This tangled web

It may seem rather churlish to mock and complain about websites that are basically supplying content free of charge. But that isn’t going to stop me. Oh no. Churlish is my middle name. And just because something is free that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be any good. This blog is free, and it’s excellent.

But the problem with the internet, as opposed to Old Skool publishing, is that it has become a numbers game. More hits equals more advertising revenue. That’s it. There’s no way of telling whether the clicks come from a bloke on the dole interested in cheap transport or from a Rapha-clad merchant banker looking for another £7000 bike to add to his collection. In print media, the advertisers pretty much know what they’re getting — The Daily Telegraph will deliver 500,000 ABC1 readers with an average age of 55. The Sun will deliver two million van drivers aged under 40. But the interweb can’t differentiate…your IP address doesn’t have a socio-economic profile (actually, it probably does, but you know what I mean). Sure, the Rouleur website is going to deliver a very different type of reader to the RideUKBMX website, but in the middle of the mainstream it’s more difficult to work out the readership demographic.

As a result, websites often just use the number of hits and/or unique users as a way of persuading advertisers to come on board. So hits and traffic become all-important..welcome to the world of click-bait and listicles

Listicles (articles that are basically just lists) are a churnalists best-friend. They’re quick to produce and simple enough for even the lowliest-paid keyboard-monkey to bosh out in an hour or so. And mostly they don’t even have to contain any verifiable facts. Take this one from today’s BikeRadar: 25 Signs You’re a Cyclist for Life. This is one of those listicles that requires no research or facts, nor even the ability to write well, just some wry observational comedy (and I use the word comedy advisedly) designed to reassure us that everyone else is as obsessive as we are.

Over at RoadCyclingUK it’s listicle central (in the spirit of RCUK, I’ve done it as a list):

  • 30 Inspirational cycling quotes
  • 15 most popular must-ride Strava segments
  • 10 Most successful British male cyclists of all time
  • 8 steps to create your perfect winter training programme
  • 6 ways to beat a headwind
  • 6 things you need to know about detraining
  • 5 best (and worst) team kits of all time
  • and a partridge in a fucking pear tree

And that’s just on their homepage. Seriously, seven listicles on the home page. Tragic. They aren’t alone in this, but they are definitely the worst offenders.

Click-bait is the other technique used for driving traffic. And the more buzz-words you can get in the headline the better: Naked Cyclist in Road-Rage Fury…You Won’t Believe What Happened Next! Or, in the case of BikeRadar this morning: Could pedal-power solve the world’s energy crisis? And: This invention promises to stop car doors taking out cyclists.

The energy crisis story is a useful illustration of content churn. Pre-interweb, the news editor would have read the press release, given it two minutes thought, and then thrown it in the bin and moved on to something genuinely news-worthy. But these days the web guys are expected to post a certain number of new stories on the site each day, so something like this is heaven-sent. Top and tail the press release, bung a click-bait headline on it, and the job’s a good ‘un. There’s no attempt at critical appraisal (too time-consuming). Besides, the readers can do that in the comments section below (which also drives traffic).

I have an issue with the car door story, too. As cyclists we get fed up with the way the mainstream press covers accidents involving cyclists. The classic line is “cyclist suffers life-changing injuries after colliding with car”. The implication being that the cyclist ran into the car, and also that the car is somehow driverless. It should read (in most cases) “driver inflicts life-changing injuries on cyclist”. But we never get that. And this story on BikeRadar does the same thing, by implying that somehow it’s car doors that are injuring cyclists, rather than the people operating the car without due care. You’d expect a cycling website to be more careful.

So, which cycling websites are worth your time?

BikeRadar — a huge site with sections dedicated to road, MTB, urban and women. There’s a lot on here in terms of news and features, even if most of it is pretty lightweight. The forums are particularly popular and get a lot more traffic than any of the other mainstream UK cycling websites.

RoadCC — aimed at a rather more grown-up audience than the others, RoadCC is unusual in that it doesn’t have any print products to promote. The result is a site that feels a bit more considered and a bit less hysterical than the others. The forums, too, are a bit more grown-up, although they don’t get the same volume of traffic as BikeRadar.

RoadCyclingUK — this is one of 20 or so adventure-sport sites run by Factory Media and feels very much the poor relation to the other mainstream cycling sites. There is a sense of desperation surrounding their listicles and click-bait and it feels far less self-assured than the others. Interestingly, their TotalWomensCycling site feels rather better, even if they do love a list.

Cyclingnews — this is the go-to place for racing news. Run by Immediate Media (the people who bring you BikeRadar and Cycling Plus), this is serious racing news, and as such I only ever go there if I’m alerted to something particularly interesting by Twitter. Their over (and incorrect) use of the word “exclusive” gets on  my tits, but that’s all part of the effort to drive traffic.

CyclingWeekly — website of The Comic, this is a mix of racing and recreational cycling news and features. The racing stuff is mostly the same as on CyclingNews, and the recreational stuff is mostly re-purposed content from their print editions (Cycling Weekly, Cycling Active, and Mountain Bike Rider). But for all that, the site is well laid-out, has fairly decent content, and avoids the hysteria and click-baitery of other cycling websites.

