The DVD comes packaged in a rose-tinted case.
Longtime management consultants and now holding company for another cycling forum, DDD will be building a Chinese wall between the two properties "if we can get planning permission. In any case it's open for discussion about all types of fora, not just cycling. It has recently come to the attention of our research department that not everybody rides a bike."
The new venture is meant as a public service, according to Dilbert. "So often administrators come to me complaining about forum wars. This will be the Switzerland of forums, without the Nazi gold."
The concept was tested in a focus group with lukewarm results. "If you build it they will yawn" was one comment.
"I've filed that away for future reference," said Dilbert.
Dilbert was referring to the agreement with Sam Walker, founder of ACF, to manage the forum for a peppercorn fee, such spices being the anticipated currency in a post-dollar world.
"We were having lunch at Food For Thought in London when he popped the question," according to Dilbert. "It was completely out of the blue. We had been discussing The Bhagavad Gita. It's a dish they do.
"'Remember the old days?'" Walker asked me, "'when you told me about the Reverse Snowball Effect?'"
Dilbert explained. "It's also known in some circles as the Big Crunch. You know, the Big Bang, backwards. Basically, he was telling me that only my expertise could stop the ultimate heat death of the cyberverse. I think."
In an industry which thrives on metaphor, this exchange had been enough to forge an understanding between consultant and client.
"We'd been through some times, let me tell you," said Dilbert, who stopped short of reminiscing. "I'm happy to take over the reins. It was bound to happen sooner or later. ACF has come full circle, almost. I don't know what that is in terms of Pi."
Buys Small Island
"It seemed the next logical step," said the American-born internet impresario. "Running a forum has given me a taste for starting my own nation-state. I understand I can even print stamps. The fact that no other countries have agreed to accept them unless accompanied by so-called 'real' stamps is a minor bump in the road, but everyone's gotta start somewhere. Look at France. Nobody took them seriously at first, either."
Walker has big plans for his new domain, tentatively called Another Country. "Naturally, it will be a cyclists' paradise. The topography has been landscaped so there are no uphills, only down. I have also taken the liberty of outlawing SUVs, crap mobile phone ringtones, Marmite, Rupert Murdoch, boy bands, bibshorts without a licence, mauve, religions except those involving pasta, council tax rises not indexed to inflation, A-levels, and scratchy rental DVDs.
"Every Friday afternoon I will adjudicate all disputes which may arise, levying fines and overseeing summary executions where necessary. I don't want to give the impression it will be a harsh regime, but I simply will not tolerate certain activities, like Mariah Carey played within earshot. You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet."
The population is currently one, and "Several hundred thousand birds that have got tired of flying around all the time and said 'to hell with it'.
"Richard Branson has the island next door. I've shot his balloon down a few times. It's nothing personal."
Keen to attract "The right sort," Walker has offered free Bromptons to the first 10 immigrants: "It's a small country."
Donations to acf will continue to play an important role in the fledgling dictatorship's finances. "I don't envision any trade as such, so we shouldn't have a lot of those economic problems that seem to bedevil other countries. As long as we all look busy."
"They have correspondents with reeeeeally big telescopes down in Australia who have told them with great confidence that Pluto wobbled, and Saturn definitely lost a ring," claims a BikeReader insider.
The forum sports a new domain name out of respect for BikeReader's audience, who know that BR is a noncommercial site. The Freewheeling CEO explains: "We have big plans for the new forum. It doesn't have any revenue at the moment, but we hope to make up for it in volume." He added, "I've put a new titanium bike on order as a small gift to myself when the money starts rolling in."
Asked if he was worried about competition from such other forums as Cycling Plus, Bike Magic, and Babes On Bikes, he commented: "Of course not. The fact that they already have thousands if not millions of members and an established community simply means that we have room for growth. I'm especially pleased with the current pristine state of our forum; it's aesthetically very distinctive."
"It's early minutes yet, but investors are getting antsy," Walker admitted. "You know how venture capitalists operate. They'd sell their mothers short in a hot second if there was the promise of a decent return in it. How do you think they're going to treat me if I don't come up with the goods? And I can't even bake cookies as a fallback."
Walker's woes were compounded by modest membership registrations and postcounts. As a joke, one of his competitors emailed him an animated .gif of rolling tumbleweeds. "That one had the office in stitches," Walker commented drily.
