07 June 2010

Interview: David Bernstein of The FredCast

If you do a search in iTunes for cycling podcasts, there are three podcasts that are consistently at the top of the list.  The FredCast, The Spokesmen, and the Daily Tour Podcasts. 

David Bernstein is the creative force behind all three podcasts.

David on the Col de la Madeleine. Credit Lanette Dykman

I had the chance to interview David about what got him into cycling, and how he finds the time to produce the shows. 

How did you get into cycling?
Like most people, I first started riding bikes when I was a little kid. I still remember the day I learned how to ride without training wheels, in fact. My dad and I had been working on my balance for what seems like days, with him holding the back of my seat and running along with me. I just wasn't getting it. Then, one night, I had a dream that my dad let go and I was able to balance and ride away. The next morning, I told my dad about the dream and we went outside and gave it a try. Sure enough, I rode away from him and balanced with ease. At the time I called it my 'dream come true,' but I think it was just about having the confidence that I could do it.

Fast forward to 1988. I had just graduated UC San Diego and was getting ready for law school in a year and for my wedding in a few months. I needed a job. An employment agency directed me to a Japanese trading company and I was hired as a sales representative. As it turned out this company was dealing with the majority of OEM bicycle companies and aftermarket parts distributors worldwide, shipping a huge percentage of Shimano's product. In addition, they owned the Tioga and Shogun brand names.

My first task at the company was to build a bike. I was given a budget and told to write a report about the bike I would build, the components that would go on it, and what alternate components I would use if I had a higher or lower budget. Once my report was approved, I then had the pleasure of buying the parts and building my bike.

After a ride or two on my new mountain bike I was hooked. Since part of my job was to go to the NORBA National mountain bike races on the weekends, I also started racing downhill. A little while later I borrowed a steel road bike prototype that had been built and painted by John Slawta at Land Shark.

I recall that one of my co-workers introduced me to the term 'Fred.'

I stayed at the Japanese trading company for a few years before leaving to start my own independent marketing firm, Competitive Edge Marketing Solutions, assisting primarily Asian manufacturers of bicycles and bike components. Our concept was to assist companies who made excellent products, to create excellent brands. My proudest accomplishment is the creation of Full Speed Ahead (FSA).

Several years later I sold Competitive Edge and left the industry to run my family's manufacturing business.

I continued to ride on and off, but wasn't very passionate.

In 2003 all of that changed when my wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Once her condition was stabilized, I vowed to do more than just give her a weekly injection. I recalled the MS150 events from my time in the bike industry and decided that I would use these events as my way of helping the cause. I bought a Specialized Allez Elite and began training. I'll never forget the first 8 mile training ride. I came home and sprawled on the living room floor, exhausted. My wife thought I was going to die. Despite my poor fitness, I was already hooked on road riding.

A few months later, I completed the MS150 and was among the fastest riders in the group. I was also the number three fundraiser. The rest, as they say, is history. A few months later I completed my first century (The Tour de Palm Springs), the next year I did a century a month, a short time afterward I sold my membership in a flying club and used the money to buy my Colnago C40. And somewhere around that time I started The FredCast Cycling Podcast.
Tell us about The Fredcast. Why did you decide to do a podcast?
I began listening to podcasts back in 2005 after reading articles in the L.A. Times and various other places about this new technology. At first I dismissed it as a fad and then I started listening. I primarily listened to tech podcasts and I distinctly recall listening to the very first episode of This Week in Tech, perhaps the single most popular podcast in history. I went looking for podcasts about cycling, but couldn't find any that spoke to my interests, so I came home and announced to my family that I was going to become a podcaster. They all laughed at me.

My idea was to create a podcast that spoke to people like me --- Freds. Up to that point I had only heard the term used in a derogatory manner, but I felt an affinity towards it. When I was in the bike industry and really just a poser, I always had the latest and lightest components and equipment. That experience spoiled me and I have never been able to skimp on my cycling gear, no matter what I had to to get it (see above about selling my flying club membership).

