Je suis Charlie


Like everybody, we’ve been shocked by the terrorist attacks on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. They are abhorrent, and I am glad that the French have stood united against this attempt to stifle free speech. (“Je suis Charlie” means “I am Charlie”.)

I also admire – unfortunately posthumously – the artists and editors at Charlie Hebdo. It takes courage to publish things that may offend. Few editors in North America dare this any longer. Here, most are concerned about the bottom line, whereas the people at Charlie Hebdo paid with their lives.

We don’t face that kind of threat at Bicycle Quarterly, but we have to admit to misgivings when we published some articles that we knew would offend some. The most recent example was “Tullio Campagnolo – The Visionary behind the Legend” which debunked many of the myths surrounding this legendary man, questioning whether Tullio Campagnolo really invented the quick release.

We knew that we’d lose some readers over this, and infuriate others. We published the article anyhow, and I am glad we did. It’s our job to provide information, to challenge the status quo (even if it’s only in the arena of bicycle history and technology), and then let our readers form their own opinions. As a result of this approach, we are no strangers to controversy. (Long-term readers will remember the Internet flame wars when we first realized that higher tire pressures don’t make tires faster.)

The attacks on Charlie Hebdo have affected all of us. We hope the newspaper will continue to publish (whatever we may think of it), and we vow not to censor ourselves for fear of offending.

Photo: Cycles Alex Singer, showing their shop window.


About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
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38 Responses to Je suis Charlie

  1. David Feldman says:

    Thank youk Jan, and bravo, Olivier Csuka!

  2. Tom Miller says:

    Moi aussi…Je suis Charlie

  3. My heart goes out to the French people and to France, Je Suis Charlie

  4. marmotte27 says:

    Nous sommes Charlie.

    Concerning press freedom, that is maybe the most horrible aspect of these attacks: that they hit where it hurts most, one of the last newspapers and its journalists who still take the freedom of the press seriously, when most other media have long caved in to one track thinking and the “TINA”-worldview.

    And that’s why I like Bicycle Quarterly so much, because you look for the truth “off the beaten path” and then publish it. It takes courage and you’ve got it. Thanks you!

  5. bradci says:

    This attack is absolutely horrible and I am so sad that this happened. We live in a seriously imperfect and unfair world. But I wouldn’t be so quick to jump on the Je Suis Charlie hashtag train. The publication is infamous for its racist, sexist, anti-islamic content. One can denounce cold-blooded massacres while also unsubscribing from the horrible, racist and lowest common denominator titillation of Charlie Hebdo cartoons, and that is what I choose to do.
    But bonne courage to you for bringing this subject to your blog. Its a difficult conversation but is one that needs to be had.

    • Coming from a country with a difficult past (Germany), I firmly believe that free speech includes first and foremost the offensive. I may not agree with what is said, but every voice has a right to exist.

      And when one in our midst gets attacked, it’s important to show solidarity. Otherwise, you get the scenario described by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

      “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”

      • bradci says:

        Every country has a difficult past. And I used the exact same quote to illustrate the hsyteria around Islam and the way this has been covered in the media. I agree with your point – every voice has a right to exist. And my point is that there is a danger that some of the things those voices say become exactly what your quote is talking about.

      • You are right: It’s a delicate balancing act. Germany used to outlaw Hitler’s Mein Kampf. That probably did more harm than good, but perhaps German leaders couldn’t stomach images going around the world of the book on German bookstore shelves.

        I also do feel that the press should provide some guidance – asking the right questions – rather than just report what is popular. Unfortunately, the coverage of politics in the U.S. has been reduced to reporting who is ahead, rather than helping readers figure out where the candidates differ, and what the outcomes would be if each was elected. But asking difficult questions never will make you popular…

    • Giovanni Calcagno says:

      I live in Italy and as an European I feel particularly threatened about this attack. I never red Charlie Hebdo (and I wander how many people ever red a single issue outside France). Living myself in a country with a difficult past I think that censorship is simply wrong. We have the luck to live in countries where you can think and say what you want, no matter if you are offending someone whose ideas or religion is different. In Europe this came after centuries of bloody wars for borders, religion, economy etc. I am proud of being Italian but also of my European heritage. If you hit France I care as much as you hit Italy. JE SUIS CHARLIE !!!!

  6. bikesnob28hb says:

    Honestly, I find that a little bit overdone. It is hard to imagine that someday we will see a group of fanatical Campagnolo supporters storming into the appartment of Jan Heine, threatening to kill him and worse, to destroy all his bikes, because he had casted doubts that Tullio Campagnolo had really invented the first quick release. And I think it is just to assume that the risk of getting killed because of discussing tire pressures in relation to rolling resistance is far smaller than because of drawing cartoons about the prophet Mohammed.

    So, please Jan, please continue to write about technical issues from your unique ranndonneur point of view and not about moral ones.

    • The point here is not that I fear for my life, but that too many in the press self-censor because they are concerned about the consequences. Usually, these consequences are purely economic, but they still stifle the press. When did you last read a negative review in a mainstream bike magazine?

