No­table Rider

For the Newyork­times Cana­dian cor­re­spon­dent, the bike can be a re­prieve from the job, or part of work it­self

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - by David Mcpher­son

New York Times Cana­dian cor­re­spon­dent Ian Austen

When Ian Austen climbs into the sad­dle and stares out at an open road, he is happy to leave be­hind – at least for a while – all thoughts of, say, the U.S. pres­i­dent and his ef­fects on Canada or any other story the jour­nal­ist is chas­ing. As the Ot­tawa-based cor­re­spon­dent for the Newyork­times, Austen writes in-depth fea­tures that probe – with an ob­jec­tive lens – a wide va­ri­ety of sub­jects from U.S. pol­i­tics to the Tour de France, which he has cov­ered 10 times since 1992. “My job is great,” he ex­plained. “I’m paid to wit­ness things. Some­times it’s te­dious, such as read­ing through doc­u­ments or cov­er­ing the courts. Some­times what I get to see is ex­cit­ing and fun like the Tour de France. In each case, I’m the reader’s wit­ness. My job is to bring that alive, con­dense it and present ev­ery­thing about it in as hon­est a way as I can.”

Austen, a na­tive of Wind­sor, Ont ., honed his sto­ry­telling craft while at­tend­ing Ry­er­son Univer­sity in Toronto. Since grad­u­at­ing, he has re­ported for a va­ri­ety of publi­ca­tions – both full-time and on a free­lance ba­sis – in­clud­ing Maclean’s, Cana­dian busi­ness mag­a­zine, and the now de­funct Fi­nan­cial times of canada and South am News Ser­vice. For the past decade, he’s of­fered Cana­dian per­spec­tives for the Newyork­times.

Austen’s first bike was a Cana­dian Tire clas­sic: a red, Su­per­cy­cle (made by Raleigh) with white mud­guards. “I al­ways wished I had a bike with drop bars and no fen­ders,” he re­called. Later, dur­ing the mid-1970s cy­cling boom, an ado­les­cent Austen re­ceived what he de­scribed as “a bet­ter bike” from his par­ents. While the ma­chine looked more like some­thing Ed­die Mer­ckx would ride, Austen re­mem­bered the bike had a “vile Campy Valentino” rear de­railleur.

Later, when liv­ing and work­ing in Toronto, Austen rode in some of his first com­pet­i­tive races. The jour­nal­ist also be­came a mem­ber of the Toronto Ran­don­neurs. In 1987, he com­peted in the fa­mous Paris-brest-paris ran­donée. “Just to do it once was a fan­tas­tic ex­pe­ri­ence,” Austen said. “The year I rode in it, it rained for 30 con­sec­u­tives hours. I re­mem­ber pass­ing lanterns made out of soup cans in all these lit­tle vil­lages. Peo­ple were shel­tered out of the rain un­der a lo­cal church ap­plaud­ing you, while ahead of you, all you could see was a sea of tail lights.” Dur­ing his time liv­ing and work­ing in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Austen com­peted in time trial events reg­u­larly and road races. His com­pet­i­tive cy­cling high-point came in 1988 when he won solo in the Hell of the North race in On­tario. “It was an­ti­cli­mac­tic as I fell in the wa­ter once, which made me panic, but still I got to the fin­ish line and no­body else showed up for an­other 20 min­utes,” Austen said.

Since 1989, Austen has called Ot­tawa home, which he says is a cy­clist’s par­adise. “I can leave my house, get on a bike path, and eas­ily do hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres and never go on a road,” he said. “The great thing about cy­cling in and around Ot­tawa is the va­ri­ety of the ter­rain. If you head south, it’s flat. Go west and there are rolling hills. Then, if you head north, you have all the se­ri­ous hills in Gatineau.”

These days, Austen cy­cles solo in the early morn­ings due to his work sched­ule. He’s a mem­ber of the Ot­tawa Bi­cy­cle Club. When he gets the op­por­tu­nity, Austen loves the dy­nam­ics, the ca­ma­raderie and the va­ri­ety of peo­ple he meets on group rides. “The cy­cling com­mu­nity is what I al­ways found the most ap­peal­ing,” he said. “I’ve met and be­come friends with an enor­mous ar­ray of peo­ple: from welders to se­nior ex­ec­u­tives. Cy­cling at­tracts peo­ple from a wide range of back­grounds and oc­cu­pa­tions. You need to have a co-op­er­a­tive na­ture to cy­cle with other peo­ple. There is some­thing pleas­ing about that.”

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