Cyclist — the website of the magazine, it mixes news with content from previous issues of the magazine to create quite a nice site. It’s definitely one for the grown-ups and the fat-of-wallet, but has a considered and mature feel. A few too many “sponsored” bike pieces for my liking, but at least they’re up front about them.

Rouleur — this is where I go for my lunchtime reading. This isn’t the place for a 10 Best Winter Cycling Lights feature, but it is a place to go for considered, well-written journalism and features about the weird and wonderful of road-racing. They assume that the reader is capable of reading more than 150 words at one time, and that they are capable of getting through the day without being spoon-fed vacuous shite.

I could go on, but you’ve probably had enough of this by now. Suffice to say, the advent of free online content is a very mixed blessing. The rates of pay for churnalists are absolutely shocking, so it’s unsurprising that in general the content is pretty poor. I won’t tell you what I got paid by The Guardian website recently, but it wasn’t a lot (it was still more than double what some cycling websites pay).

Articles repurposed from print editions tend to be better quality, if only because they are usually written by qualified professionals and subbed by someone other than the author. Even then there is no guarantee, because some cycling magazines generate an awful lot of bollocks.


 

There will be no blog tomorrow as I’m off to the motorbike show at the NEC, where I expect to add to my stable with a 1299 Panigale.

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Rampant commercialism Friday

Aaaand, we’re back. Apologies for neglecting the blog…the serious business of earning a living briefly impinged on daily life. And now that I’m back, it seems the world has gone to hell in a handcart in my absence.

I know times are hard for retailers. I know everyone’s struggling to make a few quid, but FUCK OFF WITH YOUR BLACK FRIDAY SHITE! Seriously, just stop it. Like Thanksgiving and Halloween, it’s not a thing. It’s a crappy import that nobody wants and nobody asked for. Another piss-poor excuse to get us to buy stuff.

So today will be spent unsubscribing from the blizzard of  marketing emails from Chain Reaction, Wiggle, Cycle Surgery, Evans, Chapeau, Cycling Souvenirs, etc. I don’t mind the occasional email, sometimes they’re even quite useful, but any company that sends three a day for a week is going straight on my don’t-shop-there list.

Anyway, having resisted the temptation to get 20% off something I neither want nor need, I spent £2.99 on something I neither want nor need…Cycling Weekly. Yes, I know, I ought to know better by now. But it’s too late now.

Settling down with an espresso (usually as long as it takes to get through a copy of CW) I was delighted to find that there had been a cock up at the printers, and an eight-page section had been omitted (pages 29-32, and 57-60). That section had been shoved in as a loose-insert in a half-arsed it’ll-have-to-do kind of a way. But the good news is that this section included monumentally dreary stuff (an interview with Luke Rowe, a piece about sleeping, and half an article about turbo training), so I can bin that section straight away.

The big news this week is that the CW advertising department has chosen its 2016 Race Bike of The Year (it’s the snappily-named Canyon Aeroad CF SLX 6.0, if you’re interested). This is a 21-page feature that somehow fails spectacularly to capture the excitement and thrill of an awards ceremony, or even the excitement and thrill of riding a bike. To maximise the number of bike companies winning a prize, there are sub-categories (Best Lightweight Bike, Best Disc Brake Bike, etc).

To be honest, this is really turgid stuff. There are 37 bikes in this feature, and despite many of them being very good bikes, this Top Trumps-alike feature doesn’t make me want any of them. Not even the £8000 Bianchi Specialissima. Mostly this stuff reads like it’s straight out of the manufacturer’s press release or like it’s something really simple being explained to a particularly stupid child (did you know that the Specialized Roubaix is “named after one of cycling’s most gruelling one-day races”?). No shit, Sherlock. FFS!

I started off just thinking that this feature was funny, but actually it’s just piss-poor. No attempt has been made to make this interesting or useful. The double-page spread about the winner is a case in point. This, apparently is the best bike for 2016. So we get a badly cropped photo and two-thirds of a page of drivel. I quote:

“The Aeroad CF SLX excels through simple design and the resultant ease of use. Design solutions such as the seatpost bolt are a prime example of this approach. Direct-mount brakes offer more modulation and stopping power over a standard caliper and the rear brake is situated on the seatstays where it’s easy to get at.”

Eh? What? So we’re bigging up the Canyon for having a seatpost bolt? That’s good, because all my bikes have those. And are we sure about the modulation and power benefits of direct-mount brakes? Really? The man from Specialized says: “Post-mount brakes may be fractionally better than existing calliper brakes in terms of power, but they’re not really any better for all-weather ability, they’re not really much better from an aero standpoint; and they’re not really much better in terms of power modulation.” Yeah, whatever.

