Weâ€™re thrilled to wish a very Happy Book Birthday to Holy Spokes: A Biking Bible for Everyone by Rob Coppolillo! To celebrate, we sat down with Rob to learn more about his love of cycling, the small town in Italy populated almost entirely by his relatives, and what he means when he calls himself a â€śdowner dad.â€ť
Zest Books: Rob, thanks for stopping by to answer some questions! Ok, first things first: How did you get started in cycling? Was it love at first sight (or ride)?
Rob Coppolillo: I talk about it a little bit in the book–we moved to Colorado in 1976, when Denver was a sleepy town and the Red Zinger bicycle race had just begun. My twin brother and I had endless trails to ride in south Denver–it was empty–and the evening news covered the race every summer. It was impossible not to notice it.
Those early days riding dirt bikes, then a road bike, really hooked me. Iâ€™ve been a cyclist in some capacity ever since–from an avid commuter to a road racer to a mountain biker to guiding bike tours in Italy to being a cycling journalist. Now I tow around my twin boys, Luca and Dominic, in our Chariot bicycle trailer. Iâ€™m a lifer, for sure.
Rob riding the 403 Trail in Crested Butte, Colorado
Zest Books: How about writing? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Rob Coppolillo: I was a better essay writer in high school and college than I was a multiple-choice guy, but I didnâ€™t imagine writing for a living until I sold my first article, which was a total lark. I was at the 1989 North American Climbing Championships, with my brother and a few of his friends. One of them was a photographer named Dave Owens. Dave was shooting the competition, but his magazine–Rocky Mountain Sports and Fitness–didnâ€™t have a writer assigned to cover the event. I told him Iâ€™d help him by interviewing the climbers and in the end he said, â€śWhy donâ€™t you just write the piece?â€ť He vouched for me to the editor and the rest is history. I think I made $175 on the weekend. I felt rich.
Since then Iâ€™ve written for Outside, Skiing, VeloNews, and done a bunch of copywriting for companies like Sierra Designs, SmartWool, and Jade Monk. I won a Society of Professional Journalists sportswriting award in â€™97 and Iâ€™ve published a few poems. As for cycling, Iâ€™ve covered the Tour de France, the mountain and road world championships, and even BMX national championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma one year. That was a trip!
Zest Books: What do you love about cycling?
Rob Coppolillo: I think you could ask a thousand different cyclists that question and youâ€™d get a thousand interesting answers. Thatâ€™s what I love about the sport–there are so many ways to enjoy the bike, or even just use the bike. Transportation, fitness, travel, as a medium for work, whatever you want. There are people out there doing the craziest, coolest stuff with bikes, on bikes, you name it. Iâ€™ve managed to milk my obsession pretty well, making a little money at it, but most important, having a ton of fun with it.
Rob and Rebecca riding above South Park, Colorado. (Yeah, THE South Park for which the cartoon is named!)
Zest Books: Any crazy stories from the road/trail?
Rob Coppolillo: Wow, yes, sure! A few I can even share here. My buddy Jon and I were guiding a bike trip in Tuscany one fall, and after weâ€™d been paid we headed south to Calabria, where my dad is from. We decided to ride our bikes up to my dadâ€™s village, Cervicati. We arrived and started poking around–itâ€™s a tiny place, maybe a couple hundred people living there. After a few minutes an older gent came out of the bar and approached us. Turns out he was a second cousin of mine, Dino Coppolillo. He shouted back to the bar, then word went around the village and soon a crowd had gathered around us. People were shouting, arguing, debating who was related to whom, laughing. It was chaos. Jonny didnâ€™t speak a bit of Italian then, so he had no idea what was going down. By the evening we were in a distant relativeâ€™s living room–still in our bike clothes, mind you–having sodas, cookies, homemade pastries. They wanted us to spend the night, but we were expected at another relativeâ€™s house.
The crowd waited for us by the bar and promised to walk us to our bikes, but they first demanded a small glass of sparkling wine, to celebrate. We obliged and then bombed down the road, back to our car, maybe 30 kilometers away. Jonny and I still talk about that day…it was priceless. Iâ€™ve been back a few times and keep in touch with my cousins there.
Like most cyclists, Iâ€™ve got a dozen stories like that, just being in the right (or wrong!) place at a particular time. Burning Man, Paris at the end of the Tour, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, or just hot-rodding around with my bro, when we were little. Cyclingâ€™s one of the few sports we can do our whole lives and that means a ton of stories, too, from every part of our time here on earth.
Zest Books: What advice do you have for new riders?
Rob Coppolillo: Buy my book, immediately. Your cycling life depends on it! Haha, no, seriously. Iâ€™d say the two big things to remember are to be safe, and be comfortable. Cycling is pretty safe, relative to other sports, but with more and more cars on the road, safety is still a concern. Iâ€™m a parent now, so Iâ€™m suddenly the â€śdowner dad,â€ť worrying about stop signs and speeding motorists and crashes. Donâ€™t get paranoid, but make sure you have a good helmet and really pay attention if youâ€™re riding amongst cars.
Beyond that, make sure your bike is comfortable. Donâ€™t let a pain in the butt (or neck or wrist or anything) turn you off to cycling. Thereâ€™s an entire chapter of the book devoted to â€śfit;â€ť that is, making your bike fit your body (and certainly not the other way around). Saddles, handlebars, pedals–they all contribute to making you comfortable and efficient when cycling. If youâ€™re comfortable, youâ€™ll ride more, ride faster, ride happier. Do it!
Taking a break somewhere above Crested Butte, Colorado
Zest Books: Is there an essential piece of equipment that everyone should have (besides a bike, duh)?
Rob Coppolillo: Iâ€™ll punt and insist on a piece of equipment and then a gentle reminder. First, you need a helmet. Period. These days helmets are light, comfortable, and they are tremendously effective at reducing brain injuries. Buy a helmet you like and spend a little extra if it means the difference between wearing it and not.
And second: that beloved brain. Pay attention, whether youâ€™re riding next to cars or enjoying trails on your mountain bike. If something feels sketchy, pull over and reassess. Donâ€™t let your guard down just because youâ€™re having the time of your life. Believe me, I want you to love your bike and riding it, but donâ€™t let a crash ruin your budding career!
Zest Books: Thanks so much, Rob!
Rob Coppolillo: Sure thing!
Head over to the book page for Holy Spokes: A Biking Bible for Everyone and order your copy today! And tell us how you love to ride your bike in the Comments section: to work, on the weekend, with your friends, during your workout? Let us know!