I almost didn’t make it past page 27 of the latest issue of Cycling Active (December 2015). Under the heading “Most Wanted” is a short piece about the new Zipp 404 Firestrike Limited carbon clincher wheelset, and it’s just the sort of breathless PR guff that makes you want to hurl the magazine straight in the bin. How are we supposed to take them seriously when they publish stuff like this?
Aside from the fact that these Zipps have been around for ages, and only a complete idiot/triathlete would pay £2500 for a heavy pair of wheels that could be written off by a pothole, there’s stuff like this: “keeping the all-up weight to an impressively low 1,750g”, and “exquisite 58mm deep-section wheels have been meticulously honed in the wind tunnel”. And, OMG, the skewers are titanium! They should be made from platinum at that price!
And no mention of anything useful, like lacing patterns, bracing heights, or if Zipp have sorted out the recurring problems with 188 hubs that had a tendency to fall to pieces at inopportune moments. But we do get a photo of golf balls, to underline the aero credentials of the wheels. So that’s nice. We don’t actually get to see the whole wheel though, but hey…who wants to see what they’re getting for their two grand, eh?
Skipping past the news pages (why do magazines bother with news pages when we’ve all read it weeks before online?), and resisting the temptation to bin the mag after just 14 editorial pages, I plough on. Simon Warren is writing about tractors and time-trialing (I like Simon’s stuff…he’s a fellow retro-grouch) and Brett Lewis is writing about…ah, who cares, and there’s a two-page filler about Merckx in 1975.
And so to the first of several EPIC tales of EPIC riding an EPIC sportive route in an EPIC part of the world. Or two blokes riding the route of the Fred Whitton Challenge. Of course we’ve all read stories about the Fred Whitton before, but this one is just that much more EPIC than all the others. And it’s an EPIC 12 pages in length.
Next is another EPIC ride, this time round Wiltshire, following the route of “Wiltshire’s toughest sportive” (stop sniggering at the back…this is EPIC stuff!). Ten pages are devoted to this. And herein lies Cycling Active’s problem. Their publishers recently bought UK Cycling Events, the highly profitable organisers of many sportives, and now they have repositioned Cycling Active to promote their sportive business. That, in turn, puts CA up against the rest of the mainstream press. Before, CA occupied a tidy little niche aimed at the entry-level riders and those who didn’t want to spend £1000 on a set of wheels which can’t be rebuilt. The problem with that niche is that the advertisers were similarly entry-level and cost-conscious, so CA goes sportivetastic, everything’s NEW and EPIC, and it becomes just like everything else.
Next up is a load of rehashed press release stuff about the “best bikes of 2016”, despite the fact that they haven’t actually ridden them yet. Meh! And then we have a group test of winter training bikes, because apparently you can’t use your “race bike” during the winter and a winter bike is a “must-have”. As usual, the weights given are for assorted different sizes, making direct comparison impossible, and the Genesis is slagged off for being heavy, even though it’s half a kilo lighter than the “clear winner”. What would have been a lot more useful would be to see what £500 gets you on the secondhand market, but that’s not going to make the advertisers happy.
“More product, more product” screams the Ad Manager. So in goes a group-test-lite look at tubeless wheels, pumps, hats and gloves, none of which is terribly informative, but all of which gets weighed in the spirit of EPIC weight-weeniedom (does anyone really care that one beanie is 13g lighter than another?). Then, bugger me, there’s something interesting and useful…a two-page piece about chainline efficiency. It could have been more in-depth, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. There’s also a good piece about bike-fits which is a cut above the usual you-must-have-a-bike-fit-because-you’re-too-stupid-to-do-it-yourself.
The back of the mag is mostly taken up with EPIC training plan stuff, which is probably fine if you’re a Cat 3 racer or give a shit about doing intervals and making like a faux-pro. I’m not. Nor do I give a toss about “green powders” and supplements for cooking unappealing things with rice. In my experience most MAMILs just shovel food in their faces and hope to burn it off at the weekend.
So that’s it. Interestingly, many of the other mags, knowing that winter’s here and no one is buying cycling mags, have opted for free stuff bagged to the issue (calendars and gift-guides, mostly). Not so CA, who instead rely on coverlines with the words EPIC, NEW, BEST and ULTIMATE to sell the mag. With 104 editorial pages out of 130, and a large number of in-house ads (10 in total), these must be worrying times for the Ad team. Certainly the numbers won’t support this Ed/Ad ratio for long, so CA has to hope the new format will tempt readers away from other titles. Editorially, they’re going to have to do better than this.