Another thing I find baffling is the fact that the Canyon Aeroad CF SLX didn’t win the Lightweight Bike of the Year category. Why not? It’s good enough to win overall, and it’s lighter than the bike that won the Lightweight category (the Merida Scultura 6000). Surely it should win the Lightweight category.
With regard the rest of the mag, we have a dozen pages of out-of-date news, followed by CW’s weekly interview with a Sky-bot, this time it’s Luke Rowe. Happily I’ve already binned the loose section, so I don’t have to read the usual guff . I’ve also binned half the bit about turbo training, so I don’t have to wade through that shite either. In the cookery section we find out what Fumiyuki Beppu has for his breakfast (biscuits) and learn how to make energy bars (again).
Moving on, we have a four-page advertorial for a Hampshire sportive in February (organised by the people who bring you CW). The “Epic” route is a whole 57 miles in length and climbs over 1000 metres. I know! Like totally epic, dude! Then we have four pages about a bike club in Cumbria (Zzzzz) and Dr Hutch mocking the whole Sky/Froome/Esquire data nonsense, which is quite good.
And that’s your lot. Okay, it’s only three quid, but that’s still more than Bjarne Riis’ autobiography on Amazon, and not nearly as funny.

 

That’s it for this week. Back on Monday to mock some cycling websites (8 Steps to Sportive Success…#9 will blow your mind!). In the meantime, ride safe.

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How much???

I really don’t know what to make of the Rouleur Classic bike show. On the one hand it’s a very small bike show that costs at least £50 (yes, fifty pounds) for a ticket, while on the other it’s an opportunity to look at some of the best kit, and mingle with the great and the good of cycling, in a relaxed, uncrowded atmosphere.

The Corbynista in me rebels at the idea of charging people between £50 and £175 (yes, one hundred and seventy-five pounds) for a ticket to a bicycle exhibition, but look…there’s Eddy, and Spartacus, and Kenny van Vlaminck. Crikey, isn’t that Ernesto Colnago talking to Alberto Contador? Hi Lizzie, congrats on The Jersey. And who’s that over there with the halo, the bloke turning water into wine? It’s Saint David of Millar, of course, the man who turned a Skoda team car into a Maserati Ghibli.

At this point, any self-respecting cycling journalist would have done a quick vox-pop to gauge punter reaction. But self-respect and cycling journalists are not comfortable bed-fellows these days. Plus, those finger-foods won’t eat themselves, you know. More Champagne? Well, why not. So I’ve no idea what any of the paying customers thought.

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Held at Vinopolis on London’s Bankside, the venue is a collection of brick-arched cellars (although on ground-level) in which were housed stands from the likes of Assos, Lightweight, Canondale, Zipp, Colnago, Trek, Castelli, Canyon, etc.

The show had a cozy, intimate feel and wasn’t particularly crowded which meant you could actually get to talk to the people on the stands. And they got to grab all your details from the RFID wrist-bands we were all given. There was interesting stuff on show, and some very lovely stuff that I can’t afford. I was particularly excited to see Tinkoff-Saxo team chef Hannah Grant doing some cooking for visitors to try, and signing copies of her Grand Tour Cookbook (I’ll be reviewing that in due course).

As well as new shiny stuff, there was also a room full of old bikes and jerseys. But not just any old bikes, and not just any old jerseys. Look…there’s Fausto Coppi’s World Champs jersey! Look…there’s Indurain’s time-trial bike. Strangely, the thing that moved me most was seeing Lucien Petit-Breton’s 1907 track bike. It’s impossibly decrepit, and looks like someone dragged it out of a barn in rural France, but it is imbued with an historical resonance that I find very appealing.

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After a couple of hours of looking, talking, eating and drinking, and listening to the celebs doing Q&As in the theatre, I’m pretty much done. And it was a very pleasant and interesting couple of hours, immersed in something that I love and find endlessly fascinating. But is it worth £50/£100/£175? I guess that rather depends on whether you have that sort of money to spend on something like this, and what you expect to get out of it. A certain amount of what was on display can be seen at other bike shows, albeit in a less intimate atmosphere. But £50+ is a lot of dosh for a bike show.

Or is it? A decent dinner in the West End can easily cost £50 a head. It costs me more than £50 to get up to the NEC for the Cycle Show. As an occasional visitor to Premiership football, I am accustomed to spending £50+ for a ticket to see a match of variable quality. And on the few occasions I’ve been to the opera, £100 doesn’t get you a particularly good seat at Covent Garden.

Ultimately, I got more pleasure from a couple of hours at the Rouleur Classic than from dinner, or Götterdämmerung, or Ryan Shawcross. And you do get the latest copy of Rouleur free.

 

Bookazines? FFS!

Bah and, indeed, humbug! Bookazine? Really? I think you’ll find the correct nomenclature is “one-shot”. It’s not a mook or a bookazine or a magbook, it’s a one-shot. From the dictionary.com definition of one-shot:

 

A magazine, brochure, or the like that is published only one time, with no subsequent issues intended, usually containing articles and photographs devoted to one topical subject.

From the dictionary.com definition of bookazine:

Did you mean borazine?

 

Anyway, I recently bought two one-shots, one about Eddy Merckx produced by the team at Rouleur, and one about Cycling’s Iconic Places produced by the team at Cycling Weekly. They were a tenner each.

The thing is, I’m a sucker for certain things. Eddy Merckx is one, and cycling’s ironic iconic places is the other. For me, cycling and the history of cycle sport, are inexorably linked. I do know people for whom cycling is just a form of exercise, and people for whom it is just a means of transport. But for me it is history, exercise, freedom, transport, meditation and so many other things besides.

