Tom Owen: One Step at a Time
Tom Owen is a cycling journalist who has travelled the globe covering a multitude of events, held the prestigious title of being the 23rd fastest journalist in the world and recently made an ingenious panini Tour de France sticker thread on Twitter.
Creating content for cycling brands/companies for the past decade, he has written pieces for the likes of Cycling Tips, Brooks England, Red Hook Crit, Canyon and Eurosport, and in 2017 started up his own company, Fausto Agency, a copywriting and content marketing agency that specializes in cycling related material.
Our Content Assistant, James, caught up with him (virtually) to learn a bit more about the man behind the words and an incredible initiative he's recently started.
Photo Credit: Matt Grayson
James Finch: Thanks for sitting down and giving us your time. Let's begin with the all important questions, what was your first bike/best bike/favourite bike?
Tom Owen: My first bike was a Raleigh Demon. It was purple and I can’t remember much more about it than that.
The best bike I’ve ever ridden was a 2020 Canyon Endurace that they leant me and my two pals for a bikepacking trip around North Macedonia. It’s supposed to be an endurance road machine, but it delivered so much more than that. We threw it down some lairy gravel descents, lay it down in the mud at night when we camped and I was even hit by a car while riding it – and it handled it all with aplomb. Zero punctures on three bikes for eight days. Tubeless FTW.
My favourite bike is a yellow steel-framed Decathlon called ’The Wasp’ that I bought in 2014. I still have it, I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of it. It’s called the Wasp because it’s yellow and quite cantankerous – not because it’s fast. I have used it for touring, hill climb races, and Deliveroo shifts. I even rode it over some of the biggest passes in the Alps; the Galibier, the Glandon. It is the possession I treasure most in the world and one day I’d like to get it stripped down and rebuilt with proper swish Campag and maybe give it a new coat of paint.
JF: How did you get into cycling, what made you want to make a career out of it and tell us about some career highlights?
TO: It was all very prosaic, really. Commuting in London. I moved there for an internship in 2014 and was also working 40 hours a week in a bar. I think I borrowed the £200 to buy The Wasp off my dad so I could stop spending £30 a week on tube travel to my jobs, which freed up some much-needed cash for luxuries like eating more than one meal a day. In reality, the Wasp broke down so much that it took more than a year to ‘recoup’ my dad's investment – and I almost certainly never actually paid him back. I knew nothing about bikes whatsoever, so I thought for a long time it was normal to get one or two punctures a week. When I put new tyres on, instead of the worn out, threadbare ones it had come with, that was a bit of a revelation.
But what it really did for me, aside from that small financial benefit, was unlock the sport of cycling. I did hundreds of laps of Regents Park, nearly as many reps of Swains Lane. I became irrevocably addicted to riding bikes. Did my first cycle tour abroad. Went on a few trips. Went to the Grand Depart in Yorkshire. All those things led naturally into writing about cycling and I started selling myself as a freelance cycling writer. When I had more work than I could do myself, I started a company called Fausto. And that’s still what I am doing now.
JF: What's been your favourite race/event to report on?
TO: I worked for the Amgen Tour of California for what turned out to be its final edition. I basically live tweeted the race every day from a little camper van at the finish, then we would drive to the next finish town after the stage was done and dusted. It was a joyous experience, a beautiful and well-run event and I miss it a lot. When they cancelled it for 2020 (well before anyone knew what a coronavirus was, I should add) I was gutted. The gigantic corporation that owns the Tour of California decided they’d had enough of this weird bike racing event that lost money hand over fist, and wanted to focus on some of their more profitable ventures, like owning the LA Lakers. And the O2 Arena in London.
I do some work for Eurosport on their live blog during the Grand Tours, and La Vuelta is always my favourite race to cover for them. It’s just wonderfully mad.
With Covid taking over and completely turning the race calendar on its head last year, what have you got planned for this year?
If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans, right? I’m 90% sure I’ll go to Sierra Leone in April to watch the Tour de Lunsar, but who knows. Sport is back ‘on’ there already, so in principle it should be fine to go ahead with the race. The question is whether they want people from Plague Island turning up at Freetown International… I wouldn’t blame them if they didn’t.
