Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bicycle Blogs and Social Media

Ah, social media. We use it, enjoy it, allow it to take over our lives, and then complain about it. How wonderful it is to be human. A few weeks ago, London Cyclist published their "Top 50 Bicycle Blogs" list and for the first time I made it, coming in as the lucky no.13. As you can see, the list has two columns: one with the name of the blog and the other with its twitter url - mine being conspicuously absent. In the days following the list's publication, a number of "OMG, you need to get on The Twitter!" emails arrived from readers and acquaintances. Yet I was unmovable. Need I? But I've resisted for so long! Then several days ago I received a spoof message that threatened to start a twitter account in my name promoting hybrid comfort bikes. It was a cheap, dirty trick, but it worked: Lovely Bicycle is now on twitter.

In a general sense, I have no problem with social media such as facebook and twitter per se. As long as we are able to control ourselves from becoming full-blown addicts who document every private thought and behaviour via these platforms, I think they offer a novel and useful way of sharing information. Particularly when it comes to businesses, organisations, institutions, and other public entities, facebook and twitter can be essential in facilitating and democratising the process of gaining a following.

But here is where it gets tricky: On the one hand, blogs can be considered such entities, and so it would appear to make sense for them to take advantage of social media. On the other hand, blogs are unique in that they offer not just a product or a persona, but specifically writing. Free-access, web-hosted writing. Promoting one's blog on facebook and twitter can have the ironic effect of readers spending more time on these social media outlets than on the blog itself. There may be more visits to the blog than ever as a result of the promotion, but often this is accompanied by a decrease in active readership: less time spent on the blog, and fewer comments. The bulk of reader participation ends up happening off-site, which is usually not the effect intended by the blog author.

For those who are considering supplementing their blog with facebook or twitter, I think it's important to understand what it is that you wish to accomplish. Do you want to just generally increase your web presence, or do you want readers to actively engage with the content of your blog? If the latter, then I think facebook can act against your best interest, by encouraging you to share too much of the blog via its interface, thus fragmenting your content and reader participation. Twitter works differently in that it simply doesn't allow you to do more than share links and quick one-liners, making this pitfall more avoidable - but one must still be cautious. I plan to use twitter for link sharing, and for quick announcements that would not warrant their own post on the blog. Hopefully, it will serve as a supplementary, but not a competing channel of communication. My biggest concern is spreading my content thin, and this is something I will actively watch out for. We'll see how it goes. What's your view on blogs and social media? Do you find it helpful, or distracting, when a blog uses twitter or facebook?

44 comments:

  1. I would be concerned at spreading your content too thin. I can understand your motivation for going in those directions, and I can see where the use of Facebook or Twitter could provide some useful pointers to your blog content, but it could also cheapen it as well.


    I have been a journalist for more than 25 years and have witnessed a steady cheapening of news values over the years, accelerated in recent times by the advent of the Twitter-styleinstant news-pop-ups. We see it over here on the BBC all the time - redline banners streaming across their website proclaiming 'Breaking News' and then the 'Breaking News' turning out to be (as was the case about ten days ago) a comment by a politician to the effect that banks put profits before people. The journalist in me wants to put my head in my hands and cringe. This anodyne statement qualifies as Breaking News?

    I like your blog and take a look nearly every day when I have access to the internet (I travel a lot) I think it fills the role of a good - nay, excellent - column in a newspaper or magazine; I won't be following any Twitter reports or Facebook happenings.

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  2. I use Twitter to suplement my own blog and I find it to be a useful addition.

    Occasionally I get @ mentions after posting an article which would be better as comments, but generally it is a positive, as people retweet the new post messages and I get to hear about what is going on in the greater global cycling community by following others too.

    On Wordpress and a few others it is possible to list the Tweets discussing your article under the comments (provided the tweet has a link in it), but I have yet to see this on Blogger (although it would be a way to circumvent the moderation of comments).

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  3. I find it fragmenting, particularly because there often comes a time when the blogger cannot keep up with two or three different platforms at once, and I've frequently seen that the blog suffers at the expense of Twitter. Twitter is instant gratification, like popping Sweet Tarts or M & M's in your mouth, especially when the blogger engages in a dialogue. But I've seen that so much time goes into the one-liners that the discipline of the blog goes awry. I find your blog to be the "grown up" social media tool that doesn't demand the "me-me-me, now-now-now" aspect to which Facebook and Twitter often devolve.

