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The Peaceful Tribe.
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

Slowtwitch Message Board

The most rapid and dramatic changes in the way society interacts have happened in the last two decades, mostly because of the Internet. For better and for worse the Internet is the new “Gutenberg press“.

The Internet, not too far removed from how it is depicted in the “Matrix” movie series, has created another reality: Altered in terms of dimension and time, spatial relation and even our current grasp of that fragile icon we call “reality”.

In two decades the Internet has rewritten the rules entirely. The rules of peace, the rules of love, the rules of war. No aspect of the human experience is untouched by the Internet.

The effect the Internet has exerted on our own sport is perhaps as profound as deciding a bike wheel should be round to begin with. It has changed the face of our sport, the industry within our sport and everything surrounding it.

Most for better, some for worse.

In researching this editorial I read two things that impacted my thinking. One was a recent Newsweek article by a Rabbi who traveled to Mongolia for an adventure vacation with the primitive nomadic Mongols.

The other was Naval War College Professor Thomas P.M. Barnett’s incredible vision of the future and analysis of the present, “The Pentagon’s New Map”.

The common thread of these two documents is their acknowledgement of community and integration.

In the case of the Rabbi, (who’s name regrettably escapes me) he observed the necessity of community and civility within an ancient culture such as the Mongolian nomads of the Gobi Desert. He saw and documented that a sense of community in the Gobi Desert is part and parcel to survival. Interaction equals survival. No person can isolate themselves from the nomadic culture and hope to survive in the vicious expanse of the Gobi Desert.

In the words of Stephen Covey (philosopher and author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”) the Mongolians had achieved “interdependence”, that highest rung on the developmental ladder of relationships.

Thomas P.M. Barnett analyzes the current state of the world from an economic and military perspective and proposes a plan for the future. Barnett divides the world into two communities at odds: The “Functioning Core” and the “Non-Integrated Gap”. He notes that, in a nutshell, the difference between the two global communities and the disparity between them is the degree to which they are interconnected globally. The countries that reject outside integration of global connectivity create the Saddam Husseins and Usama Bin Ladins of the world. The countries that are connected and integrated conduct commerce, diplomacy and peacekeeping.

Here’s where they come together: Our society has learned to form a modern community over the Internet and through the ether of the high speed connection.

It crosses borders without passports or documents at the speed of light, literally. As far as the Internet is concerned, the difference between your den and your living room is about the same as the difference between where I am sitting and you may be sitting, reading this in New York, London, Frankfurt, Jakarta, Phnom Penh, Hong Kong, Paris, Riyadh, Baghdad or wherever.

And within this great ether-world of the Internet, this massive lattice work of impulses traveling wires, bouncing off satellites, beaming off cell towers, Blue Toothing and 802.11b’ing, there exists tribes that did not exist before.

There are good tribes and evil tribes. They float their raft of connectivity on the ether-sea bonded over enormous distance by The Latticework of the Internet. The real “Matrix”.

The tribes are made of people connected by common interests, motives, agendas and perversions. Good and bad, just like the old world- only faster and with no distance.

This is the story of one of those tribes, a Peaceful Tribe. A tribe I proudly call “Home”. A tribe within our sport.

Dan Empfield is kind of a weirdo. He is sort of balding, pretty tall, and usually has a goofy smile on his face. His speech patterns are oddly animated. He speaks with purpose riddled with levity and sarcasm. He is an odd mix of General Tommy Franks, Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Bean with a hint of Ernst Stavro Blofeld (look him up).

Empfield, as far as I am concerned, invented the triathlon bike, the triathlon wetsuit and came up with a substantial amount of other ideas, concepts and inventions. Most of them pretty good, a couple downright brilliant and a few utterly harebrain.

One thing that has typified Empfield’s work has been an uncanny sense of foresight: The ability to look into a future yet created and weave his way through the possibilities to identify the opportunities, the trends on the horizon for a sunrise yet to happen.

Another thing that typifies him is that he is a rogue, a broken arrow, a man who bows to few.

