Stuart Clapp is by nature a talker. His unabated responses to my questions – punctuated by frequent bursts of laughter – leaving me a little concerned that I’ll ever manage to interject. Fortunately we soon find our conversational rhythm and I’m regaled with energised reflections on his role as Desire Editor for Rouleur Magazine, his considered views on cycling etiquette and why it’s sometimes better to spend more but buy once.
You’ve been riding?
I went out earlier this morning but if I nod off it’s because I’ve got a puppy that keeps getting up during the night. It was so nice during the Rouleur Classic as I got a lie-in every day.
Do you have house rules for the dog? Are you firm but fair?
Not exactly. I think he sees me as an equal [laughs]. He tries to bite me all the time as if I’m on his level and he’s trying to get pecking order. Which is funny considering I’m losing out to a five-month-old Italian Greyhound that weighs about as much as one of my wheelsets.
You mentioned the Rouleur Classic. I guess a particularly busy time of the year?
I’m always really busy but I never really have a clue what I’m supposed to be doing. I did know that I was podcasting from around the show and there was some social media stuff but generally people just ask me if I want to do this or that and I just say yes [laughs].
Sounds very chilled.
It can be but when the schedule came out for this year’s Classic I noticed a Desire Presents listed on the stage timings and I thought, hang on a second, before having this massive anxiety attack. But when I messaged Ian Cleverly, our Executive Editor, he told me not to worry because they’d got someone to do that spot properly and he’d just see me at the bar [laughs].
How did you end up working for Rouleur?
I was at this wedding. Sharing a place with Ian because we’ve known each other for years and go to football together. And he asked me whether I’d seen the magazine recently and if I wanted to come and work on it and do the Desire section. He explained that he was asking me before we got too drunk because he wanted to have some sort of business chat. And that was two and a half years ago.
Very. It’s been fun to see it grow bigger and bigger.
What kind of qualifications does an individual need to be a Desire Editor?
My background was in PR. I’d launched the Extreme Sports Channel – working in skate-boarding for years – and then I left to become PR Manager for Evans Cycles. I did that for a bit before getting another job in skate-boarding. Evans Cycles, as you know, are based in Gatwick but this new job offer was from a company with a head office in Los Angeles. So you do the math on that decision [laughs].
So you found yourself out on the West Coast?
A bit like cycling, skate-boarding goes in waves with these 10-year peaks and troughs. My little boy was due to be born in January and I got made redundant the day after the Christmas party. Perfect timing [smiles].
That can’t have been easy?
Fortunately I had a couple of mates at Factory Media. One of them was David – at that time the editor of Bicycle Buyer magazine – so I worked there before managing the first Rapha pop-up cafe on Clerkenwell Road. And then another job came up when I was contacted by my friend Albert at Madison. I got to know Ian and the guys at Rouleur through that job and at the same time was reading the magazine, loving it, and wondering how does anyone go about getting a job there. How do you write for Rouleur?
So the question is, what does a Desire Editor actually do?
Dunno [laughs]. How a magazine works is that we have an editorial plan for the whole year. From there I’ll be given a number of concepts for different issues that originate with just one word. I then go away and figure out what we can do with that. Because we don’t just want another series of shots of someone riding a bike.
That’s been done to death?
Exactly. So I’ve got this idea and then I’ll talk to Benedict Campbell who does our photography and also happens to be bloody amazing. Because the pictures are all him; I just provide Benedict with the initial idea. It’s like he’s the painter and I roll up with the easel and some paints.
Is there an element of narrative? Of telling stories?
There is because we’re not reviewing the stuff we feature. And when the Desire section expanded from 16 to 25 pages, that also meant I had to start writing stuff [laughs].
It’s fairly high-end, the products you feature?
I know that a lot of the stuff we feature in the Desire section is ridiculously expensive. But in the same way I can’t afford the £20,000 watch that you’ll find in GQ, it’s still nice to look at.
So how do you define Desire?
I was talking about this the other day in the office. For me, it’s whether – even with unlimited amounts of money – you’d still desire a particular product. There has to be an element that transcends what an item costs.
Could it be argued that desires are best left unfulfilled? That the wanting is a more satisfying and interesting state of mind than the having?
That’s an interesting concept [smiles]. Looking back at the photoshoot we did with all the supercars; wanting those cars is very different than actually living with them. And because we don’t actually review the bikes, stylistically it’s more like a fashion shoot. We’re not concerned with shifting product and we wouldn’t include anything because we’d been approached by a particular sponsor or brand. If it’s featured in Desire, it’s there on its own merit. If someone tells me that something has to go in, then that won’t happen. I’m freelance; so fire me [laughs].
Considering the cycling trends that come and go; are these encouraging a throw-away society? Does that concern you?
No, not really [laughs]. I’m just thinking whether something looks cool. And a lot of the kit that we feature isn’t exactly cheap but it is high quality and therefore very long-lasting and the sort of stuff that you invest in and keep.
So a case of spend a bit more but buy once?
Yes. 100%. Because as cyclists, we spend a lot of time hanging around in cafes. A ride I did recently had a moving time of 1 hour and 30 minutes but the elapsed time was over 3 hours. And we talk about kit quite a lot and there’s this general agreement that if you go for a good quality manufacturer then you’ll have clothing that not only fits and performs well on the road but also has a longevity that cheaper brands can’t deliver due to the materials they use.
Is this an important message that manufacturers need to convey to their customers?
It’s an interesting point because some of the more established brands, though still technically excellent, if they launched today as a new business they’d run the risk of being lost in the market. And Instagram has definitely changed the way we interact with brands in terms of telling a story rather than just presenting a certain look. When Rapha first produced their Continental films you saw yourself in the riders that were featured. In a sense you’re recognising that it could be you riding those roads. In a lot of ways you’re buying into a lifestyle as much as a particular product. So it’s a far tougher market place in terms of the sheer range of what’s on offer but brands have social media and influencers to drive sales.