    • Cynthia says:

      Alex Singer bikes have long been a part of Vintage Bicycle Quarterly and Bicycle Quarterly. I’m glad the image of their shop window was posted on Jan’s blog, otherwise I’d never have seen it, or known how strongly the French people are willing to stand up against global terrorist acts. I applaud Cycles Alex Singer for not being afraid to be so open minded. We can no longer live in a moral vacuum when cowardly terrorists strike in every part of the world.

      Thank you Jan. And I extend my condolences to the families and friends of those directly affected by this vicious attack.

  7. Steve Palincsar says:

    As far as I can recollect, the Campagnolo article provoked no outrage, even among the most rabid Campagnolo fans on the forums. On the other hand, review just one Pegoretti…

  8. Giles Pargiter says:

    So pleased that you take the attitude you do concerning your publication. So much that we read these days is just populist mythology or superstition designed to serve some vested interest or other (usually money), and containing few or no empirical facts.
    I may not quite agree with some of your preferences sometimes and occasionally it may occur to me that you might have left out a fact or two. Your experiments seem to be well designed and fairly reported and you state limitations (usually resources) that you have to work with.

    Matter of fact you will find that fairly deeply buried on the “Schwalbe” website an analysis of the “ideal” tyre. These were carried out with more resources than you have available and entirely corroborate as well as extend your findings. The Scwalbe experiments are complete with the mathematics concerning the “roundness” of a wheel, inertia and wind resistance as well as a written explanation of the significance of these.

    It is because of the standard and way that you report, without losing site of the fact that many of us cycle for the pleasure of itself in doing so, that I subscribe to your magazine. Long may you continue.

    I rarely comment because at the moment I have my hands more than full in analysing and appraising empirical facts on a completely different subject, but felt I wanted to this time.

  9. Gary says:

    “For us, the attacks on Charlie Hebdo hit close to home.”

    I could understand this sentiment if you were Larry Flint. But you’re not. BQ an incendiary political rag? Debunking Campagnolo myths and facing the wrath of Freds everywhere? Speaking truth to power by telling us what PSI to run tires at? Get over yourself, Jan.

    • Good point. I changed it to say “have affected all of us.”

    • It’s easy to condemn the attacks. It’s harder to think about the pertinent lessons. Would we have acted like the people at Charlie Hebdo, and published based on our convictions, no matter the risks? Or do we shy away from doing what we think is right, for fear of negative consequences? To me, that is the important issue, and I must admit that I sometimes have doubts about following my convictions.

      It goes without saying that terrorism is utterly repugnant, especially when it’s directed at people whose opinions you don’t share, but haven’t done any harm to you.

  10. the coasting frenchman says:

    There are funny things sometimes. As a mere BQ subscriber, and reader of this blog, I can hardly say that I know you, but since yesterday I’ve found myself opening the blog page and thinking that you would post something about the attack. I felt certain you would do it at sometime. Maybe just because unlike some sport ‘integrists’, for all the love of bikes you share with your readers, you don’t seem to be cut off from the outside ‘real world’ (well, how could you, you ride your bikes in it!).
    So I just wanted to thank you for it.
    Please don’t stop writing any time in the near future. We’ve lost enough interesting things to read for now.

  11. Keith Andrews says:

    Kudos to Cycles Alex Singer for having the courage to stand by their convictions. While I realize much of France is standing up and parading (kudos to them as well) to have the intestinal fortitude to paste this on your store’s front window for “all” to see, let’s just say it makes me proud to be a cyclist.

  12. Chris Lowe says:

    If the intent of the terrorists was to silence Charlie Hebdo it seems they have failed miserably. Last week the magazine published a mere 60,000 copies. Next week they expect to print 1,000,000. Religious fanatics need to remember that guns run out of bullets much faster than pens run out of ink!

    • In the short run, yes. But in the long run? Would you take a job there to replace those killed? I am not sure I would (apart from my utter lack of qualifications).

      • Chris L says:

        I spent 10 years as a soldier so the risks wouldn’t be any worse than those I’ve taken in the past. Being a former soldier also gives me a better appreciation for the ability of the pen to trump that off the sword.

  13. Paul Glassen says:

    Just a small historical question regarding the famous quote, “First they came for…no one left to speak out…” In his 2010 biography of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxas attributes this quote to Pastor Martin Niemoller (page 192). According to Metaxas’ history, Bonhoeffer was a much earlier critic of the Hitler regime than Niemoller. The latter tried to accommodate the church to the politics of the time through the Pastor’s Emergency League.
    I count myself among those cyclist drawn to the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ stand today. Similarly, I think we must exercise our democracy by discussing world events even between riders.

  14. GAJett says:

    The French, and the world’s response, is in perfect keeping with one of their literary heros: “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” stated by Voltaire, letter to M. le Riche, February 6, 1770 ( The intolerance of others (right, left, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, FSM, etc.) to free expression does nothing to advance any sort of understanding between peoples. The descent from discourse (however uncililized) to simple murder is an abomination to all civilized people. Je sui Charlie!

