The December issue of BikesEtc is on the shelves, and as usual it’s a mixed bag. The newest kid on the block, launched a little over a year ago by the publishers of Cyclist mgazine, BikesEtc is all about product. Cyclist is more about beautiful rides and the science behind cycling, BikesEtc is all about bikes and kit. They complement each other well.
But what the fuck are they thinking with their front cover photography? This month we have a worm’s-eye-view of a bloke with a ginger beard riding a Colnago CLX. The photographer must have used at least a dozen flashguns to ensure there is not a shadow anywhere in the photo, lending it a preternaturally lurid look. The focal point of the photo is the cables exiting the bar tape, the underside of the stem, a view straight up the rider’s nose, and his ginger-haired knuckles. Nooooo! It’s a fucking Colnago, a thing of beauty. I want to see it, not some hairy-knuckled beardy bloke blasted by 20,000 lumens of artificial light.
And the worm’s-eye-view camera angle is hateful…the worst possible view of a bicycle, all front wheel, forks and headtube. No bike looks good from this angle. Yes, it’s hard to photograph an essentially landscape product in a portrait format, but this really isn’t the way to do it. Fortunately the mag is bagged with a free Christmas gift-guide, so the full horror of the front cover isn’t revealed until you get home, by which time you’ve already bought/nicked it.
After the usual front-end product news we’re into the first bike test — the £1k Wonders, with the subhead “Budget-busting bikes”. Now forgive my ignorance, but doesn’t “budget-busting” imply something expensive? But I do like their on-location bike tests…so much more immersive than the usual stuff mags tend to do. And the £1k price tag hits the Ride-to-Work scheme market perfectly.
Next up is a really interesting feature on two blokes who picked 12 bucket-list rides and rode one each month for a year. A really nice idea, well written, nicely photographed and inspirational. I’m not jealous of much I read in the cycling press, but I’m jealous of this. They’ve produced a book about it, called Twelve Months in The Saddlle, which I’ll be reviewing in due course.
Then we have an interesting feature on your next bike, entitled Room for One More. Although based on the rather tiresome premise of N+1 (the correct number of bikes to own), it actually gives a neat explanation of the numerous niches that have developed in road cycling. In my world you only need three bikes at the absolute most — a road bike, an MTB, and a crappy old clunker for use round town. No one needs a gravel bike or a fat bike or any of this bollocks…buy the right bike in the first place and change the tyres according to conditions. Anyway, a nice take on the current niche lunacy, without being too overtly advertising-led.
Following on from this is a piece by Max Glaskin on the forces at play on you while you’re cycling. Glaskin has written a book called Cycling Science, and this is based on that book (which is excellent, by the way). A really interesting and well written piece that explodes a few myths along the way. Equally readable, but in a more lighthearted vein, is a piece by Trevor Ward on cycling etiquette for roadies…most cyclists out there should read, absorb, and practice what is written here.
If all this is fine and dandy so far, things go downhill a bit when we come to the reviews section. First is a look at bib-tights. Or should I say a look at some bib-tights. There is nothing here from Assos, Rapha, Castelli or La Passione, and there is no mention of women’s bib-tights, so the piece feels lightweight and incomplete. Pitching it as “men’s bib-tights for under £100” would have been better. Then we have a spread of winter hats (good), four pages of winter tyres (hopelessly lightweight), four pages of turbo trainers (also lightweight and insubstantial…why not get some noise readings from a decibel meter?), four pages on bike locks (also lightweight, using Sold Secure ratings rather than trying their own test), and four pages of budget bike computers, which holds absolutely no interest for me, but maybe of interest to the B’twin brigade. To be honest, most of this stuff is little more than a roundup of what is available, and thus of limited use.
The big bike test of the issue is £2000 bikes running Ultegra gruppos. Again, an excellent idea — this is a part of the market that is very popular, Ultegra is very good gear, and there will be a lot of people who want to read 15 pages on these bikes. And they do it well, combining studio and location photography, detailed geometry figures and comprehensive specs.
At the back, The Edge training and tips section is pretty good, and avoids faux-pro training regimes and disgusting recipes for quinoa and brown rice, and the Out There section includes a couple of interesting looking rides that don’t run to an excessive number of pages.
Overall, a pretty good read. Personally speaking, if you’re going to test stuff, then actually test it. They do with the bikes, why not do more with the products? But the Christmas gift-guide is pretty good…mark the things you fancy, then hand it to your significant other in plenty of time for the festive season. The main mag has 104 pages of editorial out of 130, the same as this month’s Cycling Active, but has far more in it worth reading, and more paid-for ads.