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
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
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
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:
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 www.slowtwitch.com.
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 Slowtwitch.com 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
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
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
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
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
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”.