Welcome to our series of our favourite stories from 2023. Since our launch in mid-March, we’ve written well over 1,000 stories (that’s not including our podcasts, which you should definitely check out). We’ve done plenty of race reports, yes, but also some of the most in-depth tech coverage in cycling. Want to laugh? We can help with that. Deeply personal essays, investigative deep-dives, intimate profiles of people in the sport? We got you, fam. End-of-year “best of” lists are nothing new, but we wanted to shake up the format a little, so we assigned each of Escape Collective’s staff and core contributors to pick their favorite stories from another writer, as a celebration of each other. They’ll run all holiday week through New Year’s Eve, so check back for more, but today we’re kicking things off with the one, the only, Iain Treloar. Happy holidays and enjoy!
When I put my hand up to write about Iain Treloar for our ‘Favourite Stories of the Year’ series, I thought I was very clever. Given I edit a lot of his work, I’m very familiar with his back catalogue. I figured it would be quick and easy to pinpoint his best stories of the year.
How very naive of me. It turns out Iain’s written a lot of really great stuff in 2023 and narrowing it down to just a handful of stories was actually really difficult.
We all know that Iain’s an excellent writer, but the thing that always stands out to me is his range. He can write everything from deeply silly stories about cakes of the pro peloton, right the way across the spectrum to serious investigative work. In between those two extremes you’ll find cleverly irreverent takes on the news, hilarious stories about random bike tools, heartfelt personal essays that just make you feel good, and weird but fascinating stories you just won’t read anywhere else.
When required, Iain treats his story subjects with the sensitivity and care they require; and if someone deserves to be poked fun at, well, Iain’s got that covered too. In short, he can do it all and I continue to be in awe of his vision, creativity, and craftsmanship.
So, with an apology to Iain for surely missing some gold, here are the stories of his that most resonated with me this year. If you want to read more of Iain’s work, you can do so at his author page.
A quintessential piece from Iain’s signature beat: Dictator watch
Talk about coming in hot. Iain’s very first article with Escape was a banger (about a banger), and picked up a thread he’d been pulling for quite a while at The Old Place.
A dictator of a Central Asian nation writing a new song isn’t exactly cycling-related, but when we’re talking about Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov it is at least cycling-adjacent and as we know, that’s all Iain needs to weave his magic.
This story is a hilarious ride from start to finish, and a hell of a way to plant your flag at a new media organisation.
Read “Cycling’s most-loved dictator has written a new song” here.
An investigative deep dive into the question you didn’t know needed answering
Iain went to the Tour de France this year and wrote a lot of good stuff about the bike race. For me though, it’s when Iain goes off-piste, turning away from the bike race, that things start to get really good.
Like when he asked Alexander Kristoff, the Stavanger Stallion, whether a squirrel fell on his head at a race that happened more than a decade earlier. In Iain’s own words: “Was it relevant to the Tour de France? It was not. Was it relevant to the year in which we find ourselves? Again, no. But did it make me laugh out loud? Very much so. Rational time-use be damned.”
Fair play to Kristoff for playing along and kudos to Iain for an incredibly silly but enjoyable article.
Read “Did a squirrel fall on Alexander Kristoff’s head at the 2013 Tour of Oman?” here.
Past counterfeit products, there’s a whole world of scam sites
If you’ve only ever read Iain’s sillier flights of fancy, you might not know that he’s actually an amazing investigative journalist. His exposé on fake pro cyclist Nick Clark at The Other Place was one of the finest stories I’ve ever read in cycling journalism.
Sure, Iain sometimes puts his investigative chops to use on lighter, funnier stories, but when he sinks his teeth into something meaty, the results are always good.
Case in point: his investigation into cycling scam websites – sites made to look like they’re selling legit products but really aren’t. This is a story that took Iain a long time to pull together, but the result is great. He even built a scam website himself as part of the investigation …
Read “Cycling’s biggest scam network is an impossible enemy” here.
A night ride becomes a tether: to stability, and then connection
At The Old Place we had an entire page dedicated to Iain’s introspective and vulnerable personal essays. Any time Iain wrote a new ‘Feelings’ piece, you knew before you even started reading that you were in for something special; that you were going to be left feeling something by the end.
He hasn’t written too many ‘Feelings’ pieces at Escape yet, but the ones he has had are great. Like this one just recently. On the surface it’s a story about the pleasure of riding your bike at night. More than that it’s a story about keeping balance in your life, and it’s a story about companionship. Lovely. More Feelings please, Iain!
Read “Night Flight” here.
Can an AI become your riding buddy?
One of the things I appreciate most about Escape is that we authors have the freedom to write whatever we want. Best of all, you – our wonderful readers – seem to appreciate it when we write about the things we feel most passionate or excited about … even if they’re a bit weird.
Iain will be the first to admit he often gravitates towards the weird and wonderful, striking out in directions others can’t or would be scared to. He’s written so many pieces in that vein this year, but this one stood out to me.
With the rise of AI language models in the last little while, it’s only natural for us in the cycling world to ask: what does it all mean for cycling? That might have been the starting point for Iain’s article, but that’s not where it ended up. The story Iain told – based on a bunch of conversations with Bing’s AI chatbot – is fascinating, terrifying, heartwarming, and hilarious, all in one.
Read “I tried to convince an AI to get into cycling. I found a friend” here.
Welcome to the Iain Treloar Cinematic Universe
This article on its own is brilliant enough. Iain found a listing on AliExpress for a ‘beer bike’ and turned that into an imagined screenplay set in a marketing meeting in a garden accessories wholesaler. The characters are great, the dialogue is top-notch, and the ability to conjure something so clever out of almost nothing? Let’s just say I’m jealous.
But this is more than an article. This story is the first chapter in what I’ve taken the liberty of calling the Iain Treloar Cinematic Universe (ITCU). You see, the characters that appear in that initial screenplay have popped up in subsequent articles that Iain’s written. You probably didn’t even notice, unless you were really paying attention.
Chad turned up in a Halloween story. Paul and Tim appeared in a Thanksgiving article. Paul even returned when Iain skewered a real-life PR mob. And then there are the ITCU characters that we’ve only met in story comments so far: Deb from accounts, and Conrad from the legal team.
In Iain’s own words, “I think it’s fair to say that this [the ITCU] will keep on getting built out”, which is a sentence that makes me happier than I’d care to admit.
Read “What if we buy a beer bike?” here.
What did you think of this story?