  15. Will says:

    Apropos of what I regard to be the inanity of college campus’ (never mind a francophile bicycle periodical on these shores) adopting the “Je suis Charlie” cri de coeur on the heals of this tragedy…

    Furthermore, consider the rampant limits on freedom of speech under the banner of political correctness in academia – perhaps the most lasting (albeit unintentional) heir of the may ’68 “revolution” – the generation that launched many of Hebdo’s cartoonists’ careers and the hypocrisy becomes even more glaring. The so-called “convictions” of Charlie Hebdo amount to nothing more than an anarchist’s puerile delight at tearing at the seems of civilization. To my mind, not something to celebrate.

    • David Brooks makes some very good points, and his essay is worth reading. In our society, perhaps because it was built by immigrants from many different countries and cultures, we’ve established a rule of trying to get along, of not offending anyone, and not stating any strong opinions. “Opinionated” has become a negative word.

      However, from my experience in academia, censorship doesn’t occur because of “political correctness”, but out of fear that your funding will be cut. It’s easy to offend somebody who calls their senator, organizes a boycott, or otherwise tries to shut you down. Unfortunately, the university administrators are mostly concerned about money, and less about academic freedom (or even quality of research). It’s understandable, since their budgets have been cut to the bare-bones, but it’s an unfortunate shift in priorities.

      The same happens in the media, when advertisers pull their ads, either because their views have been offended, or those of their customers. Even Bicycle Quarterly has lost some advertisers that way. (We’ve also banned one who tried to influence editorial content with threats of pulling their ad.) Fortunately, Bicycle Quarterly is financed by subscribers, not advertisers (who make up less than 10% of our revenue), so we are more free to write things as we see them than most media…

      So David Brooks’ call to rethink our own tolerance for dissenting, perhaps even provocative, opinions is long overdue.

      • EB says:

        “we’ve established a rule of trying to get along, of not offending anyone, and not stating any strong opinions. “Opinionated” has become a negative word.”………”So David Brooks’ call to rethink our own tolerance for dissenting, perhaps even provocative, opinions is long overdue”

        Apparently this freedom of censorship and intolerance to dissent “rule” also applies to your blog given the number of customer and subscriber posts that were deleted. Hypocrisy at its finest. Quelle Irony.

      • This blog is moderated to keep the discussion on track, and to keep the blog useful and enjoyable to read. Overall, fewer than 0.5% of comments are not approved. (Some others may get stuck in the spam filter, which we don’t control.)

        We don’t delete comments because they voice dissenting opinions. Look through the posts on helmets, bike lanes or tires, and you’ll see lively discussions with dozens of comments that disagree with me or are critical of the products we sell.

        Comments are not approved if they are not germane to the topic of the post, disrespectful (usually to other commenters) or repetitive (we have a loosely enforced maximum of 3-comments per person per post). Interestingly, most of the not-approved posts are positive, but off-topic, for example, if somebody writes how much they like their Compass tires in a post about how to cross railroad tracks.

        For those who prefer an unmoderated forum, there are plenty to choose from. One reason this blog is so popular is that it is more focused, and we plan to keep it that way.

  16. Tom Knoblauch says:

    Power to the people

    • It’s a powerful story. I am a little uncomfortable with the assumptions on a person’s faith based on their name (and perhaps ethnicity). In the end, it doesn’t matter whether the police officer who was killed was a practicing muslim or not. To the attackers, he was one of “them”.

      Unfortunately, the attacks will be used as justification for xenophobia, which drives more minorities into the arms of radicals, and the vicious cycle will ratchet up one level further.

  17. David T. says:

    This attack wasn’t about comics, or free speech. The target was chosen because it is vulnerable, and would result in a great deal of publicity.

    Do you notice the similarities between this attack and the Boston Marathon bombings? That doesn’t mean we should start questioning whether we should hold public-participation sporting events.

    Every one of these attacks is perpetrated by young males who are angry and let’s face it, losers. This is their chance to be famous. In fact there is a lot of similarity in motivation and tactics between these home-grown terrorist attacks and the common North American mass murder ( i.e. going into a school, movie theatre etc. and shooting multiple civilians). When the attack is perpetrated by a Muslim we assume the “reason” has to do with a conflict between religions. When it’s perpetrated by a non-Muslim we automatically reach for an explanation in the mental health of the perpetrator. But I think we need to recognize the common factors in these public mass-murders. This is an ingrained phenomenon of our society: it involves discontented young men, easy access to firearms and instant notoriety and fame by the media.

  18. Lot’s of great commentary here. I don’t really have anything new to add but as a tangent this piece reminds me that I need to visit this shop this summer when I am in town for PBP.

  19. Mark says:

    I’ll acknowledge that I may have missed it because I do not consume every minute of the 24X7 news cycle, but with one exception, it seems that the elephant in the room is being ignored. Anti-Semitism is alive and well, and I’m not referring to neo-Nazism (although it, too, is alive and well).

    Here’s the one exception I mentioned:

    I rarely agree with much of what David Brooks speaks or writes, but I do understand his point, so at the risk of seeming disingenuous, I will refrain from saying “Je suis Charlie”.

    However, I will say this: Je suis Juif.

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