By Simone Cseplo, Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Cycling Canada
It’s been over 40 years in the making: turning a passion into a career.
From reporting and photographing at Canadian national events to the biggest stage in the world: the Olympic Games. Rob Jones, the founder of Canadian Cyclist, has seen it all.
Usually on the road this time of year, Jones, like many of us, is working from home. An odd feeling for someone who has been on the go for over two decades, writing and documenting the world of cycling.
Like most, Jones was introduced to the sport for the sole reason of getting out on his bike for fun before getting his racing licence in 1974. After a brief stint in Europe to train and try his hand at racing, Jones returned to Canada to finish his university degree, where he would meet his wife and Canadian Cyclist partner, Tracy Harkness.
The two bonded over their love of riding and got more involved in the sport. They started one of the first women’s cycling teams in Canada, and later started their own Canadian publication, Canadian Cyclist. Their inspiration to write, document and photograph was simple: they wanted more people to learn and be engaged with the sport in Canada.
“We saw a lack of really good Canadian-focused cycling publications, in English,” Jones told Cycling Canada. “There were a couple other Canadian publications but, from our perspective, they were more focused on international cycling. There wasn’t much of a focus in terms of domestic Canadian cycling. So, we started Canadian Cyclist in late ’94.”
Since the publication’s inception, Jones has been to five Olympic Games, six Commonwealth and Pan Am Games and 79 World Championships.
The success and longevity of Canadian Cyclist isn’t just a one-man show. For Jones, he says it’s a team effort. While he is out in the trenches, getting interviews, taking pictures and writing stories for the magazine and other publications, it’s his wife Tracy who keeps the publication going at home.
“I say ‘we’ because even though I’m more of the face of us [Canadian Cyclist] it’s Tracy who runs things in the background. Tracy is the one [I’m] sending everything to and making sure it’s getting posted and getting sent to different clients. She’s the one who does it, so it is a ‘we’.”
2021 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Canadian Cyclist being online, and it’s no surprise that both Jones and Harkness have seen the sport evolve over time, from the development of mountain bike and BMX as disciplines, to the growing popularity of the sport and some of Canada’s top cyclists.
“I’ve watched riders go through their entire careers. From when they first show up as a promising junior, or as a lead rider who suddenly appears on the scene out of nowhere; and watch them learn their way around and then become stars. It’s pretty cool to watch the development of riders get to the point where they are among the best in the world.”
Seeing hundreds of athletes compete, grow and succeed in the sport, it’s hard for Jones to pick one memory that stands out. But the first one to come to mind for him was Lori-Ann Muenzer’s first and only gold medal in cycling at Athens 2004.
“I was there track-side. Taking photos and as she got on the podium; and then afterwards meeting up with her to interview. She came running over to give me a big hug. I had known her since she started out as an amateur mountain biker,” explains Jones.
Not only has Jones seen the development of athletes, but he’s seen the evolution of the sport and how it has affected cycling on a global scale, but also in Canada.
“The big impact was mountain bike. It brought a huge influx of new people into the sport,” says Jones. “In particular, women’s mountain biking became a world power. I talked to young athletes and they said, ‘I saw Alison Sydor or heard about her, and that’s what inspired me to get into the sport.’ From there, that helped make cycling a recognized sport in Canada and bring people into the sport, which probably had one of the largest impacts.”
The interest and involvement in the sport has been tremendous, with the evolution of newer disciplines at an elite level like BMX and mountain bike. Jones says the infrastructure within Canada has come a long way, especially since the Mattamy National Cycling Centre opened its doors in Milton, Ontario, in 2015.
“You almost can’t state how big it was to have a national centre for cycling. It’s paid tremendous dividends. It’s been long overdue.”
Being able to see how far the sport has come gives him hope for the sport’s future, but he knows work still needs to be done for Canada to continue building towards success. Ensuring there are programs at all levels, from U17, to Junior and Elite is essential to help athletes transition with ease into whatever path they choose in the sport.
For now, as we all wait for competitions to resume, Jones hopes we get back to some level of normalcy. But, despite everything going on, he’s happy to see that cycling hasn’t slowed down in the pandemic, both in racing and as more people in the country strap their helmets on and hit the road.