    Do you not find that people find the blogs they want when they are ready to read them--that a person seeking information and community will find it with a quick Google or two? Maybe you could do a random daily wrap at the end of your post (check out these links here) instead of driving traffic to another location altogether)?

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  4. timeforabiggirlbike said...
    "...Maybe you could do a random daily wrap at the end of your post (check out these links here) instead of driving traffic to another location altogether)?"


    I've tried to do something like that - an occasional list of announcements - but I find the blog (and especially Blogger as an editing tool) to be an extremely inefficient and time consuming platform for this. It takes too much time, and somehow my readers miss the announcements anyway. Twitter on the other hand, makes spontaneous announcements or linksharing easy and considerably less time consuming.

    Also, I find that the character (?) of my posts here is continually changing in a way that what I thought was worthwhile to dedicate a post to a year or two ago ("Look how cute my cat looks sniffing the new bike!") I no longer find appropriate. I still want to share it somehow, just not in a post. So a link to a picture of the cat sniffing my bike goes on twitter.

    Still, your and Roff's points above are valid. I'll have to see how it goes.

    Incidentally, there is a "Lovely Bicycle" facebook page that appeared a few months back and it's not me.

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  5. Geez, I can barely navigate THIS site without help from my children. Now Twitter is poking it's nose into my window. I'm going to be dragged into the 21st century yet but I'll bet it ain't going to be by Twitter. BEGONE!

    Spindizzy

    (Why is it that the "Vagina Dialogue" from a couple of days ago didn't bother me a bit but I'm having an old man freak-out from this?)

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  6. "...the "Vagina Dialogue" from a couple of days ago didn't bother me a bit"

    I KNEW that all the men were quietly reading the comments : )

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  7. I had no doubt that the men were reading all the vag comments, either. :)

    Facebook totally freaks me out, but I like Twitter. I haven't told many of my friends I'm on there so I can just dork out about bicycles without them LOL-ing me, as the kids say.

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  8. Spindizzy, hilarious!!

    I remain sans facebook and twitter and feel very strongly that very bad things will occur from this intense social upkeep. I am firm in my position that no one needs to know where, when and what I am doing at all times.

    It's ironic when I overhear people talking about facebook they always like to downplay their usage, "I only look at photos", "I only look every couple of days". If you are lying about it, it could be a problem.

    Again, just my personal position. I will remain a loyal follower of the blog and solely it's content.
    As always Velouria, thanks for providing such a great platform for everyone to enjoy.

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  9. I have the same reservations about "social media" that you do. I have a Facebook account but it is used primarily for sharing links or sending private messages to people who are no longer accessible by e-mail (because Facebook is now that function for them). Generally I find the mediated social environment of Facebook disheartening and a little bit terrifying so I rarely use it.

    Twitter is not part of world experience and I have no intention or interest in what it offers. My only regular exposure to twitter is by the "twitter modules" on the side of blogs that I read already. Thus, for me, I will continue to frequent the blogs I enjoy so long as quality content remains.

    I also have no cell phone so I'm obviously a luddite and my opinion worthless.

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  10. Ann - I cannot imagine twitter for personal use, only because I am very private and the last thing I like to do is let everyone know what I am doing at every single moment. So a personal twitter account with entries like "at Whole Foods! which leeks to buy??" would not really be my thing. But as an "entity" making public announcements or sharing relevant industry links, I feel comfortable with it.

    And going back to what Roff wrote, about the poor quality of BBC's one-liners... I think we have to realise that ultimately content is created by the writer and not by blogger, wordpress, facebook or twitter. Those platforms might influence us to write more casually or sloppily than we normally would, but it does not have to be that way; we can control our writing. Remember that especially in the early days of blogs many people were against them. After all, if you're a "real" writer why not get a book deal or work for a publication? The quality of the writing in blogs varies wildly, but that does mean that it is a worthless medium. Perhaps the same could be said of twitter.

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  11. I will remain a holdout to Facebook and Twitter for as long as possible. One potential pitfall of bringing these new platforms into the fray, is that there is the potential for creating an inner circle of followers. In the past, I could passively follow the general vibe of a blog, even if I chose not to actively engage in discussion of a topic. Then, when a topic came up that I felt compelled to comment on, I still felt contextually aware of past posts, the usual sentiments of a blog's community of followers, etc. Once there is a separate class of blog followers who also engage in an ongoing dialogue via Facebook or Twitter, then I lose that sense of "belonging."