So a one-shot about Merckx, produced by Rouleur, is a must-have in my book. And the Cycling’s Iconic Places one-shot was a spur-of-the-moment purchase. Cycling Weekly actually have their own Merckx one-shot out at the moment, but it has a typo on the cover, which doesn’t fill me with confidence about the rest of the content.

Merckx by Rouleur  (which sounds a bit like one of those wanky aftershave ads) is a lovely thing. As you’d expect, Rouleur has avoided just churning out a chronological look at his life and instead gone for a thoughtful approach, using certain events to illustrate certain aspects of Merckx’s style and character. There are articles by a variety of authors, some lovely illustrations by Tom Jay, and a 32-page section of photos in the middle (there are loads of photos throughout, it’s just that there’s a very glossy section in the middle).

In many ways I prefer this tribute to Merckx to either of the biographies by Daniel Friebe and William Fotheringham which, for me, didn’t quite capture the enigma and magic. At 178 pages it’s a substantial piece of work and very well put together. Ten quid well spent, in my book.

Cycling’s Iconic Places is actually rather good as well, but in a different way. The production values aren’t as nice as the Merckx one-shot, but it’s still a pleasing thing and it neatly brings together disparate places that are steeped in meaning for cyclists. Divided into three sections (Mountains, Hills & Cobbles, and Velodromes) it looks at the famous climbs of France, Italy and Spain, then the bergs and cobbles of northern France and Flanders, before turning its attention to a handful of velodromes.

This one-shot actually makes quite a nice companion to books like Daniel Friebe’s excellent Mountain High and Mountain Higher, because there’s a little more in here about memorable moments that occurred in these places. For me, this one-shot is pretty much my bucket-list of places I’d like to ride my bike. I’ve already been to quite a few of them, but there are plenty in here still left to ride, and this one-shot makes me more determined than ever to climb the Mortirolo and the Izoard.

At 146 pages, Cycling’s Iconic Places is decent value for a tenner, even if the repro in some places is a bit dodgy.


 

And that’s it for this week. Check back on Monday, when I will be reviewing the Rouleur Classic cycle show.

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The Great Disc Brake Swindle?

Hmmm…things just started getting interesting. A recent post on the Cyclist magazine website may just have cracked open Pandora’s box and let the genie out of the bottle (bar-keeper, mix me another metaphor, this one’s gone flat!). Because (whisper it) disc brakes on road bikes may not be all that.

Here are some quotes from Cyclist’s review of the Trek Domane 6.9:

“The Domane 6.9 Disc is the first disc braked bike I’ve ridden with zero brake rub, even when making exaggerated movements to try to induce it. On this point, the thru-axles are a significant benefit, banishing the constant ‘zinging’ of the disc rotors against the pads I’ve experienced on so many other disc bikes.

It’s a matter of opinion, but I think the dropouts and axle arrangement, especially at the front, look ugly and over-built, certainly not befitting of an otherwise stealthy carbon road bike.

In the wet it required an enormous amount of care not to lock a wheel. Some might say powerful, reliable brakes are a great feature for safety, but I would say you can have too much of a good thing. Dialling down the power, perhaps in this case by fitting a smaller 140mm rotor (which would also look considerably neater) would allow a greater opportunity to tap into the modulation and the ‘feel’ that hydraulic disc brakes can undoubtedly provide. With the set-up as it was on this bike I was wary of pulling on the levers hard enough to feel the modulation, for fear of locking and skidding the wheels, even in the dry.”

OMG! Heretic! Blasphemer! Burn him!

So, to be clear, Stu Bowers (an experienced road-tester of bikes) has experienced brake-rub on every other disc-braked bike he has tested. And the brakes on this bike were so fearsome that he feared wheel lock-up even in the dry.

Oh dear…the industry is not going to like this. What about the fabled modulation improvements? What about the performance and safety gains? What about the Emperor’s news clothes? It’s actually a fairly shocking admission when you think about it. Here’s a £6000 bike that could have you chewing tarmac on your first ride. One that could scare the living crap out of you every time it rains. Is it so over-braked as to not be fit for purpose? I haven’t ridden it, so I can’t tell you. But Bowers has, in addition to loads of other bikes, so you have to assume he’s not incompetent (the accusation normally leveled at people who have braking issues).

Interestingly, this is the subject of a really excellent article in Cycle, the magazine that goes out to all CTC members. In the October/November issue is an piece by Richard Hallett, and it’s probably the most interesting and well argued article about disc brakes on bikes that I’ve read. In it he points out the things that no other mags dare, namely that disc brakes may not be suitable for road use.

This is something that has been bugging me for a while…we’re being sold a pup. The industry wants us to buy new stuff, and to buy new stuff that we can’t easily maintain ourselves. If the bike shops aren’t going to make much profit on sales (thanks to the interweb), at least they can make some money on replacing internal cables, bleeding brakes, replacing disc pads, etc.

Hallett, too, has experienced brake rub on many disc-braked bikes he’s ridden. In an industry obsessed with marginal gains, disc brakes seem to offer more marginal losses than gains. The tiny clearances necessary mean that brake rub is almost inevitable, leading to increased pad wear, especially when road grit gets onto the discs.

