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