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  12. Keep the twitter! I use it like an RSS feed. Plus I like reading my favorite bloggers in a more casual context (if you do chose to use it that way). For example, I like looking at the funny pics bikesnob puts up...

    As long as you don't turn into one of those "Hey! Check out my latest post on [insert topic here]!!!" then it's great!

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  13. I find it hard to believe that unless you are breaking earth-shattering news - JFK shot; Elvis alive - confirmed!; Martians landed - there is very little in the way of worthwhile content, for a public forum, that can be said in Twitter's alloted 142 characters.

    I know we used to say on the sub-editor's desk of a newspaper where I worked many years ago that there is nothing that can't be cut down - 'Pierre went to the War' was our favourite sub-edited version of War & Peace - but with the other avenues open to you, and with a good following on them, I just can't see the point of Twitter.

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  14. I like Twitter, and don't consider it social media. I think of it as a lighting fast news and information aggregator.

    And I will admit that I did NOT read the Vagina Dialogue. I read about a paragraph, skimmed the subject headers, and while I admired you for writing it, I realized you were going places I didn't need to be. :)

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  15. "I find it hard to believe that unless you are breaking earth-shattering news... there is very little in the way of worthwhile content, for a public forum, that can be said in Twitter's alloted 142 characters."

    I dunno. To me, that's like saying that all communication isn't worthwhile if it doesn't involve long-winded soliloquies.

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  16. It seems to me there is a wide gap between 142 characters and 'long winded'

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  17. "It seems to me there is a wide gap between 142 characters and 'long winded'"

    75 characters, and message received, loud and clear. :)

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  18. I use both Twitter and Facebook and to be completely honest I'm getting tired of both. I've been checking/posting on Twitter less and less, and hiding a huge portion of the people/things on Facebook so there's less to read (I also have Leechblock set up with it, so when I've been on it for 30 min, I'm done for the day). I like looking at pictures and stuff on facebook, but I really feel like it had completely changed the way many people interact with each other - and not necessarily for the better.

    Wait, what was the question? Oh yes! I've found that usually when I follow the blogs I read on these mediums, I usually end up dropping them quickly. Otherwise, every time there's a new post, I get alerted via Twitter, Facebook, AND Google Reader - which is where I'll actually read it - and three times is really too much! But I think some people use Twitter and Facebook to keep themselves updated on their blogs, so for them it would probably be good...

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  19. I like it when my favorite businesses/shops have facebook accounts (it's a less intrusive way of disseminating info than e-mail). I don't really understand twitter, although I gather it's useful for fomenting revolutions. :P And I ditto Erik's concern about not being able to get the full conversation from the blog if other media venues are intro'd. I enjoy reading the comments nearly as much as your posts!-Jen

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  20. Funny, I was just talking to a High School senior in my daughter's car pool last night about the very subject of writing and photography in blogs. She likes both and is also very environmentally conscious. I mentioned your blog as an example of high quality of both, and how they can foster a sense of community across a planet. My point to her is that the technology isn't what makes the value; it's the creator on the other side. Whether it's a printing press, a blog, or a twitter account: that's only a channel for communication. People create content, and their considered viewpoints and creations make the value.

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  21. First, I did not read the Female Anatomy… article or the comments, but respect your right to write about something I wouldn’t choose to. Now to the topic at hand. I read you every day, and enjoy the community that has built up around the blog. I hope to become a valued member. I used to do Facebook (hundreds of “friends”) and just got tired of it. Actually quit and waited the couple of weeks to get the old account stuff deleted. I am back on and have all of 9 friends, with no intention of gaining more. Besides your site, I check some of the Cycle Chic sites also, and I can tell you, those that use Facebook as their site, I totally ignore. I much prefer your format over Facebook. I also have a twitter account and can’t remember the last time I checked it. Think I’m not following about 5 people. So I definitely won’t see anything that is posted there exclusively. I really don’t understand how you have the time to write articles every day and keep up with reading and posting comments. Adding Twitter on top of that?? Wow.

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  22. davidrestes, Velouria is not A person, "She" is a colony of super-functional energy "units" from a parallel dimension. The images of her you see on the site are really just a department store mannequin posed and photographed by the Co-Habitant(an unfortunate human co-opted through mind control and Gin, "She" will eventually consume him and will have to find a replacement. Beware).

    Her actual physical manifestation is that of the cats occasionally shown on the site. These "cat" images have the power to assume control of the viewer if you stare at them for more than a few seconds.