Heavy use, and tiny components (relative to a motorcycle or car disc brake setup), means the disc and caliper get very hot, even on relatively short descents. Hydraulic brake fluid is hygroscopic (it absorbs water), so when the fluid gets really hot the water molecules within it turn to vapour, the lever comes right back to the handlebar, and the brakes become spongy and fail. Sometimes the bonding agents in the brake pads overheat and release gasses that prevent proper pad-to-disc contact. This results in a very wooden feeling at the lever and greatly reduced braking capacity.

Bowers criticises the Domane 6.9 for looking over-engineered, but the fact is that for safety reasons it needs to be. To cope with the increased braking forces being nearer the end of the fork leg, and to one side, it’s necessary to build a stronger, tangentially-laced wheel and much beefier forks. That adds even more weight, on top of the already weightier disc and caliper. It’s physics, innit.

Unfortunately the cycling press doesn’t want to address any of this. Except for Cycle, which is funded primarily by CTC subs rather than advertising from the bike manufacturers. By all means embrace disc brakes, but how much of the gains from your aero bike, helmet and clothing are being negated by dragging your brakes the whole time? And how much of the savings you’re making on lack of rim wear are being devoured by increased pad wear and replacement costs? I don’t know.

But what I do know if that your favourite cycling magazine is unlikely to tell you any time soon.

 

 

 

 

Kierkegaard was right!

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a copy of Rouleur. I picked it up and had a flick through. It seemed to be about cycle racing, but it was hard to tell. None of the articles had stand-firsts (those intro paragraphs that tell you roughly what you’re going to get over the next few pages), they just launched straight into some long-form writing. The photos rarely gave you any clue, either. In an 18-page piece about Shimano there was not one single photograph of a Shimano product, or even a bicycle. There was a factory, a huge fish, some telegraph poles, men in overalls and hard-hats, and a pick-up truck.

The writing was as long or as short as it needed to be, and most of the photography seemed to be in the style of Paul Graham. I was in the middle of a part-time photography degree at the time, and Rouleur struck me as being visually striking, but utterly bonkers from a publishing perspective. My fellow photography students loved it, my fellow cyclists hated it.

And that’s the thing with Rouleur…it’s a real Marmite product. Most people love it or hate it, but very few fall anywhere in the middle. Me, I love it. As a magazine man, I love its unapologetic lunacy. It flies in the face of all received wisdom about magazine publishing. It costs £10 a copy and yet carries relatively little advertising. They produce separate covers for the subscribers, devoid of barcodes and coverlines. And it comes out eight times a year. None of it makes any sense, and yet they do it anyway. Chateau! Gateau! Respect!

The latest issue of Rouleur is number 58, and when it arrived with that reassuring thud on my doormat my heart sank. Oh god…cyclo-cross. I hate this time of year because it’s when all the mags try and convince us that cyclo-cross isn’t actually shit. Of course deep down we all know that it is shit, but in the spirit of the Emperor’s latest garments (something that seems to predominate in cycling) we nod sagely and murmur “Sven Nys” in reverential tones. Or declare, breezily, that Hertz van Rental’s  exceptional bike-handling skills are down to his time spent cyclo-cross racing.

But it’s all bollocks…drop-bar off-roading is just stupid. You don’t need to adopt an aero tuck while ploughing through a quagmire at walking pace, or when your bike’s slung over your shoulder. If you want to get all muddy and tired, do mountain biking instead. On a mountain bike (a device purpose-built for this sort of thing). Don’t do it on a road bike that has been bastardised so that it is neither fish nor fowl. And do it in a beautiful wilderness, not round a field outside Milton Keynes or Ronse.

I have a theory…cyclo-cross is like speedway. Most of the people watching speedway have absolutely no interest in motorcycle sport, or motorcycles, they have an interest in speedway (and possibly beer and gambling). And most of the people at a cyclo-cross event have no interest in cycling. Look at the crowds at a cyclo-cross event. The vast majority of them are large, grey-haired, beery Belgian and Dutch men who have clearly never been near a drop-bar bike in their lives. For the crowd, this is an excellent excuse to meet up with like-minded beery people, have a beery barbecue in the rain, and then drive home slightly pissed smelling of the onions and ketchup.

Sure there are a few wannabe fans at these events…they run back and forth across the infield with their own CX bikes slung over their shoulders, hoping to get another glimpse of Saint Sven of Nys. But mostly the crowd is middle-aged men and young children, most of whom I suspect are related to people in the race. And, I’m afraid to say,  from a spectator’s point of view it’s really quite boring.

Anyway, first up in the latest Rouleur is a piece about Sven Nys, who’s retiring at the end of this season. It’s actually moderately interesting, even if it still doesn’t convince me that cyclo-cross is anything other than rubbish. Then we have a nice piece about Hennie Kuipper, a man who won Olympic and World Championships, as well as a hatfull of Monuments, and of whom most people have never heard. I like pieces like this…I actually feel like I’ve learned something new, something that adds to my understanding of the sport.