Launching a new forum in an already crowded market is never easy, according to web expert Delroy Dilbert, of Delroy Dilbert Delroy Ltd. "I've seen 'em come and I've seen 'em go. The only true path to success is success. Unfortunately most people don't draw on that basic knowledge. They aren't even aware that success has two c's and two s's."
Dilbert chuckled grimly: "For nine out of ten startups it's all downhill from the beginning. The only question is how steep."
"Registrations are up; we managed to snare some big game fairly early on," said the careworn executive, almost lost among the detritus of the grand opening party held at the Freewheeling offices in East Sussex yesterday.
"We had to make the cleaning lady redundant sometime after midnight," he sheepishly explained. Although a flurry of evening activity on the boards rallied support among twitchy investors,"they strongly hinted that the extravagances would have to go. I may even have to sell the Bike Friday."
saved the day
Asked what she thought of her da-da's new enterprise, the tot commented "I don't know how far he's going to get pedalling his forum on Usenet. There are some brilliant people I know he's quite keen to have register in addition to those who've already done so, but whether they'll wish to take part in this type of format is anyone's guess. Urp."
His daughter's precocious critique prompted Walker to comment: "Indeed. Anybody's guess. Coochy-coo. The nice thing about 'this format' is its potential not just as a cohesive community, but as an easily-searchable database of information and opinion. Sure, you can pick through Usenet via google groups, but it's not the same."
He's also tiredly keen to point out to potential recruits that Freewheeling offers many other boards in addition to helmets. "I think you'll find most tastes catered for," he promised. "And I'm open to suggestion. '[Rant]....[/Rant]' is a direct result of member influence; in fact I'm considering posting there myself. 'Fixed' was another suggestion I adopted, though the last time I tried to ride one of those I almost ended up in hospital."
With that, Walker slumped back in his ergonomically unsound chair, knocked unconscious by weeks of long months, his troubled slumber occasionally punctuated by gurglings from his progeny.
Cycling Plus editor Tony Farrelly could not be reached for comment, but an anonymous staffer suggested that Walker's antics, if proven, were nothing to be alarmed about. "We've got over 10,000 members; he's still struggling to make it past the critical three dozen bar. Talk to us in a few years and maybe we'll show a modicum of concern."
"We feel we've accomplished our goal of attracting attention while at the same time creating a valuable database of, for want of a better word, Orcs." Walker didn't elaborate on the apparent LOtR reference, though insiders speculate he might have meant Urcs.
It is an axiom of the business that any PR is good PR, and in Walker's opinion his campaign achieved its goals while staying within the boundaries of Usenet etiquette: "We lovingly crafted one or at most two posts per day over a timespan of less than a week. By any reasonable definition that does not constitute SPAM. In any event we are uncertain when precisely it was that satire became such a bête-noir on newsgroups.
"Of course, our crucial mistake was in assuming that our nonprofit parent company BikeReader.com had established a reservoir of goodwill due to the efforts of its webmaster [also Walker] to archive a vast literature on the subject for the pleasure and convenience of web-literate cyclists. We wrongly felt this would buy us some leeway in terms of the admittedly blatant promotion of Freewheeling."
Nevertheless, Walker feels that the genius of the campaign was its saturation bombing effect: "By referencing the forum in other posts in addition to the faux news announcements, we made our quarry feel there was no escape. This method, reportedly first used by Saatchi & Saatchi in the first Labour campaign, had the not uncoincidental side benefit of making membership on the Freewheeling site self-selecting: anybody who liked the ads is here, or will be shortly. Anybody who loathed them will stay away. Thus our demographic is refined considerably." The forum administrator seemed delighted to have "reached critical mass in a surprisingly short time; it would've made Fermi proud."
Asked if he had any regrets, Walker only smiled. "Not a one. We made it out by the skin of our teeth. It's a wonderful feeling to never have to do that again."
"We feel Kerry looks extremely confident on two wheels, which makes us comfortable about his ability to balance the enormous pressures of office," said Wilbur Orvillwright, organiser of the cycling pressure group 'Wheel Mad'.
"He's obviously fit and healthy, and therefore more than capable of surviving the physical rigours of being the leader of the free world."