By the time I was ready to start podcasting, I found that although I was a Fred, I wasn't really a poser, I was just a high-end cyclist who spent time and money on my equipment and training. While it is true that several internet dictionaries define a “Fred” as a person who spends a lot of money on his or her bike and clothing (yes, women can be Freds too), but still can’t ride, I tend to disagree. The reason why the so-called “serious” roadies like to disparage us Freds, is because we usually drop the “serious” roadies on the hills or in the town-line sprints. Turns out that lots of those “serious” riders were really posers.

I have been called a Fred time after time, especially by people who see my high-end Italian road bike and all of my cycling gadgets and gizmos. I have always taken the term as one of endearment and not one of scorn, since I usually ride faster than those who call me a Fred and so it has become a badge of honor.

The FredCast is devoted to all those who have ever been called a Fred by so-called “real” cyclists.

I spent weeks and months researching and buying equipment and software, and fine tuning my format before I ever spoke a single word into the mic. In fact, the format of The FredCast hasn't changed that much since day one. I still open and close the same way, and I still cover many of the same topics and issues.

I guess The FredCast hit a chord among other cyclists because it really took off. Today it is still one of the most popular cycling-related podcasts and is in its fifth year of production. I've taken the show on the road to the annual Interbike trade show, the Tour of California, Tour of Utah, and I have done listener tours of the French Alps where I lived the dream of riding many of the most famous climbs in professional cycling including the famed Alpe d'Huez. The show has included an interview with Greg LeMond, Lance Armstrong press conferences, and interviews with some of the most famous names in pro cycling and in the bike industry.
You've been doing the FredCast for three years now, right? Do you have a favorite moment from that time?
Actually, I've been doing The FredCast for almost five years now. The first show came out on December 13, 2005.
It's tough to pick a single favorite moment in time because, thanks to The FredCast, the fans, and the show's subsequent popularity, there have been so many. I hope you indulge me and allow me to give you five.
The first occurred two years ago when I was asked to help judge a contest that was being sponsored by Shimano. I arrived at the booth to meet my fellow judges including my friends Carlton Reid, Tim Jackson, and Donna Tocci, plus Kozo Shimano whom I'd met many years previously. Also among the hosts were Bob Roll and Phil Liggett. When I was introduced to Phil he said, "Oh, you're The FredCast. Well done!" Does it get any better than that?

The next occurred a year later when Lance Armstrong came to Interbike to announce that he was coming out of retirement and returning to professional cycling. As you may remember, he held a press conference that was attended by Greg LeMond. Afterward I had the opportunity to talk with and interview Greg. The interview was an accusation, but the off-mic conversation was fantastic. I remember the day he beat Laurent Fignon in Paris, as I am sure many cycling fans do, and it was great to just be able to talk to this cycling legend.

The fourth favorite moment is actually a collection of moments, each of them occurring when I meet, run into, or receive an email form someone who listens to the show. I am so appreciative of my listeners, and it is great to meet them in person and talk about cycling, life or whatever. The podcast, my Twitter feed and my Facebook page make my listeners much more a part of my life, and vice versa. I never imagined this when I sat down to talk into a mic in my bedroom one night in 2005, but I love the connection between me and the listeners.

And finally, on Episode 1 of The FredCast I took some time to introduce myself and the show. During that introduction I was explaining the meaning of the term Fred and I told the listeners that, "you're never going to see me going up the Alpe d'Huez." I couldn't have been more wrong. In 2008 I had the great pleasure of going to France with listeners and friends to ride some of the most famous climbs of the Tour de France. We rode Col de la Forclaz, Col du Marais, Col de la Croix Fry, Col des Aravis, Col des Saisies, Col de la Madeleine, Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier (my favorite), and on the last day, we rode Alpe d'Huez. I'll never forget the feeling as we crested each of these famous climbs, nor will I forget reading the road graffiti and the various markers and monuments along the way, but most of all, I will never forget the lump I had in my throat when I reached the top of the Alpe d'Huez. What a thrill! And all because of The FredCast!
Is there someone that you would love to meet and have on the show? You know, that once-in-a-lifetime interview?
Tough question, Kendall! I've had so many great cycling personalities on the show including some of my favorite professional cyclists (e.g. Jens Voigt), cycling heroes (e.g. Greg LeMond, Davis Phinney in a few days), icons of the industry (e.g. Gary Fisher), etc. Last night I interviewed Dan Austin from 88Bikes.org and was so moved by what he is doing for children all around the world. Having these people on my show allows me to bring my enthusiasm for cycling to other like-minded people and that is why I do it.