The next big feature is absolutely beautiful. Entitled “Outsiders” it’s an extract from a new book about De Marchi, the company that made jerseys for some of Italy’s greatest (and not-so-great) cyclists. There are jerseys worn by Coppi and Cottur and Favero, beautifully photographed, and with a brief but incredibly lyrical story about the rider and the jersey. I don’t know if there will be an English language version of this book (these excerpts were translated by Andy McGrath, one of Rouleur’s staffers), but if there is, I want one.

Another heavyweight feature comes in the form of  The Enemy Within. It’s a serious look at an unspoken taboo within the pro peloton – mental illness. Ex-racer and former British U23 National Champion Ben Greenwood opens up about depression, eating disorders and mental health issues within pro cycling. It’s a very interesting look at something few want to talk about, although I feel an opportunity was lost to go further. An add-on piece from a sports psychologist might have been useful , because this is something that seems to affect a large number of sportsmen and women (A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke by Ronald Reng is definitely worth a read on this subject).

After a 10-page piece about Adidas (no, I couldn’t care less either) is a nice piece about Dario Cataldo (Astana domestique). The editors of Cycle Sport and Pro Cycling should look at this, read this, and then try and understand why this piece is in a completely different league to the turgid stuff they churn out month after month.

It’s the same with the following article, ostensibly about about Charley Gaul but actually about the personality types in cycling and where we all fall on the Myers-Briggs scale. It’s an interesting and thought-provoking piece that I will revisit and think about for a while to come.

An that’s it. Another issue of Rouleur, and this is a particularly good one. With 102 editorial pages out of 146, this issue had rather more ads in it than I expected. And a fair number of those editorial pages are often dominated by arty white spaces or full-page photos, but ultimately it takes me longer to read Rouleur than anything else, and I feel I get better value from it than the lightweight drivel of some of the monthlies. Having said that, Rouleur doesn’t always get it right (the madness of redesigning the musette being a case in point…17 pages in issue 57!).

 

 

Good sport? Not so much

I don’t generally buy cycling sport magazines. I love watching cycle racing on the TV, and listening to podcasts about it, and even talking about it with my (woefully ill-informed) mates. But I don’t buy magazines about it unless something particularly interesting catches my eye. Sometimes I’ll buy one that has a Grand Tour preview in it (although they’re always out of date by the time they publish them), or a preview of the Spring Classics, but generally I don’t even bother reading the cover-lines. Why?

BECAUSE THEY ARE EYE-WATERINGLY, GUT-WRENCHINGLY, BALL-CRUSHINGLY DULL. And I actually LIKE pro cycling!

I genuinely don’t know who Pro Cycling and Cycle Sport are aimed at. Is it pro riders who want to read about themselves and their mates? Is it Cat 3 riders hoping to pick up a few tips? Is it wannabe MAMILs who fondly imagine that a 65 mile sportive is actually a race? If anyone cares to leave a comment below about why they buy either of these mags, I’d be interested to hear, because it’s a genuine mystery to me.

Anyway, the December issues of Pro Cycling and Cycle Sport are out, and a veritable snooze-fest they are too. Pro Cycling looks and feels the most stylish of the two, especially with World Champ Lizzie Armitstead on the cover, picked out in spot-varnish. It’s a striking image that caught my eye in the newsagent’s (but I hate cut-outs…it doesn’t matter how good you are with Photoshop, cut-outs always look shite if someone’s hair is involved…it just never looks right). And the World Champ’s jersey still has the wrong UCI logo on it!

Cycle Sport is physically smaller than Pro Cycling, and feels more ephemeral. Pro Cycling you might consider putting on a shelf and keeping, Cycle Sport is destined for the bin after a week (hour?) or two.


Pro Cycling:

The  features about Armitstead and Sagan’s World Champs victories were both interesting, mostly because they weren’t done as rider interviews and contained plenty of interesting analysis. But the rest of the magazine is pretty tedious. There’s a piece about how Sky are the bestest team ever ever, and it’s all down to the glorious British backbone so fuck off Johnny Foreigner. And it’s a crappy Q&A. Kennaugh and Stannard actually went down in my estimation after this piece.

Then there’s an odd article on riders who turned pro in the 1990s and who are still plying their trade today. Warning, this article may contain dopers (Rebellin, Basso, Petacchi, etc). This is followed by a piece on Taylor Phinney (yawn), Lieuwe Westra (yawn), Sylan Chavanel (feels like an obituary even though he isn’t quite dead yet) and a moderately intesting look behind the scenes of the Tour of Britain with the IAM. The Eagle of Toledo piece is nice, though.

Cycle Sport:

God’s teeth! There’s another article about making the rainbow jersey (with the wrong UCI logo). Sportful’s PR team has been doing an excellent job of getting this story out there. The big feature, and I mean BIG!, is the 100 Best Riders Right Now feature. It goes on. And on. And on and on and on and on and on. There are 39 pages of this… give me strength! On second thoughts, fast-forward to page 84, where you’ll find a 10-page piece about Mikel Landa (yawn).

Really the only piece worth reading is the one about Boswell and Dombrowski’s impressions of their first Grand Tour. It’s well written, insightful and interesting.


 

Of the two, Pro Cycling feels the better produced and offers a more interesting read. But neither of them is on my must-buy list. I get far more insight and entertainment from the Velocast and Telegraph cycling podcasts.