Holed up in his reclusive desert stronghold on the fringe of a secret weapons test facility near Edwards Air Force Base, within easy sight of the San Andreas fault Empfield rules his world from a large room that looks conspicuously like the fantastic lair of a supervillain in a James Bond movie. The room is replete with many, many flat panel displays and computers of all sizes and shapes and capabilities. Small LED’s blink and microprocessors hum quietly all hours of the clock. Just like the war room at NORAD in Cheyenne Mountain there is no night and day here at Empfield’s compound. The roof is festooned with antennae, gathering and disseminating intelligence around the globe, 24/7/365. This place has a name of course, like all genius lairs do: Xantusia- desert stronghold and nerve center of The Peaceful Tribe.

The trip to Xantusia atop its Mojave Desert mesa is rather like an arid version of Bram Stoker’s sojourn to Dracula’s Castle. You wind and weave precariously up and up poorly marked and perilous desert roads in deep canyons. Slowman speaks tales of dead motorcyclists littering the wadis and washes next to these roads: People who have tangled with the roads around Xantusia and lost. And you can see the San Andres fault right from the precipitous balcony of Empfield’s lair. It is as if he purposely positioned his stronghold at the perforation of the old land and the new. When the big one comes, Empfield and his henchmen have a front row seat.

And Empfield has an alias, as all figures of his stature do: Slowman.

Xantusia and Slowman deserve an article all their own. Between the strange menagerie of animals, odd arsenal of bicycles and other triathlon gear and mysterious and casual comings and goings of all sorts of characters with no explanation this place is thick with anecdotes, real and imagined. In visiting Xantusia only once for a few short days I saw and heard many things that defied explanation.

But this story is not about Slowman or Xantusia. It is about The Peaceful Tribe whose metaphorical wheel spins around the virtual hub of Xantusia..

Many years ago one of the visions that came to Empfield, then President of Quintana Roo, was the role The Matrix would play in our sport and our industry.

I clearly remember a conversation I had with him years ago, before I had ever even logged onto a website on a personal computer. Empfield told me: “You will have a website for your store, and you will do business over it. That is the direction the industry will go. Your survival depends on it.”

I dismissed his comments as folly then. This is how wrong I was:

Percentage of Bikesport gross sales done on the Internet or via telephone in November of 2001: 0%

Percentage of Bikesport gross sales done on the Internet or via telephone in November of 2004: 67%

Along with Empfield’s prophetic vision of change in our industry was his fortitude to build a new culture in our sport through his website

Slowtwitch is an interesting mix of commentary, journalism, opinion and interaction that form a containment vessel around the white-hot nuclear core that is it’s forum, the place where all the action is.

The forum on is the new paradigm for publishing. Reader’s make their own publication. They post their own articles, editorials and insights. They are the photo editors, uploading photos they feel are relevant for the other reader-editors to see. And this is all done in the new “no lead time” digital Internet publishing environment.

A smart magazine publisher would be sitting in his office, drenched in a cold sweat, asking himself the question, “How can I publish a magazine that competes with one my readers publish on their own faster, for free, in real time with content they pick and control? And, there is a new issue every 30 seconds or so…”

The Peaceful Tribe lives and meets in this forum on Slowtwitch.
The tribe includes characters like Mr. Tibbs, vitus979, smartasscoach, ironclm, monk, big kahuna, ironguide, smtyrrell99, khai, taku, Androgynotopia and jk_allen13 to name but a few.

And exactly like the ancient Roman forum under the arches of Titus and Septimius Severus between the Palatine hill and the Capitoline hill on what was once a boggy marsh before the Romans built on it, the intellectuals and non-intellectuals come to engage in a healthy and constructive discourse. The topics include everything connected to the sport of triathlon and many things only peripherally related.

People go on the forum to ask questions about how to get in a race, and what races are like. They ask questions about training techniques and philosophies. They offer opinions and experiences on everything from clipless pedals and aerobars to swim goggles and nutritional supplements. People bring their injuries to the forum, physical and psychological, to be healed. Members of The Peaceful Tribe voice concern over the direction of the sport. They help each other with problems and hold each other accountable. They cheer each other on and, in an odd way because of geographical disparity, they are close in trust.

