Around 15 years ago, RailRiders ran into a problem. At the Outdoor Retailer show, North Face had just released a product line that was a virtual carbon copy of the innovated synthetic outdoor products that RailRiders had been selling for around a decade. Offering lower prices and superior brand recognition, many wholesalers who stocked RailRiders dumped it for North Face, and $1.5 Million in sales evaporated over night. John d’Arbeloff, our owner, was reeling from the blow and decided to find a new way to run the business, eschewing the classic wholesale route for internet and catalog-based direct business. The direct model allowed for higher margins, less travel, and less risk. It could be successfully run by far less people, and John was determined to be innovative.
His idea was to create a “maga-log,” a catalog with magazine-type features folded in. The goal was for it to be something other than a shopping experience; a whole culture based around RailRiders clothing, the “toughest clothes on the planet.” It wasn’t hard, because acclaimed adventurers came to RailRiders seeking to prove the tagline true, and often doing it. The early-2000s was the pinnacle of the adventure racing days – team races across wide expanses of land that often included some combination of running and paddling – and RailRiders was one of the most popular brands in the business.
Around that time, Bill Katovsky was trying to get his new catalog/magazine, Adventure Racing Catalog (or “ARC”) off the ground. He had a long history in magazine publishing, starting the popular Tri-Athlete (which eventually became Triathlon Magazine) in the 80s, along with the San Francisco periodical Frisco. Due to our presence across the board at these races, RailRiders was naturally included into ARC as the feature product. But by the time of the North Face Incident, ARC was already struggling with a lack of funding.
This set the stage for the partnership between Bill, John, and RailRiders that would last until Bill’s passing last weekend. The first RailRiders catalogs tried very hard to fulfill the goal of creating a clothing community, rather than just selling a product. Our first catalog had an in-depth interview with Ian Adamson, a world-champion adventure racer who also got married in his Eco-Mesh Shirt, written by Bill. We followed that mold for years; filling pages of our catalog with cleverly written interviews by Bill, until eventually we moved to a smaller format and forced Bill to be more precise. Most of the copy was written by him, every interview and caption, too.
“I don’t think our catalog would have been half the success it was without Bill. He injected our personality and culture onto every page,” said John. “He was a visionary pain in the ass and a great writer.”
I got to know Bill well over the years I have worked at RailRiders. He would call up, sometimes at random, sometimes to work on the catalog, but either way he’d talk your ear off. He’d have new ideas for product and content, some great and some terrible. He’d tell stories of his old days in writing or racing. He tried to convince me to write a book. His enthusiasm for writing and the outdoors was infectious, and even as his health began to wane, he still got excited about the small things; he was still thinking of us and thinking of how to move our company forward.
In losing Bill, we have lost a member of the RailRiders family that has been around for a long time. His writing will live on in our pages and on our website. That is what all writers leave behind – their words. It is thankful that we have them to remember the author by, and Bill is certainly worth remembering.