Is GCN really all it seems?

Have you seen GCN? Of course you have. Unless, of course, you’re over 50 years old, in which case you don’t really know what YouTube is, let alone GCN. For readers of “a certain age”, GCN is the Global Cycling Network and it’s a sort of TV show on-demand on YouTube. It’s a mix of pro-cycling and road-cycling content, aimed very much at the roadie audience. It has an impressive 620,000 subscribers.

And it’s great. They produce one segment a day, usually between five and ten minutes in length, as well as a regular weekly show and a catch-up show. Presented by Matt Stephens (ex-pro), Daniel Lloyd (ex-pro) and Simon Richardson (ex-pro), the style is lighthearted but informed, and there’s a certain amount of banter between the lads. Some of it’s even quite funny.

The content is a 50-50 mix of stuff from pro-racing and stuff from road cycling. This week I have been watching:

  • A short piece (3′ 36″) about Sven Nys’ cyclocross bike
  • A longer piece (5′ 30″) about the Top 10 domestiques of 2015
  • Nearly five minutes on how to adjust your QR skewers (yes, really!)
  • 2015 show highlights package (5′ 10″)
  • A segment about the Garmin Varia radar system (3′ 36″)
  • A five-minute Cav v Cipollini sprinter discussion
  • Foul weather cycling tips (6′ 17″)
  • A six-minute segment on foul weather cycling mistakes
  • A 16-minute weekly show

That’s just four or five days’ worth, so this is a pretty prolific outfit. Mercifully they steer clear of lengthy pro rider interviews, preferring instead the brief soundbite from reporters on the ground. And this is where GCN really comes into its own, because all three presenters are respected within the peloton and get access and insights that regular cycling journalists don’t always manage.

In terms of content for the recreational rider, GCN is a mixed bag. Mostly it’s pretty good, but sometimes you just think WTF? Five minutes on how to adjust your QR skewers? Really? I sat there mesmerised. I don’t know what I was waiting for, but I was definitely waiting for something. But the only thing that happened was that Dan Lloyd explained how QR skewers work, something even my kids mastered by the time they were 10. And 32,000 people watched this. I know! I can only assume that, like me, they were waiting for something to happen. Or we’re all so insecure that we need reassurance even about the little things.

The Cav versus Cipo piece could have been good, but without any race footage (just photos) it rather lacked impact. It’s the same with the Top 10 Domestiques segment…these need footage from races to really feel immersive. The wet weather riding segments are both pretty good, offering some decent and timely advice. They tend to pitch these things more towards the newbie rider than the wizened old gits such as me, but that’s fine…even us wizened old gits need reminding from time to time (have you taken your meds? Do up your flies. You seem to have spilled something down your shirt. That kind of thing).

Being on YouTube, you do occasionally get an advert before the segment you want to watch, but you get that in a lot of places and it’s an inevitable consequence of watching free stuff on the internet. So GCN feels like it’s ad-free and offering impartial advice. But it’s not quite that simple. GCN is produced by Shift Active Media, a company formed by a breakaway group from Future Publishing (they used to publish a lot of cycling magazines before they sold them to Immediate). As well as GCN, Shift also has clients in the cycling world for whom they produce ad and media campaigns. You can see their client list in the photo above.

One of the really interesting things is that the people behind GCN seem to have seen the writing on the wall with regard magazine publishing. They bailed out of Future Publishing and stepped into online content and commercial media campaigns, using their extensive contacts within the cycling world. With people like Velon, RCS and British Cycling on board, Shift Active Media are clearly heading in the right direction.

And although GCN acknowledges their “sponsors” beneath their videos, and doesn’t overtly plug Shift Active Media clients, there is an awful lot of product placement for Kask helmets, Santini clothing, Scott and Canyon bikes, Garmin electronics, etc. The Garmin placement is particularly noticeable when they’re doing pieces about sat-navs or action cameras, and there’s a none-too-subtle piece about Garmin’s bizarre new radar system this week.

With such huge viewing figures, these companies are getting fantastic exposure. A recent piece about multitools was five and a half minutes of good advice, but it was also a five and a half minute advert for Topeak. There was no attempt to look at or use any other manufacturer’s products, it was just a big old plug for Topeak that was seen by 45,000 people.

Despite the product placement going on, I really enjoy GCN. I catch up with it about once a week, enjoy most of what they do, and try and remind myself that “other products and services are available”. Mostly the humour works quite well, but the banter occasionally feels a little contrived. If you don’t follow Matt Stephens’ alter-ego (Kenny van Vlaminck) on Twitter, you really should.

Why CW is like a cross between Great Aunt Maude and a diplodocus

In paleontology news: workmen undertaking road repairs in Croydon, south London, recently unearthed the moribund remains of a once-great beast that used to roam throughout the land. Back in the days when pterodactyls ruled the skies and Phil Liggett was just a nipper, this enormous behemoth stood, Colossus-like, astride the cycling publishing world, all-powerful and lord of all it surveyed. But that was many decades ago, before they built an information superhighway that bypassed Croydon altogether. Since then, this poor decrepit old thing has been slowly fossilising amongst the concrete towers and flyovers of south London.

