Seven years ago this very week I sat on a pink Ikea sofa in an old piano factory in Kentish Town with a handful of pieces of paper and an idea.
It had been knocking around my head for many years. There wasn't much to show for it, but I'd been in a rush and I could explain the rest. I was here to meet up with Rapha's founder and managing director Simon Mottram. I was feeling a bit strange about it because two rather awkward encounters with Simon had gotten me to this place.
On our first, as a then magazine product tester and journalist discussing the idea for Rapha with him, I said I thought he was mad (I don't think I was alone with that). The second time was when he'd sold out his first jersey range and started the company that now sponsors a fairly well-known professional team and is, well, doing a roaring trade. Seeing as I'd told him I thought that his concept for Rapha was rubbish, I was quite expecting him to return the advice.
My premise was to produce a magazine with high production values, paper and print. It would be a magazine for the discerning reader and the fan of bike racing. In a climate with very few alternative magazines and a worldwide web cluttered with blogs and simple news-based sites, the idea was pretty ambitious. But I'd always thought that there was a space in the market for a reportage style cycling magazine, something with the spirit of Jock Wadley's Coureur and the striking visual sense of Foto 8.
I was wrong. Simon liked it. I think we had a shared aesthetic and passion and I'd realised that Rapha was the ideal starting point for this new idea. We decided to have a go and I went off to develop the idea. Four or so like minded advertisers liked our pitch and we realised that we were onto something. It was small beer on the page yield front – I’m no salesman, after all - but it would pay for the printing. We were in business.
These were the hand-to-mouth beginnings of Rouleur magazine. Before long we moved into the then-spacious headquarters of Rapha Racing Limited, which numbered four employees and that pink sofa. In the early days contributors were bribed with Rapha socks, jerseys and even soft shell jackets for those longer features. Many gave their time for free. Photographers like Gerard Brown and Ben Ingham and writers like Matt Seaton were there at the start and still work for us today, albeit for a little more than threads and goodwill.
As time went on readers started to subscribe. So Rene Groot, Claire Wilson and I stuffed envelopes and amended spreadsheets as the orders came in. The boxes of magazines filled the storeroom and we worked amongst them wondering if we could ever sell them all. We did.
Since that first issue, we've gone from 64 pages to 260, from four issues a year to eight. We've launched a book publishing imprint with Bloomsbury. Bruce Sandell came in to manage the business and we moved from Perren Street to Shoreditch three years ago. The ideas kept coming at a furious rate and we all realised that Rapha couldn't help us grow them anymore, mainly because of their own exponential growth and success.
Almost seven years to the day we started out with issue 1, a management buyout created a new company and added some much needed investment. So amicably we agreed to part and allow us to take Rouleur to the next step.
Publishing an independent magazine in these times of economic vagueness and print decline hasn't always been easy, but cycling has been in rude recent health and niche independent magazines are on the up. Rouleur has survived, prospered even.
I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in the journey so far, especially those who helped us in those early days. The list is long, forgive me if I don't mention you all. But some special thanks go to Neil Wass and all the kind folk at Manson Group our printers, to Jonathan 'Biff' Bacon who worked tirelessly on the design of the early issues, to Edwin Ingram at Tapestry, to Peter Guest at Image Lab, to Brian Dowling, all the guys at BDI and to all of the talented contributors who have stuck with us. And thanks to Simon Mottram who believed in it. We've had our differences and still do, but he saw the good in it and that was more than enough.
But above all, thanks to the readers who subscribed and the advertisers who have supported us. It's thanks to all of you that Rouleur is here to stay. It hasn't always been ideal but if it was easy then everyone would be at it.
The leading photograph was one of our more ambitious covers. It was for issue 20 and is a story in itself. It was shot on the roof of Perren Street in Kentish Town, Rapha's HQ. The dog is Gino and the mechanic is John Sutcliffe, who at one point was Rapha's (and Rouleur's) accountant.
It took weeks of planning and some tireless work over a very wet August weekend by a small group of talented professionals under the guidance of regular Rouleur photographer Taz Darling. And thank you for everything Taz.