Q & A with Eben Oliver Weiss aka Bike Snob NYC

Richard Masoner interviews blogger Eben Oliver about his new book, his blog and more.

By Richard Masoner

Eben Weiss does not mince his words. The recently revealed face behind the infamous Bike Snob NYC blog is a no-holds-barred commentator on cycling culture. Weiss pokes fun at American cyclists’ fascination with carbon fiber bikes. He ridicules fashion shows, bike art and cyclists who travel on the wrong side of the road (“salmon”) – and reserves a special sort of snark for fixed-gear “hipsters” – all the while calling for a common sense approach to biking.

The 36-year-old Weiss, an amateur bike racer in Brooklyn, New York – and former BMX-rider and New York City bike messenger – launched his blog in June of 2007. After earning his chops in the publishing industry for more than 10 years, Weiss now dedicates his time to crafting metaphorically-drenched prose for the blog and his Bicycling magazine column. His book, the release of which is at least partly responsible for his recent unveiling, is the most recent addition to the Bike Snob brand.

Weiss’s mass appeal comes down to his ability to weave together events in the world of bikes – and their riders – with popular culture. His commitment to his audience (he posts on his blog every weekday), has helped him cultivate a dedicated following. While reviewing the Bike Snob’s new book, fellow bike blogger Richard Masoner (cyclelicio.us) seized the opportunity to call up Bike Sob NYC and ask him a few questions.

You started your blog in 2007. What prompted you to start Bike Snob NYC?

I had this monologue running through my head. As any bike dork does, I spent a lot of time reading bike-related content. I’m also, by nature, sarcastic. I decided one day to just start writing it. To my very pleasant surprise, people enjoyed it.

How long did it take for word to filter out about your blog? Did you send emails or tell friends?

I really didn’t do anything at all to promote it or anything like that. In the beginning I really didn’t know what I was doing. I was just enjoying myself. I started seeing more and more comments.

In the olden days, I didn’t even know anything at all about how many people were visiting the blog. I didn’t have metrics or anything like that. I would see the comments increase. The first link of note I recall was the drunk cyclist link. That legitimized me. From there people picked up on it.

You started out mocking Craigslist postings and today you continue on that theme. Even in your book you have a sample listing. Your book, though, is surprisingly earnest.

I hope that’s not a bad thing!

I like to think the book has the tone of the blog and if you enjoy the blog you will enjoy the book. But the reason it’s a little more “philosophical”: I feel like it’s one thing when you’re writing everyday and you’re writing stuff that’s topical and responding to things that are happening. It’s another thing when you’re writing something that’s going to sit on a shelf and you’re asking people to fork over money for it. I want to give a little more through the book. It’s important to me that the wise-assery of the blog… there’s an attitude I look to put forth.

Don’t get hung up on the components, don’t get hung up on the fashion, don’t get hung up on the gimmicks. Just ride your bike; it’s a great thing. It’s something all of us have in common as cyclists. I really want the book to address that and be a little more clear in that respect to somebody who’s not already immersed in the bike world and came to my blog that way.

Your final chapter addresses the non-cyclist. Do you see the non-cyclist as an audience for your book?

I don’t know how much of an audience. Maybe somebody who has a friend or a relative or spouse, partner, whatever, who’s really into cycling might buy the book for that person and might be inclined to read it themselves. They might enjoy it themselves. It’s a window into the psyche.

I get emails from people every so often, “You know, I found your blog because I don’t know anything about cycling but my boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, whatever, really loves to ride and I read it because I want to know what the hell is going on. They’re kind of freaks!”

You slam bike culture… well, you don’t “slam” it, but…

I’m a little skeptical of the concept. One of the things I like about cycling is that you can do it with friends, you can do it all by yourself.

A lot of what I see referred to as “bike culture” I think refers more to a social clique a lot of times than it does to an actual culture. I harp on the fact that you really don’t need to belong to any group at all to ride your bike.

You race for a shop team. Do your teammates know of your secret identity?

My teammates know, yeah.

On your blog, you sometimes get a little controversial. Do your feelings ever get hurt?

You really have to learn and understand the way people interact on the Internet. Obviously the Web has its own kind of discourse. You have to understand why people react the way they do. I live this stuff every day – I’m a blogger! It’s fighting and all of that.

You have your blog, your book, Bicycling magazine column…

I couldn’t be happier for all of it. I absolutely love it. You spend a lot of time in your life asking what you should be doing. I’ve always loved to write and I’ve always loved bikes. You’d think it would be obvious at one point where you’d say, “Wow, I should write about cycling.” It took a really long time for me to get that out and I did it totally by accident. I’m really enjoying it.

It sounds like you still have to work for a living?

Ahhhh, no. Yeah. No. I do this. What I’m doing now.

I was told to ask what your favorite ice cream flavor is.

Oh yeah. Vanilla, all the way. Like chocolate, it’s not pretentious. But I prefer vanilla.

Thank you Mr Snob.

Thank you. My regards to the West Coast and the burritos and everything.

7 Comments

  • P Buddery

    I agree with the bike snob. I am a fat person who grew up in hills, and now live in even bigger hills. I ride because I love to ride. I love the feeling of pedalling hard, and I love controlling the bike. My bikes have gears and multiple powerful brakes and luggage racks. I own no lycra or clip-in pedals, riding in boots and office clothing or weekend clothing. My bikes are old but light, an advantage I ignore through carrying heavy tools in my work bag and a pocket full of coinbs. Surely extra weight is an advantage, because it prolongs the time, and thus the pleasure, of every ride.

    I think fixies are silly, and have spent my life laughing at fashion, partly through sour grapes as a result of having been born terminally uncool (I can’t be too uncool – the cat has just spent a few minutes licking my nose). But mainly I laugh at fashion because it seems to evolve out of practicality but become impractical. There are so many things we see that are nonsensical – off-road vehicles that can’t go off road, unrideable bicycles, pointlessly large houses, clothing that doesn’t keep the wearer warm or comfortable, jewellery that is uncomfortable and grotesque, and a multitude of other things.

    So, Mr Snob, keep up the good work and puncture the pretensions of those who ride a bike for an image of toughness or fashion or some other reason about which I can’t be bothered to speculate. Laugh at them Mr Snob, and in doing so try to help them realise that fashion and consumerism and such things are just more ways of wasting our time and money when we should doing far more important things like having fun.

    .

  • Shawn Feddes

    I’ve always been a bit neutral on the blog, the title turned me off a little, but I impulse bought the book a couple of months ago and could not put it down. Very funny and it does a great job of deflating some of the ego and snobbery surrounding cycling, or probably any hobby. I also really enjoyed Weiss’s explanation of why cycling is so compelling and why some of us are so in to it. It would also be a great resource for someone just getting into the sport as it does a good job of explaining some of the subcultures. Very fun book and even if you are not totally into the blog it is worth checking out.

  • Jared

    I don’t understand why you ask about him starting Bike Blog NYC rather than Bike Snob NYC. Am I missing something?

  • Brycemeister

    while I really like Bike Snob (quick note to Snob: the Pista Index has been beaten by Walmart, but you already knew that.) I thoroughly enjoy a completely impractical approach to cycling. One that lacks any shred of common sense, except for lights and helmet. And even those lack any sense. Just sayin’. Still enjoy the site-and ish it were a tad snarkier!

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    PODIUM!

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