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q & a: michael gill, editor of great lakes courier







This month Cleveland welcomes Great Lakes Courier, a high-energy free monthly paper that will cater to Northeast Ohio's enthusiastic cycling community.
 
Editor Mike Gill grew up riding bikes that his dad assembled out of scrap parts. His first "real" bike was a French 10-speed that he bought in sixth grade from a Rick Case dealership. These days, Gill calls himself a cycling commuter, but he's also raced and toured. Locals might remember Gill from his years of writing and editing for Cleveland Scene and Free Times.
 
With cycling advocate Bike Cleveland stalwartly in place and projects such as the Cleveland Velodrome coming to fruition, Gill believes Cleveland is poised for a bike renaissance of sorts. Fresh Water contributor Erin O'Brien sat down with Gill to discover how he's marrying his love of cycling with his love of words to cover the area's "bike boom" in the pages of Great Lakes Courier.
 
What sets Great Lakes Courier (GLC) apart from other cycling publications?
 
National cycling magazines are more about gear and fitness than they are about culture and the joy of riding bikes. Locally, some racing teams tell their stories and report on their own races online.
 
I see GLC filling two niches. In one sense we are about people and culture -- why people love bikes, how they use them, how they fit into a city, and what they can mean to neighborhoods. The other niche is Cleveland and the surrounding area.
 
National publications aren't going to tell you about a neighborhood cycling initiative in Cleveland unless they can package it into a national puff piece. They aren't going to say much about the Cleveland Velodrome beyond a little mention. GLC will cover the whole picture, including how the Velodrome is a potentially catalytic thing bringing people into Slavic Village and helping businesses there.
 
Who is your target audience?
 
One of the things we hope to provide is a place for different groups of cyclists to tell stories and interact.
 
You have people who ride their bikes to work -- the commuters -- who never have much to do with people who race their bikes on weekends. The mountain bikers need off-road facilities; their skill set is so different from road racing. You have the BMX riders and the kids in the coffee shop riding fixed-gear bikes. You have the tourists who load up saddlebags and travel across the state for a vacation. This is a lot of people and they all have two wheels in common.
 
One of the results that I hope comes from GLC is that people see cyclists as a really broad interest group. After all, every kid learns how to ride a bike.
 
Why a print publication in today's otherwise online world?
 
Because its physical presence makes a difference. The arrival of something in print is an event. It’s a physical thing that shows up.
 
We're also trying to put a lot of different voices together and we need to do something to get around the fragmentation that is the Internet.  If you have a specific interest, it's pretty easy to Google around and find something that relates. If you have a specific site, it's easy to get to it.
 
But it’s also easy to miss something. If you’re a mountain biker, you can find mountain biking sites all day, but you might miss something on a road-racing site or a cyclo-cross site. GLC will help cross-pollinate the whole community of cycling by getting them together.
 
GLC is a for-profit venture. How has the advertising community responded?
 
This is our very first issue. It's a challenge logistically to sell something that doesn’t exist. However, there are some businesses out there that are really interested in cycling and recognize the market value. Some are coffee shops that see people parking their bikes out front. Eddy’s, a pioneer in cycling shops, recognized the potential and jumped right in. There's also some cool ad stuff that’s not even bicycle related: If you ride your bike to B&B Appliance, they'll deliver your appliance for free.
 
As we come out with our second issue and into the future, I'm expecting ad presence will grow pretty significantly.
 
What will carry you through the winter months?
 
In terms of writing about what cyclists do in the off months, I think there’s plenty to say about riding in the winter and preparing for it and the bizarre things that happen when you ride in the cold.
 
In terms of advertising, it's worth appealing to the cycling community year round because in late fall, bike shops are thinking about Christmas. In winter, bike shops -- and people, too -- are thinking about getting their bikes ready to ride when the weather gets better.
 
What sort of regular features can readers expect?
 
There will always be a calendar. There will be something about Critical Mass every month, including photos. There will be a column by Jacob VanSickle, who is the director of Bike Cleveland, and we'll have Diane Lees every month. Diane has been a bike shop owner and advocate for years. She also has a weekly radio show called The Outspoken Cyclist that airs on WJCU on Saturday evenings.
 
Anything for the kids?
 
We'll have a coloring contest every month from The Sign Guy, who was a graffiti artist and also likes '80s BMX bikes. We'll print winners. Right now, the prizes are GLC posters, which are cool, but we'll see where the prizes go.
 
What about stories that appeal to the lay reader?
 
This story in our first issue about Joe Bringheli, a frame builder in Parma, is a small business story. Joe came from Sicily and started making bicycles in Cleveland in 1970s. He brazes them together by hand. He started when that was the state of the art.
 
Now, the fastest bikes are made out of carbon in big shops with big equipment. You can't just put them together in your garage no matter how skilled you are.
 
Joe has watched the industry leave him behind in a way, but lately steel bikes are resurging, partly because of nostalgia -- people like old bikes -- and partly because steel is kind of a unique material for bicycles. It has a really nice feel to the way it rides. And you can repair it. If carbon gets a little blemish in it, it's structurally damaged and no longer safe. The bike becomes $5,000 worth of trash.
 
Any unusual bike-centric events we should be on the lookout for?
 
The Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op is having its bicycle art show "Peddling Art," starting May 18th. Fifty percent of the proceeds will benefit the Co-Op. GLC is donating 50 limited edition prints of our inaugural poster. I made them by hand using woodblocks for the image and hand-set moveable type for the text. Each one is numbered and signed.
 
How will GLC tether the cycling culture to the community at large?
 
Twenty-five percent of households in Cleveland do not have access to a car: That's one in four. But they can have a bike for almost nothing and go anywhere they want without waiting for a bus or worrying about the bus's route.
 
Bikes are self-determining machines. You get out what you put in. That applies to the person with no money and no car, to the person who goes to his downtown job every day on a commuting bike, and to the racer in Avon that has $10,000 to spend on a hot carbon-fiber bike. It's all strata of society.
 
The thing that's unique about GLC is that it's not built around a neighborhood. The "community" for this publication is bicycles. I feel like I can help all area cyclists by putting their message together and delivering it.
 
I hope Great Lakes Courier can show people that cycling relates to all of us and that it is good for all of us.

*GLC is available at area bike shops, coffee houses and bars.

Photos Bob Perkoski
- Images 4 & 5: Mike with co-editor Erika Durham 

 

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.
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