Otherwise, I have some bikepacking trips I want to do in Europe. We’ll see.
JF: You must have travelled a lot on your bike, what was your most memorable trip?
TO: I adore Spain and in 2018 I rode from Madrid to Pamplona with Matt Grayson, a super-talented photographer from Sheffield, and my mate Ben, a pub landlord from Bath. We wrote it up for Cycling Tips and a few other places. That was the best thing I’ve ever done. I made up a route that connected all the Spanish places that Ernest Hemingway loved, or lived in or visited a lot. We began in Madrid before heading into the Sierra Guadarrama, the mountain range where For Whom The Bell Tolls is set, before heading on to the vast pine forests near Soria and into La Rioja, home of wine and bullfights. There’s a story, which I think is probably apocryphal, about Hemingway getting drunk, lost and then trapped inside the cellar of a bodega in Haro – so we went past there. Even if it’s not true, it’s a great story and it’s part of the Hemingway mythos now. We finished in the Basque country, sleeping in a field next to one of his favourite trout fishing rivers for our final night, before descending into Pamplona where there is a bust of the man himself.
JF: We've seen your name involved with Lunsar Cycling Team a few times, tell us who they are and how you got involved?
TO: I was invited by an NGO called Street Child to take part in their ‘West Africa Cycle Challenge’, a fundraising event to support education programmes in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The trip saw us ride some knackered old hybrid ’shopping bikes’ from Bo in Sierra Leone to Robertsport in Liberia. It was an astonishing trip and the local mechanic Street Child hired to support the event was a guy called Abdul Karim Kamara. Or ’Stylish’ as everyone in Sierra Leone seems to know him.
Stylish told me he had his own cycling team in his home town of Lunsar. He asked if I would be up for helping them out and I said ‘yes', obviously. To begin with that involved using my club in London to raise funds. We put on a series of 'guerrilla hill climbs’ around London, I baked a ton of cakes and sold them wherever I could. We got a club kit made for them by Milltag – making Lunsar the first team to have a jersey in the whole of Sierra Leone.
As a club, we also pooled our cash collectively and raised enough to build two schools in Sierra Leone (through Street Child). I’m not really involved with BBBC these days, but what we achieved over a couple of years I am still really proud of.
The collaboration grew and grew, and so did Stylish’s ambition for his team. Over the last four or five years we’ve coordinated donations of cash and kit to help grow the sport in Sierra Leone, and – latterly – raised about £4,000 to purchase eight top-spec competition road bikes for the team to use. That’s really next-level and should allow Sierra Leonean riders the platform to compete not just domestically but when they go abroad. If you represent the Sierra Leone national cycling team you have to provide your own bike – so having a good one is vitally important.
Stylish dreams bigger and bigger every year. This year at the Tour de Lunsar he wants to make it a three-day event – up from a one-dayer in 2019 – and he wants to give away a motorbike as first prize. So guess who is currently on the hunt for $900 to buy a motorbike!
JF: We've recently seen that Fausto is doing what they can to help diversify the cycling industry by offering paid internships, can you tell us more about that?
TO: Everyone who works for Fausto is white and we want to change that. We are a very small company and we operate in a very-white industry, but to use either of those things as an excuse would be cowardly, I think. What last year’s BLM protest movement showed us was it’s not enough to simply not be racist, you have to be actively anti-racist. So we are offering three internships a year for writers of colour with an interest in cycling. They are paid at the national living wage, they are remote so you can be anywhere, and the idea is that the people who are interns for us will go on into jobs with cycling brands and media, so that in a couple of years we can say we helped make cycling a little bit less white.
At the moment we are having mixed success. We have had some great applications from really talented writers with great experience, but as yet the big thing missing is that spark of interest in bikes. We’re not asking people to be obsessive about gear ratios – in fact we’d actively discourage that! – but we believe that there must be writers of colour at the start of their career who are interested in sports and outdoor marketing, who ride a bike for fun, or with friends, or to get to the shops. It’s those people we desperately want to reach with these internships.
We’re also offering free pitching advice to anyone who wants it, as well as work experience for those who aren’t yet at the right level for internships (mainly folk at college, or people with a course requirement for work experience).
You can read more about the internship and apply here: http://fausto.agency/diversity