    If she were a real person she would actually have to sleep occasionally, miss-spell the occasional word and ride a Cannondale like the rest of us. I hope I can hit the "submit" key before "she" realizes I've revealed my secret knowledge to the world...

    Spindizzy

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  23. Spindizzy - Of course the real story is that the Co-Habitant writes the blog and simply gets "her" to pose for the photos. It's ingenious if you think about it - That's why so many men can relate to the writing. The cats mainly do set design, and have now also been put in charge of The Twitter. Peppy does occasionally comment, but she's really abusing her privileges when she does that.

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  24. What about the talking, thinking bikes? Or is that also just more of the anthropomorphication of the super-functional energy "units"?

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  25. I'm 100% male. I read the vag dialogue and was very impressed by your presentation and content (well done !!). I follow your blog almost every day. I don't do Twitter and I set up a FaceBook account to learn more about social media in general - and I haven't used it since. I found it a total waste of time.

    I believe blogs such as this are the best way to present information, promote discussion and inspire others. For example, in part because of your blog, I became very interested in Mixte bicycles - and ended up completely rebuilding a 1979 Apollo mixte for my partner - including a beautiful new, red powder coat paint job. (maybe I should send you the bill ??!!)

    Keep up the great work Velouria. And I'll keep reading your blog regularily.

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  26. Peppy is the best, abuse or no abuse.

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  27. I originally didn't understand why so many people were flocking to twitter but I signed up and like that you can follow virtually anyone and I discover a lot of great posts and info that way but I do tend to tire of those who just post useless/mundane updates. Facebook on the other, is a total waste of time imo, because that's exactly what most people post on it. I only keep my page active so I can browse friends' photos. It actually iritates me that so many blogs have FB pages even if they post additional content there. If things continue the way they are, soon ordinary folks will need to employ people to tweet for them like the celebs do!

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  28. Peppy (the amazing flying-whale cat)April 7, 2011 at 4:00 PM

    Why, thank you.

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  29. Erik said...
    "Once there is a separate class of blog followers who also engage in an ongoing dialogue via Facebook or Twitter, then I lose that sense of 'belonging.' "


    Facebook and Twitter are very different in this respect. Facebook (I've had a personal, non-Lovely Bicycle account for a while, but am not active on it) does encourage dialogues, because it provides a "tree structure" for the comments, essentially becoming like a blog thread. Someone "says" something, and then others add comments underneath it. It's not really possible to have a dialogue via twitter, because there is no tree structure. It's like an ongoing RSS feed of independent comments, which is what makes it handy for random announcements and linksharing.

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  30. I myself have found Facebook useful sometimes for the reasons you just outlined above, and Twitter less so. It seems to me that Twitter serves as a replacement for a bunch of RSS feeds, though. Several friends use it to announce both blog and Facebook friends, and usually link it to both. I do find that tactic useful.

    I also have friends that find FB the most convenient way to send larger messages, as it's faster than logging into many e-mail programs.

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  31. I don't like Twitter. A colleague badgered me into signing up, and "follows" me. I said: "You better realize I'm not going anywhere!" I have never tweeted. Like Veloria, I like to WRITE. I routinely go over the limit on my texts to my boyfriend, for heaven's sake. How would I blog and tweet?

    If you've even glanced at my blog, you will see that I'm not laconic enough to tweet.

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  32. davidrestes: Are you trying to say that bikes don't think and talk? What the hells wrong with you?

    Spindizzy

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  33. Interesting post. Of course, one might say: let the "market" decide! If some readers prefer the Twitter version and some prefer the blog version, how and why does that make the blog a failure? Those who prefer the Twitter version quite likely aren't the readers most likely to interact on the blog anyway (or they'd choose that version). However: the work load on Velouria is an ENTIRELY different matter. I don't worry about you spreading your content too thin. I worry about you spreading yourSELF too thin!

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  34. If any of this is anything like "Art" or "Literature"(and I hope at some level it is), than I don't want the "Market" to decide. The market gives us Wal-Mart, Thomas Kinkaid and Hannah Montana(none of whom I hate), I still want people with noble goals who are motivated by something other than market success to have a place where they don't feel forced to conform. Does it sound like Velouria is Tweeting now because she needed it to express something that she couldn't on her existing blog or that she is doing it to prevent someone co-opting her work.