When asked if president Bush wasn't also in prime condition because of all his brush clearing, Orvillwright was careful not to ride over the toes of people who might enjoy the sport as well: "Clearing brush is an honest expenditure of sweat. I think it's safe to say the nation owes Bush a debt of gratitude for all the branches and leaves he's safely disposed of.
"However, the international situation today cries out for a seasoned cyclist rather than a brush-clearer. Has Bush ever changed a flat tyre? Has he managed to change gear when the situation calls for it? In almost four years in office, the president has failed to even master the Segway."
Bush was unavailable for comment, but according to sources in his campaign presidential mum Babs was said to be "devastated".
Previous endorsements have included Ike ("We did not like Ike; we did not like Ike on a Bike. But Mamie was a charmer, so we went along"), McGovern ("What other choice did we have?"), and Dukakis ("The eyebrows were the key to his charisma").
'Wheel Mad' are reported to be sanguine about the affect their endorsement might have on voters in the current election.
The Freewheeling office was draped in black, the traditional colour of mourning "and coolness, but obviously that doesn't apply here," said administrator Sam Walker. "I think Janice of the documentary Friends best summed it up: Oh. My. God."
In other news, Walker formerly renounced his Ohio citizenship "pending the final count, and Diebold investigation."
Some members have reportedly been worried about the relatively light traffic in posts, leading to concerns of what is known in the industry as a Reverse Snowball Effect. "Basically, what it means is that rather than gathering momentum and getting larger and larger, there is a distinct lack of momentum and largeness which tends to feed on itself, or rather not feed on itself. Think of an anorexic snowman," explains web expert Delroy Dilbert, of Delroy Dilbert Delroy Ltd, who was quick to add "I'm not actually saying it's melting."
Walker was upbeat. "Look. We have almost 50 members, all of whom are presumably leading active lives. In fact the laid-back ambience of Freewheeling can be seen in a positive light far removed from talk of 'melting', which isn't particularly helpful. If they're not here on the forum, it's quite possible they're out cycling, which can only be a good thing. Eventually they'll come back home to their computer. It stands to reason. People get tired."
Queried about his game plan should the post count continue to languish, perhaps due to people not getting tired after all, the webmaster refused to let a frown cloud the Freewheeling horizon: "This is a low-pressure atmosphere, which is the way I like it. People are free to come and go as they please, post or not as they please. When the spirit moves them, they'll hit that button. Until then, no force on earth is strong enough to induce them."
Added Dilbert, "You have to be like the reed rather than the oak. You know, bend, not break. And don't forget to give the snowman coals for eyes. Gotta have coals."
The self-described overweight and middle-aged born-again cyclist will be riding a fixed wheel, custom built steel machine trans America, Australia, and across the Far East and Europe back home to Staffordshire, where wife, children and 'big mortgage' await.
The webmaster was effusive in his admiration for the intrepid and newly unemployed educator, recalling the day they spent travelling from Stone to Blackpool on his spring 2003 E2E trip: "Gordy pulled me out of the canal at Wigan Pier," recalled Walker, wiping a tear from his eye. "Or he would've done had I fallen in - I'm sure of it."
It was not immediately clear what was implied by 'sponsorship'. Declared the Freewheeling CEO: "Sure, we could throw money at him, but that would be the easy thing to do. What we're offering is carte-blanche moral support - much harder to come by than cold, heartless cash - and of course space at the forum to keep us all up to date on his travels."
The initiative comes just over a month after the site's last foray into the shark-infested waters of Usenet.
When asked, simply, "Why?", Walker offered his best 'What, Me Worry?' face. "Our previous campaign was a multi-layered strategy whose timeline, if you'll recall, was abruptly terminated after Trading Standards ruled that it was too clever by half. Our current promotion can best be described as Already Over. We quickly chucked a couple of posts into the hopper; nothing else along those lines is planned for the immediate future."
The campaign immediately drew tepid fire from several correspondents. "Website forums are pants," complained one, while another professed disappointment at the lack of activity and wasn't expected to join in to help correct that fault.
"What can I say?" said Walker. "Our first critic offered a well-informed and nuanced argument supporting his case; the other proposed a pristine tautology which any administrator would find difficult to unravel."
When asked if he actually knows what 'tautology' means, the CEO shrugged: "I have people for that."