An interview with a tech guru – WIRED Magazine’s Mark McClusky
As a long time subscriber to WIRED Magazine I have always seen senior product editor Mark McClusky’s name attached to a sports technology article. And when cycling pops up in WIRED, Mark’s name is usually in the byline. Mark isn’t just the electronics guru at WIRED, but he’s also a real bike racer with a long personal history in the sport. His roots in the sport goes back to the LeMond days with the John Tesh soundtrack interlaced over CBS’ Tour and Paris Roubaix coverage. He’s definitely not the guy who lost the bet in the office and now has to cover cycling as a result. He’s the real deal and has the collection of personal bikes to back it up. We have never crossed paths in the meat-world, but we connected through Twitter. I reached out to him to get his thoughts on cycling technology and to get the low-down on the Apple iPad.
Browne Eye: I imagine at WIRED Magazine you guys are flying around on jet-packs and having laser gun fights.
Mark McClusky: The mechanics of what we do are not any different than what most magazines do. We are not flying around on jet-packs.
Browne Eye: What!
McClusky: We are on the phone talking to writers and our sources and banging around on Microsoft Word trying to make it better. It’s not so much how we do what we do, but what we do it about.
Browne Eye: I’m disappointed. I thought for sure you guys would have the Most Dangerous Object in the Office and would be base-jumping out of the window.
McClusky: Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of stuff here and cool things in my world. I run the product reviews and so we particularly see a lot of that here: gear and gadgets – stuff like that. But in terms of the mechanics of making the magazine aren’t particularly technological-based. However we interact with a lot of things that are hugely technologically advanced.
Browne Eye: How have you been able to sneak bikes into WIRED Magazine?
McClusky: The thing that is fun for me in my job is to talk about how technology changes the world. That is what the magazine, most broadly defined, is about. A part of that is certainly sports gear. Some sports are pretty technologically stable. In a sport like running there is an incredible amount of technology in the running shoes. But the difference between the world’s greatest running shoes and the world’s worst running shoes is not massive. That difference and technology between a department store cruiser and a 13 ½ pound ProTour bike is vast, so cycling brings a lot of technology to bear. You have the material science, the aerodynamics and the biomechanical design. There are a lot of things coalescing around one sport. And our readers are interested in cycling. As you know, there is an ongoing joke that cycling is the new golf. In some ways I think that is true. It’s a sport a lot of people have been drawn to.Browne Eye: What is your history as a bike rider.
McClusky: I was one of those kids of the first bike boom – the LeMond era. I watched the Tour on CBS in 1984 and ’85 with the John Tesh soundtrack. I was a kid who grew up in western Pennsylvania with a subscription to Winning Magazine and had the posters on the wall in my room. I totally wanted to live that life, so I started racing. I was pretty successful, but it was an incredibly small scene in the foothills of the Appalachians. There wasn’t a big cycling community back then. There might be 10 people in a junior race. I raced my first year in college and had a pretty good year, but found myself getting beaten by people I used to beat. I have gone from a high school kid with the ability to ride 200 to 250 miles a week time-wise to a college kid who was not getting anywhere near that same amount (of miles). At that age I did not handle getting beaten very well. I put the bike down. Bike riding wasn’t a recreational activity for me, it had always been a competitive activity. I put the bike down for almost 15 years. My first good racing bike was a Univega with Sun Tour components. Then I bought this midsized aluminum frame from this weird quirky company in Wisconsin called Trek, which nobody had really heard of. It was the Trek 1200 and it was between the Vitus super crazy whippy aluminum frame and the Cannondale beer can. I upgraded it over the years to Dura-Ace, but with indexed down tube shifting. Index shifting was a mind blowing experience back then. I had that bike in my basement here in San Francisco and it got stolen. I found myself really upset about it. I had ridden tens of thousands of miles on that bike. Thankfully I had good insurance on it. I stayed with Trek bicycles with and replaced it with a Trek 5500 with Dura-Ace 7800. I decided that if I had this machine I would get back into the sport and I started riding again.
Browne Eye: Have you upgraded yourself since then?
McClusky: I have upgraded and now the creative director owns that bike. Right now I own a couple of bikes. I have an Ibis SilkSL – Scot Nicol (owner of Ibis) is a good friend out here. I also own a Moots PsychloX. we did a test on cyclocross bikes and it was too good not to buy from them. I also own a couple of bikes that hearken back to my early days of racing and lusting after bikes. I have a Colnago Super with Campy Super Record. It’s an early ’80′s Super in silver and the LeMond branded steel frame built by Roland Della Santa in the immortal Z livery with C-Record including a pair of Delta brakes. I’ve never had more trouble setting up a piece of cycling equipment in my entire life, but they are so beautiful. As brakes they are more speed modulators, which is more the Campy thing anyways. Campagnolo has a different philosophy on what the brakes are meant to do. Those things are a pain in the ass right down to the 2.5 mm Allen keys that you need to get in there. Thankfully those (2.5 Allen keys) have become more prevalent recently. We also get to test and borrow bikes, so I get to rotate through bikes which is fun.
Browne Eye: Being that tech guru, what you see as the biggest technological advancement in cycling lately?
McClusky: Shimano Di2 – electronic shifting. I joked before I got on it that this was the answer to a question that nobody had. Then I rode it. Holy shit, it’s that good! It’s reminiscent of the first time you use index shifting. There was a real art in reaching down to the down tube and firing off a shift and be accurate and not messing around with the lever after you are done. So the first time using index shifting you just click and it hits and you are done. It’s, “whoa, how about that!” Electronic shifting, especially the ability to be all-out and applying as much power as you can and still be able to make a front shift smoothly and seamlessly, is pretty awesome. It’s astonishingly good, and I don’t have a bike on it yet but I am lusting after that pretty hard. It’s been interesting watching Niels Albert race on it in ‘cross races. I think it is even more applicable to cyclocross and mountain biking, which I assume we will see it on any time now. In those really difficult situations there is an even bigger benefit from it than on the road where shifting isn’t that hard to do. I also love the resurgence of carbon tubulars. I’m of the generation that you’ve raced on to Mavic GL 330 to 280s, if you were a skinny guy like me. I spent a lot of time gluing tubulars and I love the ritual of it as well as the ride. There is still nothing better and it is fun to see a new generation gluing them on. I also remember waxing my chain.
Browne Eye: Oh my god, that is a throwback to the day!
McClusky: I bet that’s one you haven’t thought about for awhile. I had a little Fry-Daddy full of wax, I’d take the chain off and drop it in. Other things I remember was Benotto Cello tape. I miss that!
Browne Eye: Speaking about things we lust over lets talk about the iPad. The iPad was announced like the Second Coming. You’ve seen it, you’ve kicked it around. What’s the lowdown?
McClusky: It’s a bit of a cop-out answer, but it is super important – clearly. As a piece of hardware I am very impressed with it. It’s beautiful and well designed. The software I am very curious to see what applications designers will do with it. I wish I had seen a little more deep thinking from Apple on the software side during the demonstration we’ve seen so far. If you think back to the first generation of the iPhone a lot of people said the same thing. I think we will see it progress and change and get more innovative.
Browne Eye: Everyone has been saying how this is going to change how we receive media from newspapers to magazines. Do you think that is the case?
McClusky: I think it is possible. We are actually thinking of using different platforms to do different things. I don’t think that the paper magazine is going anywhere, but I think if you offer people an amazing content experience on different platforms they are going to be drawn to it.