    I know there is no practical way to prevent this and that we creative people need to toughen up a bit sometimes and not be quite so thin skinned, but these expectations to participate in every available forum strangle the creation of what we're trying to get out in the first place. A friend is having to change the signatures on all her paintings to a logo and pay someone to design a website to promote her logo and "brand" to get into a particular gallery that already has a website and will take over all the marketing of her work as soon as she signs the gallery agreement. It might make her work more marketable but it's not going to make the paintings better...

    If you could just see me right now, eyes all bugged out, ears red and blotchy, nostrils flared like two trombones... I'm going to bed.

    Spindizzy

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  35. I'm a web builder and work with a social media consultant to build social media profiles for businesses of all sizes; used for business, social media can be effective. It makes sense if you're using Facebook to use a 'page' rather than your own profile to promote your blog. You can drag your blog posts in there, or links to your latest posts, and get users to click back to your blog.

    Likewise Twitter - you can tweet a link to your latest post. You can also create groups, so if you follow a bunch of bicycle people on Twitter you can list them in a group, which makes it easier for people with bike interests to find you.

    Ultimately I think blogs are the most powerful tool, especially if they are updated as often as this one is. They are great for two-way communication - just look at how this blog has grown since its inception. To get and keep a good ranking you ideally need a daily post and good content and Velouria, you deserve a gold star for both.

    Having said all that, the Tweep or Facebookee (if there is such a word) then needs to devote time to developing and keeping going a strategic campaign on all these outlets if he/she is going to use them as a marketing tool to raise awareness and grow their business. Ah, technology - adding so many more hours to the working week!

    I use Twitter as a mix of personal and business, likewise Facebook, but I'm mindful of a) not putting my innermost thoughts out there and b) trying not to bore people. There is a lot of dross on both of these. The nice thing is that it's up to you who you follow; you don't have to follow the boring ones, and you can unfollow at any time.

    I'd recommend using something like Hootsuite as a one-stop shop to post to Facebook and Twitter. That way you only have to log in to one program.

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  36. Spindizzy I didn't mean to offend. Up until now, the only bike I was aware of that talked (tweeted and Facebook posts) was Precious. http://www.yesiamprecious.com/

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  37. If anybody is still reading: I've added share buttons underneath each post. Does anyone find them distracting?

    Sill trying to figure out how to get them on the same line as the "comments" link.

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  38. I had to get a twitter account just for this! I would follow Peppy if that darn cat had an account.

    Buttons look good.

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  39. LGRAB is on Twitter, although admittedly, we do not use it much actively. It's set up to automatically tweet our new posts, which is helpful if others want to easily spread the word about a particular topic. I find Twitter helpful when I want to say a bit about some other blog post or article on the internet, but don't want to devote a whole post to it.

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  40. Thanks Erin : )

    Dottie said...
    " It's set up to automatically tweet our new posts,..."


    Oh! I need to figure out how to do that.

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  41. Wow, bike snobbery revealed! That crack about the joke Twitter account promoting hybrid comfort bikes was a tad elitist, no? FYI, there are people in the real world who buy and use the bikes they can afford. I am a single working mother of two children who is using her bike to be eco-smart and have fun (and hopefully inspire my kids to do the same.) Sure, I would like a $1200 Dutch city bike or a Betty Foy, but get real - unless someone gives me one, it ain't gonna happen. In the real world, that kind of money is spent on rent and food. My bike is sturdy, reliable and, yes, comfortable, which means that I happily ride it every day and in all kinds of weather. It is not cycle chic, is it not hipster, and I will be riding it long after these fads have faded. This attutide in the Twitter entry is one of the reasons I have drastically cut back on reading bike blogs - time spent getting this kind of attitude could be time better spent out riding and having fun. Instead of debating the pros and cons of Twitter accounts and the relative coolness points of high-end bikes (most of which will end up languishing in the garage after a few months), get out on the bike you have and ride!

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  42. Anon 10:16 - You have a point. But then, according to your reasoning, no one should write or analyse anything, ever...? Keep in mind that I do not write instead of riding my bike, but in addition (instead of watching TV or going out drinking, for example). I cycle for transportation daily and for sport almost daily when the weather allows.

    I also think you are mistaking preference for snobbery. I am fine with people riding and promoting hybrid comfort bikes, just not in my name, since they do not reflect my personal preference. Everyone has a right to ride, enjoy, and write about what they like.

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  43. I'm no longer on Facebook and don't use Twitter. Life is busy enough. I like to read blogs when I have time to relax and fully enjoy the work that has gone into them.

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