On the Slowtwitch forum The Peaceful Tribe treats each other with respect, dignity and care. There are disagreements, without them the forum would be of little value, but the disagreements are frequently the source of the best exchange of ideas. And in this lies the great value of The Peaceful Tribe of Slowtwitch.

Before you dismiss the significance, the reach and scope of The Peaceful Tribe I can tell you that I have been recognized on four continents by members of The Peaceful Tribe. It is an international cartel.

In a jungle in Thailand a man asked me if I were “That guy from Slowtwitch”. On a boat in Hong Kong harbor a man with a heavy Asian accent struggled with English to ask me if I was “Tom Demareee of Srowtwitch…” A man in an expo tent at a triathlon in France saw my “Bikesport Triathlon” shirt and asked the same question in a German accent. And on an Island in the Southern Caribbean a group of people said they “knew all about me” from The Peaceful Tribe.

And in terms of industry influence, the Peaceful Tribe is under the watchful eye of most of the triathlon industry. For the most part, industry insiders just “lurk” there, the Internet vernacular for someone who only conducts surveillance of forum posts and threads, but does not contribute to them. They are the Internet’s voyeurs and spies.

And the member’s of The Peaceful Tribe wield significant influence within the industry. When the Peaceful Tribe talks on the Slowtwitch forum, the industry listens.

This is one reason The Peaceful Tribe is so important to the industry: The demographics of our sport, available on the USAT website for U.S. licensed triathletes, line up quite nicely with the demographics of people who most frequently use the Internet, hence the popularity of The Tribe. But also, this Tribe, just like the Romans who started the forum concept, wield the lion’s share of discretionary income. Literally tens of millions of dollars- maybe hundreds- worth of buying decisions are made based on the discussions within The Peaceful Tribe.

A few smart industry types have had the foresight to get involved and join the peaceful tribe. Two of the best examples are “gerard”, AKA Gerard Vroomen, President of Cervelo Cycles and “herbert”, the enigmatic brand manager for American Bicycle Group (Litespeed, Quintana Roo, Merlin, Tomac and Real Designs). These two, along with a number of other industry people, have helped answer questions about product, share insights into its development and done a good job representing their respective commercial interests.

These guys, gerard and herbert, “get it”. They understand the value of The Tribe. Realistically, every company that does a substantial amount of business in the triathlon industry should have a full-time person who’s task it is to monitor the various forums and websites, gathering signal intelligence and keeping their ear to the virtual train track to see the emerging trends and smoldering flames on the triathlon consumerscape. They would then file daily “PDB’s” (President’s Daily Briefing) to upper management and product and brand managers who would use this intel to craft battle plans.

A lot of business is done in The Peaceful Tribe, at least for me, and business is good. Participation in The Tribe is the most effective form of “guerilla marketing” I know of. It is a way to gauge reaction to new product ideas, see what people are interested (and not interested) in and promote sales specifically for our store, and for the brands we sell around the world. While this may have the underpinnings of subterfuge, as long as members of The Peaceful Tribe are honest and forthright about their motives and continue to contribute at all levels to the discourse the other tribe members seem to at least tolerate it.

And then there is the personal, or community side to The Peaceful Tribe. If you think that a seemingly anonymous Internet forum is devoid of community, compassion and empathy you are absolutely wrong. This Peaceful Tribe has given bicycles to orphans, counseled each other on everything from careers to divorce to depression and held each other accountable for behavior unbecoming a member of The Tribe. They have helped each other through cancer, loss of loved ones, addiction, injury and the most lethal affliction of all: Loneliness. All across thousands of miles, at the speed of light, around the clock with no acknowledgement of night or day, rich or poor, nationality, race, color or creed. Because in the peaceful tribe we are more the same than we are different- despite geographical distance, time zone, language and creed.

The Peaceful tribe is a virtual overlay on a planet rife with conflict. And like the birds who glided with impunity over the Berlin Wall, the members of The Peaceful Tribe have left all that old-world bickering behind. They put it in a special place, “Mr. Tibbs Lavender Room”, a place on the forum were political, religious, philosophical and other incendiary topics are addressed.

This is the new civilization. The real “Matrix”. The Peaceful Tribe.

Visit The Peaceful Tribe here:
But be sure to register a username and say “Hello”.


© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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