Monday, June 12, 2017

My History With "Twenty Nine Inches"

Wes Williams, a 29"er pioneer, and myself at Interbike
First things first. Twenty Nine Inches, as a site, is done. On the passing of that site I thought I would share my history with it. The whole deal I had with Twenty Nine Inches began here and was an outgrowth of this, the Guitar Ted Productions blog. I was writing about 29"ers here and getting news and tips on gear before I ever wrote for another site. Lately I have been recapping the history of that and of this site in my sort of weekly "Minus Ten Review" posts. You can check those out if you care to. The following is a personal recollection and my personal opinions on the history I have with Twenty Nine Inches. This does not necessarily reflect the opinions or recollections of others. So, as always....

NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

The Twenty Nine Inches site, (here after referred to as "TNI"), was started by a guy named Tim Grahl. Tim had several cycling related sites, but first and foremost he was an opportunist. He had a rather successful blog/website called "Blue Collar Mountain Bike" which was documenting he and a friends first forays into the world of off road cycling. Basically, these guys were total noobs and they were stumbling through the learning process of mountain biking openly on-line. This brought them a ton of attention from opportunistic marketing wonks who saw an avenue to tell their product story via a "real" and "honest" pair of budding cyclists. Grahl saw an opportunity to get money and product via other cycling based ideas as well. So, he observed that 29"ers were a new and upcoming force in the cycling world. He also noted that I seemed to be a big fan of 29"ers and knew a lot about what was going on with them. Of course, being new to the scene, Grahl did not have the credibility or background knowledge necessary to speak to this new audience. That's where I came in.

As I have said here, I wasn't looking for more opportunities to write. I was already doing reviews and writing for a site called "The Biking Hub", where I learned basic principles of writing for an audience and gained a framework for doing reviews from a guy who had a journalism background. Basically, I was learning a craft and gaining experience, otherwise I wouldn't have engaged with the "Biking Hub" at all. I simply wasn't interested in becoming anything other than a blogger. I had two children, at that time they were 4 years and two years old. I wanted to be around to raise them, not gallivanting around chasing down stories in the bicycle industry. I had a decent job as a bike mechanic which I had arranged to work around my family's needs.

Riding a Lenz Sports Lunchbox at Bootleg Canyon during Demo Days for Interbike
So, when Grahl came a knockin' on my door to write for him I was not biting. I didn't want more on my plate, I wanted less. Then the "Biking Hub" began to become more difficult to communicate with. Eventually the site shut down. Meanwhile, Grahl paid for airfare to get me to Interbike where he offered to pay me for writing and reviewing for TNI. Eventually he promised me that I would make the same amount of money I did at the bike shop so I could quit my job and go full time into TNI. That would allow even more "home time" and free me up for travels.

Well, the travels happened. Between '06 and '09, I was gone a lot. But, the dollars never materialized. In fact, Grahl began to falter on promises to others in the "Crooked Cog Network", his collection of other cycling sites, and eventually he bailed out on them all. In the process, he botched up a picture hosting site contract where he had convinced me I should host images, resulting in the loss of many images. You can still see the "empty holes" on this blog from posts dating from '08 and '09. He bailed on advertisers, and eventually was going to shut down TNI and sell it.

Seeing as how I had responsibilities to companies and people concerning reviews and products still ongoing, I convinced Grahl to give me the site at no charge, since he never paid me in accordance with our '06 handshake agreement in Vegas. Reluctantly and with much resisstance on his end, I eventually got the reigns to TNI in 2010, I believe it was. However, basically since the beginning of 2009 I had been running the site. Free of charge. No pay. Nuthin.

Obviously, Grahl was the brains behind the computer end of the sites he ran, what him having a college trained background in computer sciences and all. Me? I was as bad at computers and websites as Grahl was about cycling. Only difference being that I didn't pretend to know anything about computers. I was getting a serious crash course in website operations, and stress levels in 2009-2010 were at an all-time high.

Meeting Gary Fisher in happier times with TNI. Grahl is on the left here.
That's where Grannygear came in. I met him at Interbike, via Jason Boucher, at the Salsa Cycles booth. Some things are pre-ordained, and not a chance happening. I believe meeting GG was just such a moment in my life.

I know that without GG's technical background that I would have shut down TNI at the end of 2010. In the meantime, we got a European contributor in "cg", a German based rider. His skill in reviewing and communication brought TNI a lot of respect. Grannygear, a natural  born communicator, made connections I never dreamed of making. Meanwhile, I took less and less opportunities for travel, passing all that off to GG and cg instead. I got to stay home, like I wanted to, and the TNI site quickly gained its feet back underneath it. Due to GG and cg's efforts and talents, TNI, regained its status as a well respected site. Or at least I'd like to think so.

Then 27.5"ers came along, fat bikes came along, and gravel bikes got to be a thing. TNI wasn't getting the review stuff it used to, and marketing turned away from smaller sites. The entrenched cycling media finally figured out 29"ers and other niche cycling growth areas were not to be ignored, as 29"ers had been for several years. This all conspired to make TNI less of a value to advertisers. While I, nor GG or cg, made anything off the site, at least the money we did get "kept the lights on",  paid for business trips for GG and cg, and sometimes for things necessary like tools and supplies at times that we needed them to put bicycles together and maintain them. But even that got to be thin by 2012.

Then I decided that full time editing after doing bicycle mechanic work by day was getting to be too much. I was translating articles from German, going over GG's submissions, doing my part for TNI, writing this blog, running Trans Iowa, and "Gravel Grinder News", all at the same time. It was too much. I decided that TNI was in good hands and I had done more than my fair share in getting it back to a respectable standing after the trashing Grahl put the site through in '09. It was time to bug out.

So, I did just that at the end of 2014. I joined Ben Welnak and we formed Riding Gravel. I gained a partner well versed in the IT side of sites and a trustworthy business partner that had a proven track record of success with making websites and podcasts make money. Not a lot of money, mind you, but enough to make life doing worth my attention. Something I never got from TNI, nor did Grannygear.

Twenty Nine Inches outlasted its lifespan that it should have had based on the passion and efforts of individuals that cared about the industry and the people that were involved in it, but mostly for the riders out there who read the site and relied on it. We knew it was a worthwhile effort for them. We spent a lot of our own blood, sweat, tears, and suffered a lot of mental anguish working on TNI to make it the best we knew how to. I am proud of my work there, and while it is no longer a thing, I count it a big blessing to have done it. Especially because of the people I connected to through TNI.

I'm not a businessman. I am a story teller, I guess. So, TNI was a big energy suck with little reward beyond the people part I mentioned. How TNI made it to 2017 is an amazing thing. I tip my hat to Grannygear and "cg". To Jeff J, Captain Bob, and anyone else that contributed to our time there at TNI. I am super thankful for every industry contact. You all are much more to me than an opportunity to "get stuff" or gather news. You are all fantastic folks that gave me so much of your precious time, energy, and knowledge. I could never repay any of you for that.

So long Twenty Nine Inches. It was a good ride while it lasted.


Iowagriz said...

I was a daily reader of TNI from the inception to about 18 months ago. Great site with lots of great information. All of you should take pride in what you created and the service that you provided to the readers. To many of us, it was the 29er bible of the times.

Thanks for the efforts!

Unknown said...

TNI was a great site to read. It was more of the writing and your thoughts for me than product. It definitely helped​ me in what would work for me and set up.
The 29er is still and always will be in my fleet of steel bikes.

Thank for your time and thoughts

Bob said...

Thanks for keeping it real Mark! 29"ers are better off for your efforts.

1 said...

thanks for giving so much back. you have directly reinvigorated my interest in cycling