I suppose instead of a single person, I would love to spend a week (or three, hint hint!) with a single professional cycling team. I'd like to spend time with the riders, coaches, bus drivers, mechanics, soigneurs, and everyone involved with the team. I'd like to bring insight to the listeners into what the word 'team' actually means and how it isn't just about the guy atop the podium.
You also produce another podcast, The Spokesmen. How did that come about?
The Spokesmen is modeled after a technology podcast called This Week in Tech (TWiT). I've been a listener since its very first show. TWiT is a roundtable podcast that is produced and hosted by Leo Laporte who some may know from The Screen Savers on TechTV or from his nationally syndicated Tech Guy radio program on the weekends. Leo envisioned a roundtable podcast that not only brought together people who had interesting and insightful comments, but who also were involved in social media (podcasts, blogs, etc.) and who could help promote each other's shows and blogs.

You'll recall that I started The FredCast because I noticed a dearth of cycling podcasts that interested me as a fan and as a cyclist. I wanted to support other podcasters and bloggers the way that Leo was and I wanted to cross-promote our shows and cross-pollinate our listeners and readers. And that is why I started The Spokesmen Cycling Roundtable Podcast on August 20, 2006.
Honestly, where do you find the time to produce two podcasts?
I get the time question quite a bit and, quite frankly, I'm never sure where I find the time. I am a husband and father. I run a business. I am also a cyclist who needs to train. And I occasionally need some sleep. I know, go figure.

But seriously, I just budget my time really well - usually. Recording The FredCast certainly takes a decent amount of time, but what takes the most time is researching, staying abreast of the news, testing products, answering emails, post-produciton, etc. There's nothing that can slow me down more than finding that I have 2,000+ stories waiting to be read in my RSS newsreader. My family and my day job always come first, and I am unapologetic about those priorities. I occasionally get angry emails when I go too long between shows, but I truly believe that most of my listeners understand these priorities. I frequently sacrifice sleep and training in favor of the show, but it would be irresponsible for me to ever sacrifice my job or my family.

Because I need to juggle my time and since I travel so much for business, I have recorded from some very interesting places. I've recorded in hotels all over the U.S. and Canada, as well as in Germany, France and Holland.

Here's a secret I don't think I've ever told: When I interviewed Dr. Allen Lim during last year's Tour de France, I was sitting in the back seat of my rental car in Minneapolis, using WiFi from a nearby Chik-Fil-A, talking to him over Skype, with my microphone stuck on the headrest of the passenger seat in front of me. There he was at some swanky French hotel, and here I was sweating in the back of a car in Minnesota. I couldn't turn on the A/C or open a window because the noise would have come through on the recording. See how I sacrifice for the show?!?
 People seriously get mad at you for having a life outside of the podcast?!?
I know, right? You wouldn't believe the angry emails I've received when I have had to take a longer break between shows.
One last question. What can we look forward to from The FredCast and The Spokesmen in the future?
Well, July is coming so you can certainly expect my usual coverage of the Tour de France on The FredCast. This coming September I am hoping to be doing more video segments for InterbikeTV like I did last year. I have lots of plans and dreams for The FredCast, but whether those come true or not will depend on sponsorship and other financial support. Keep your fingers crossed.

As for The Spokesmen, I am hoping to find the time to do the show on a more regular basis. It is clear that we have a loyal following, but I know that they are frustrated with our infrequent updates. All of our busy schedules as well as the time zone differences make scheduling recording sessions very interesting.
Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with me about your great podcasts. I hope we can look forward to being entertained by you, and the Spokesmen for years to come.
It has been my pleasure! Thank YOU for taking the time to do this interview.

It has been a great pleasure talking to David.  Please check out his great podcasts:  The FredCast, The Spokesmen, and his Daily Tour podcast that he does for the Tour of California and the Tour de France. All of them are available for subscription and download from iTunes.


Mom said...

Good interview! I enjoyed reading it.

About Me said...

Loved the interview. About time someone turned the tables on David :)