Known by its scientific name of Comicus Irrelevansis, Cycling Weekly was actually found to still have a very faint pulse, but it was clear that the poor old thing was on its last legs. We can only hope that some workman is dispatched with a spade to administer a coup de grace.

Rather like Motor Cycle News (and maybe even Angling Times), Cycling Weekly is one of those titles that everyone used to buy, without quite knowing why. In pre-internet, pre-satellite TV times these weekly titles were where you got your product news, sports news and where you advertised stuff for sale. With no other frequent sources of information available, the weeklies became a kind of habit. You knew there wasn’t much in it, but you bought it anyway because there wasn’t anything else.

And it was a pretty good business model for CW…all the racers bought it to see their names in print (they reported on even the smallest local races), and the rest of us bought it to buy or sell stuff and find out what was happening in the Grand Tours. Now, of course, it’s all on the interweb for free. We don’t need MCN or CW for the things we used to need them for, and yet they’re still with us, like some ancient Great Aunt, sitting in the corner and smelling of wee.

Suffering an on-going crisis of relevance, CW has been rendered largely irrelevant by the changing landscape of publishing in the 21st Century (much like myself). This week’s issue illustrates the point perfectly. We have Wiggo on the front cover (Wiggo is to cycling mags what Princess Di was to gossip mags), plus turbo-training, Steve Cummings and Fred Whitton, none of which gets me very excited. Then we have a non-story about the GB track team (so that they can put Wiggo on the cover) and page after page of racing news we’ve all read already on the cyclingnews.com website/Twitter feed.

The first feature is an interview with Steve Cummings of MTN-Qhubecka. I’m sure he’s a nice bloke, but I JUST DON’T CARE. Just because I watch endless amounts of cycling on the TV, that doesn’t mean I give a toss what any of the riders have to say. They’re professional sportsmen, so they will never say anything interesting until long after they retire. And I don’t trust any of them not to cheat, so I’m not investing any kind of emotional attachment to any of them.

Next is a very nice piece by Sophie Hurcom about women cyclists, and the Rosslyn Ladies Cycling Club in particular (slightly ironic, given that CW’s predecessor campaigned vigorously AGAINST women’s cycling). It’s an interesting and well-written five-pager. Then we have a few pages of product tests (mostly winter stuff) and a bib-tights grouptest. As is always the case with these things, we are not told why Assos, Rapha, Castelli, La Passione and a host of other very good bibs are not included in the test. Nor is there any mention of women’s bibs. But, in the spirit of Time Inc’s determination to weigh absolutely everything cycling-related, we now know that the B-Twin bibs are 5g heavier than the Lusso ones. So at least they’ve got their priorities right.

Then we have a four-pager on why Zwift, Trainer Road and all these other indoor training programs. Personally, I only ride my turbo when I feel I absolutely have to get in a bit of exercise and the weather is absolutely foul. Probably half a dozen times a year. I’m not a racer, so I don’t have to obsess about off-season fitness. And riding the turbo is the worst of all worlds…all the pain, none of the joy. The pull-quote on the third page sums it up… “I cannot get as good a workout outside as I do inside: I worry I’d lose it on a corner”. FFS! Really? At least Steve Lampier from Team Raleigh GAC wades in with some sensible advice to get out there and MTFU.

The short piece on ultracycling that follows is interesting, but left me wanting to know a bit more, and then we have a couple of pages of cookery and training intervals (yawn). And so to one of the magazine’s many in-house adverts, for the Cycling Weekly Shop. Rendered irrelevant a decade or more ago by the internet, this is where you can buy books and DVDs about cycling at full RRP, and pay extra for postage. I know…quaint, isn’t it? Bless them. But it is a little embarrassing that this page is headed “Cycling Books & DVD’s”. Where did that apostrophe in “DVD’s” come from? It’s plural, not possessive. Blithering fuckwits!

Next is a piece about the Fred Whitton Challenge, which is happening next…um…May. It’s a popular sportive, the stuff of (slightly exaggerated) legend and thus worth sticking on the cover when there’s not much else going on. It may or may not be related to the 12 pager on the same subject in their sister-magazine Cycling Active this month. Then we have a four-pager about a cycling club. Again, not relevant to me…I don’t do club cycling (Groucho Marx, and all that), and I’m not even remotely interested in reading about a cycling club that’s nowhere near where I live, however friendly and supportive they all are.

Probably my favourite part of CW is the bikemart bit at the back, where you get to see just how badly some people set up their bikes. It’s a horror-show of of badly adjusted saddles, ludicrous stem angles, overly long cables, and handlebars pointing in every direction except the correct one. That’s assuming you can see anything at all, given the crappy quality of most photos and strange camera angles that appear to have been adopted to showcase the inevitable herbaceous border behind the slightly out-of-focus bike. Dr Hutch at the back is generally pretty good for a chuckle, even though one page would probably do it.

With 53 editorial pages out of a total of 78, and costing £3 an issue, CW’s crisis of relevance and identity are clear to see. The new editor has his work cut out deciding what CW is going to be in the future, but in the meantime the magazine has little relevance to me, and I stopped buying it regularly several years back.