Striking a deft balance between sports mag, arts journal and lovingly-crafted 'zine, Embrocation Cycling Journal addresses the world of bicycling like never before. Founded in January 2008 by avid racer Jeremy Dunn, the bi-annual journal covers road racing, touring, cyclocross and urban riding through surprising layout and typography, well-crafted storytelling and splendid photojournalism. (Click all images for detail.)
The most recent issue, Volume four, includes a humorous look at racing jerseys, the importance of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (it's the people not the bikes), a profile on the legendary framebuilder Dario Pegoretti, and a grueling account of nine days riding in Belgium (click images for expanded views). Dunn fills the journal with many more "reflections" and "distractions," to borrow headers, but to discover those you should buy the issue ($25) on the Embrocation site.
We took a moment to ask Jeremy a few questions about making a sports journal in the (supposed) ice age of print. His answers prove that passion in the face of adversity—whether in creative pursuits or the punishment of racing—is an unstoppable force.
For those who don't know, what's an embrocation?
My easy answer to this is "any of the balms, liniments or oils that cyclists apply to their legs." Traditionally, embrocations were used as a sort of muscle relief (similar to Tiger Balm or Icy Hot) however they can also be used to help keep muscles warm during activity. Not only that but they also add a little bit of shine to the legs, which never hurts anything.
What led you to create Embrocation? Why publish a physical magazine when everything is going digital?
I grew up in a household without television. Both of my parents were teachers and a love of books was impressed upon me at an early age. So, I have to think that is where the love for printed materials came from. A few years ago I was helping run a cycling team out of a shop that I worked for (Harris Cyclery). We put together a little rag-tag band of bike messengers who were also into racing Cyclocross. Along the way I realized that not only was I surrounded by all these great people—artists, photographers shooting the races, graphic designers helping out with the kits, framebuilders making beautiful bicycles—that I was trying to think of a way to pay tribute to all of these things. Initially, I intended to keep it small and was hoping for more of a 'zine feel, something that was produced relatively quickly and cheaply. Very quickly that theory went out the window for what you see now.
Interview continues with more spreads after the jump.
The content, layout and design for Embrocation is refreshingly diverse. What was your inspiration and how do you decide what goes in?
I read a lot of different publications, which is where I like to draw my inspiration: everything from Monocle and Little White Lies (U.K. Movie mag) to Karen Magazine (totally D.I.Y.). In fact, Slate at the office here likes to keep the publications away from me as they come in. I tend to walk away with them for days at a time. Early on I think that any magazine that had a full bleed photo in it was an inspiration, especially anything sports related. The tough thing is that in the sports publications arena the only ones that were doing anything really interesting were the snow and surf publications. So really, what I did (or tried to do) was take lessons from stuff that I read and saw in magazines like The Surfers Journal, Alpinist and of course Rouleur.
For me, there seems to be a connection between this sort of artistic side of me and the extreme physicality of punishing oneself. The connection between art and sports is tenuous at best, but definitely something that should be continually explored. At that point the writing starts to come into play. Hunter S. Thompson has to be the biggest inspiration in that arena. Sports, drugs, photography...it is like the heyday of Rock and Roll. You know, minus the Rock and Roll bit.
As far as deciding what goes in. Well that one can be a little tricky. Usually I put out the feelers in the form of a theme that I am hoping to stick to for an upcoming volume and then beg, borrow and plead with my friends to come up with something interesting. It usually amounts to something like that. Although I have to say I have been more than fortunate to be involved with some of the greatest cycling photographers that I have seen. People like Chris Milliman, Dan Sharp and Taz Darling. They are pushing the boundaries enough to keep the lines between art, fashion and photography blurred... in a fantastic way.
Can you highlight a few favorite stories from the first two years of Embrocation?
They all tend to be highlights for me. I say that in all honesty because I have literally been a part of the majority of these articles. My friend Dan Action wrote a story in the first Embrocation about a night that he and his mother stayed up all night crafting these crazy wool skinsuits. It was a great little piece about spending time with his mother. But what was beautiful about it was that we were all there that night. The whole team was strewn around his Mom's house, littered about the floors and couches in the rooms above where he was sewing. I remember waking up a few times throughout the night and hearing the sewing machine still going at it. And then a month or so later Dan comes to me with this piece and it tied the whole experience together in a really beautiful way.
Everyone in the industry surrounding cycling has been doing great stuff and they always become the best articles. When I went to Belgium this past year, I never thought that I would see some of the things that I got to see. Sitting in the back of the press car rocketing along the Paris Roubaix course is something that I will never forget—a little moment that I will always cherish. Because until you are in that seat, you will never know the intensity of that race up close and personal. And I feel like that is where some of the most interesting stories come from as well.
Any advice for aspiring contributors?
Just be honest with your experience. I think that most of the time people are asking themselves what other people want out of them instead of just putting down the experience as they felt it. Kind of like I'm doing right now, thinking "I wonder what Brian really wants out of this?" When in truth this has been the most rewarding, fun thing that I've ever done and I hope that just one iota of that comes through when reading Embrocation.
Bill Strickland, an Editor at Large for Bicycling Magazine (and one of my heroes) once said to me (after I wrote him a frustrated email in the middle of the night): "Honesty in a story is one of the things I talk about most with writers. In the tiniest sense, sometime sit with a story and, sentence by sentence, ask yourself if each one is true." I do this every time I write a story now and it is a statement that I think about every time I sit down to write. If you can do that, if everything pouring out of you is in complete honesty, well then you are many, many steps ahead of the game.