You mention influencers and I’m interested in where you see Rouleur sitting in this respect? I’m thinking of the reference on your website’s About us section that refers to Rouleur magazine as the world’s finest road cycling journal for the most discerning of rider.
With Rouleur, I think in the past that was fair comment. But now? I see us as being quite subversive. Because if you look at it and break it down it’s all a bit bonkers. Desire is very tongue-in-cheek and we can have loads of fun with it because no one really tells us off [smiles]. So rather than elitist I believe it’s evolved to have its own style and a unique voice. Yes, we have in the past commissioned two-part articles on DT Swiss spokes that were pretty hard work. But now, there’s a sense of humour and no one’s thinking check us out.
So what does your working week look like?
Well, I’m not actually based in the office. I work from home and go in once a month. I’m told the next Desire theme and then I contact Benedict to ask when he’s free.
Sounds like a cool job?
Yes, it’s really cool but there’s also a massive amount of trust from the editorial team that I’m actually doing something [laughs].
Has it ever gone completely wrong?
Well – I can’t believe I’m actually telling you this – there was the Spitfire shoot [laughs]. This was arranged through a PR who does a lot of stuff with National Trust buildings. I told him we needed some Spitfires and he said he knew the guys at Biggin Hill and that he could get the new museum for us. So I told him that was fantastic and we set a date.
It was all arranged?
This was a Thursday and the shoot was the following Tuesday – all a little bit last minute – and then I get a call from the PR guy to say he’d been listening to my podcast, had heard me talking about the Spitfires and just wanted to mention that he hadn’t got any [laughs].
Not the sort of news you wanted to hear?
Especially because I’d been proactive and Google-imaged the Biggin Hill Museum and there’s loads of Spitfires all lined up. But he pointed out that I’d been looking at the Heritage Hanger which we hadn’t got. At this point I put the phone down and I’m sweating. We’d booked everything, I’d done about three podcasts all banging on about doing a photo-shoot with Spitfires and we hadn’t got any planes.
So what happened next?
The PR guy calls me back to say I need to speak to this chap and – you couldn’t of written this – it turns out he’s a subscriber to Rouleur [laughs]. So I phoned him and he sorted everything out.
And the Spitfires?
When we got there, he’s telling us to move them around for the photographs if we need to. I mean, these planes flew in the Battle of Britain and I’m thinking that we can’t just climb all over them? But it turned out that we could and the shoot went really well. A real squeaky bum moment but it came off and one of the images even made it onto the front cover.
Speaking of front covers, could Rouleur ever be digital only?
In my opinion it’s a premium product and people still like to buy nice magazines. It’s like when I’m trying to describe Rouleur to someone and I always compare it to a coffee-table book rather than a cycling magazine. Cycling Weekly is a good read but not many people keep them forever. People still get misty-eyed over certain Rouleur issues and my little boy loves the cover we did with Sagan’s plasticine head. But what do I know? I still like buying CDs which my wife thinks is just plain weird [laughs].
If you were writing an etiquette guide to cycling, what advice would you offer?
Where do you want me to start [laughs].
How about some style tips for on the bike?
For me, helmets and shoes should always match. So if you’re wearing white shoes you need a white helmet. That might sound a little OCD but it’s just that I’m quite particular. On a similar theme, big sunglasses are great but there has to be a gap between them and your helmet. And if you’re wearing a Gabba or an equivalent item from another brand, then you have to wear arm warmers with it.
I don’t know but it’s just wrong not to [laughs]. And it’s the same if you’re wearing knee or leg warmers. These should only be worn with arm warmers otherwise it looks like you’re wearing a t-shirt and jeans. And, for me, that’s a big no no.
Dare I mention jersey pockets?
Obviously anything you put in them has to be arranged symmetrically. Middle pocket I have a micro-pump and spare tube. I don’t use CO2 canisters because you can get them so wrong. Then it’s tyre levers, wallet and keys on the left; phone on the right.
I guess you want to avoid overloading your pockets but this time of year it does get trickier?
But that’s going back to what we were saying about investing in good kit that functions well on the road. And you obviously want to keep both arm and leg warmers on for as long as possible [laughs]. Tao [Geoghegan Hart] said to me once that it was 18°C before he gets his legs out.
That’s a bone of contention so I’ll choose to answer with another question. Has Mario Cipollini ever ridden a bike with mudguards [smiles]?
Does all of this advice apply universally?
There are always exceptions. It’s not uncommon to see cyclists on the Continent wearing full pro kit. But that’s OK because it comes from a football thing. And I’ve never seen a British cyclist wear a sleeveless jersey. Go to Europe and you’ll see loads. And if you’re ever in Mallorca and passed by a bunch of riders wearing head-to-toe Rapha and riding S-Works; it’s a good bet they’re from England.
But it’s these little differences that matter. Our own sense of identity?
Or mistaken identity. At this year’s World Championships up in Yorkshire I was lucky enough to be riding with some of the pros and actually got to sign my first autograph. I was standing with Pete Kennaugh and David Millar and this guy had a cap he wanted signing. But because I’d never signed anything before I just wrote my name in block capitals. So amongst all these signatures from individuals who are actually famous, it looks like I’m shouting my name [laughs].
Talking to you, what comes over is a real love of life.
I know it means I can be a pain in the arse but I’m really the happiest person all of the time. Annoyingly upbeat according to certain of my colleagues [laughs]. And it’s important to be thankful because shit things happen to people; they’ve happened to me. But you know what, I’ve got a pretty good life and a job that I really enjoy. So on balance, I’m doing OK [smiles].
All images with kind permission of Benedict Campbell