily inspiration come from?
It comes from everything. It comes from riding my bike, for sure. I’m out there doing local races all of the time. I’m out there riding my bike in the city a lot. When you’re in New York you’re seeing stuff constantly. Forget bikes, there’s always all kinds of stuff going on, so the city is a big inspiration.
The world of cycling is a big inspiration, obviously the cycling media is an inspiration and some of the personalities in cycling are an inspiration. And pop culture in general too, I pay attention to pop culture like any other lowbrow person.
In terms of my outlook on cycling equipment and stuff like that, I love people like Jobst Brandt that’s sort of where I’m coming from. I’m not a retro grouch, I use racing stuff when I race, but all the gimmickry and that sort of thing, I’m not really into it. I’m more straightforward; I like handbuilt wheels and that sort of thing.
What’s more fun to poke at, the company with the gimmicks or the way the mainstream media receives it?
I think vanity is always funny. There’s definitely a lot of vanity in marketing, especially when you see a marketing campaign that’s so unaware of how funny it is. More and more people are doing videos, so you’ll see a promotional video that’s so studied and seems so serious and takes itself so seriously that you can’t help but find it funny.
When did people start reading your blog?
I started in June . I didn’t think anybody was reading it, but after a week or two some comments started trickling. The first mention I got was on Drunk Cyclist. After Drunk Cyclist picked up on it, that’s when I noticed that the comments were picking up and people were actually linking to it, so I got a little more sophisticated and figured out how to actually look at the traffic.
Eben Weiss's first BikeSnobNYC book is due out next month
As the blog gained momentum you landed a Bicycling magazine column and other opportunities; have you felt any pressure in terms of what you can or can’t say in the blog?
No. My favourite thing about all of this is that I just write about whatever I feel like. I mean, like, during Tour de France time, what cycling site isn’t paying attention to the Tour? But if I don’t feel like paying attention to it, addressing it or writing about it, I just won’t. I’ll write about whatever I feel like that day, which is a pleasure.
Beyond the blog, too, I’ve been lucky. I was able to write the book I wanted and Bicycling don’t put any pressure on me. The column is different from the blog; Bicycling is different from the blog, so I write differently for it. It’s all the way I want to do it. I haven’t really had pressure.
Tell us about blogger fame – what’s it like to have a guy like Lance Armstrong bragging about riding with you on Twitter?
Look, what cycling fan wouldn’t enjoy that? It’s a nice feeling to know – whether it’s Lance or anybody – that they enjoy the blog; that they enjoy something I’ve done. All of that feels really good. Again, the blog is this thing I’ve made and I always enjoy it when I hear that people enjoy it. I’m proud of it.
Tell us about the book – is it a compilation or new material?
There’s nothing from the blog at all. I mean nothing comes directly from the blog – I didn’t want to do that, to take stuff and rehash it or anything like that. It’s in the spirit of the blog, for sure. The underlying theme is that cycling is something I love and a big part of my life, and something that has made my bike better. Like I was saying, I like to make fun of the stuff that makes you think you need this equipment or you need to do that or you need to look a certain way.
What I wanted to do with the book was sort of make fun of that stuff, to knock it down so that someone who is interested in cycling, but maybe intimidated by the different types or the inscrutable nature of some of it … realises that you don’t need any of that stuff. You need to just get a bike and start riding, and figure it out for yourself.
I hear you’re planning a book tour. Tell us about that ...
Yeah, they’re [publishers Chronicle Books] going to send me to – well, I’m going to do some stuff in New York in May, and then my wife has a baby due actually. Then after that in June, I’m going to do some stuff out of town – Austin, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle – so we’ll se how that goes.
What can a bike journo do to get a good BikeSnobNYC lambasting?
I’ve totally taken journalists to task, when they’re wrong. That’s usually not cycling journalists. I like it when the mainstream journalists just get it wrong. It’s just really comical when some of these publications write about cycling without knowing anything about it. You read absolutely ridiculous things.
When you read the 900th explanation in some newspaper of what a fixed gear bicycle is and it’s all kind of weird, you know, ‘It’s a bike where if you pedal backwards it goes backwards', that kind of thing is just really clunky and awkward or wrong. The cycling journalists usually know a little bit about what they’re talking about.
What are you riding these days?
Ah, nothing special. I don’t really like to talk about brands and any of that. I have the usual assortment of bikes. I have a road bike and a 'cross bike and a mountain bike, or a couple of mountain bikes, I guess right now, and a shitty beater bike; the usual stuff, nothing special. No fancy handmade bike show specials. Not like I don’t like that stuff, but …
So you do it all. What’s your favourite discipline?
My favourite thing, and something that I write a lot about in the book, is, besides just the purely recreational stuff or competitive stuff, what a lot of people forget – I know I did for a long time, like when I got really into racing for example. You forget that you can just jump on your bike and ride to work and that is riding. That’ll help you get fit.
The whole idea of junk miles is kind of ridiculous, especially in the city; you can really make the bike part of your life. You can take it to work, you can do stuff on it, you can get shit done. It’s not like surfing or skiing; you don’t necessarily have to carve out half the day or a weekend to do it. You can do it while you do other things and that’s my favourite thing about it.
Last question: Is that your dachshund used in ‘the Dachshund of Time’?
No, it isn’t. I just find wiener dogs funny, because, who doesn’t?
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