Plus c’est la même chose

It’s the December issue, so all the mags have to run some or all of the following:

  • Winter bikes test (because you can’t ride your summer bike if it’s cold)
  • Winter tyres test (because it’s winter)
  • Bike lights test (because it’s getting dark)
  • Winter hats/gloves/bib-tights (because it’s getting cold)

Next month it will probably be winter jackets, overshoes, base layers and gravel bikes. Oh, and all the New Year’s resolutions bullshit, planning your summer of sportives, 10 Ways to Be a Better Rider in 2016, blah blah blah.

Anyway, back to the December issue of Cycling Plus. This is another mag that likes photograph bikes contra-jour, using a bank of static flashguns to blast any semblance of light and shade into submission. The result is an eye-scorching cover image, devoid of any feeling of dynamism or movement, with the rider dressed in the obligatory red top and black shorts. And they do like a screamer (exclamation mark) at C+…we’ve got five on this cover, but only one EPIC.

ENOUGH WITH THE FUCKING EPIC RIDE SHIT, ALRIGHT? Unless it’s at least 120 miles long and contains 4000 metres of climbing per day, or results in hospitalisation for at least one of the participants, IT’S NOT EPIC.

Aaaaand breathe…

One thing that is immediately obvious is that Cycling Plus has pretty much the same stuff in it as Cycling Active and BikesEtc. We have winter bikes in Cycling Plus, BikesEtc and Cycling Active; we have pedaling articles in Cycling Plus and BikesEtc; and we have winter tyres in Cycling Plus and BikesEtc. I expect it’s the same in other hobbyist titles. The angling titles probably all have an “EPIC Winter Waders Shoot-Out!” around this time of year, and flying mags probably all have “New Season, New Parachute!” tests. Or something.

So Cycling Plus this month kicks off with the usual First-Rides and product news pieces, then we have a test of sub-£1000 bikes (aka winter bikes). I honestly couldn’t be arsed to read this because a) I don’t want a sub-£1000 bike, b) I know that they are all basically the same (ally frame, Sora or Tiagra gruppo, crap wheels, cheap finishing kit). Precisely why they chose these bikes, and not any of the other two dozen £1000 bikes available in the UK, remains a mystery. At least there’s a comprehensive side-by-side spec panel to make comparisons easy. Next, the Head-to-Head compares a £90 saddle with a £40 saddle. No, I don’t get it, either. The brake-block shootout at least makes some sense.

My favourite bit of the whole mag is the Our Bikes section, where journos are obliged to pen a few polite words about living with whatever bike they’ve managed to scam for the season. I know…I’ve done this myself on many occasions, but it still makes me laugh. This month the Editor admits he can’t be arsed to write much, so has cut-and-pasted someone else’s test of it, and then mentioned that he’d put some new tyres and saddle on it. Top stuff!

Riding With The Enemy is a long and rather worthy piece about how other road users perceive cyclists, using interviews with various cabbies and bus and truck drivers who also cycle. You’d have to be living in a croft on the Outer Hebrides not to be aware of the “war on Britain’s roads”, and this article does little to add to most cyclist’s understanding of the situation out there.

Next up is a six page feature on three C+ staffers riding the three Haute Routes. Normally I quite enjoy these pieces about EPIC mountain sportives, if only because they remind me never to sign up for any of them. But this one is done as a kind of Q&A with the three riders, and I find Q&As a bit crap really. It’s like they couldn’t be bothered (or didn’t have enough time) to construct a flowing story into which interesting quotes can be dropped. This smacks of sending out a list of questions, then boshing the replies on the pages with a few photos, and the job’s a good ‘un. And yes, I am judging others by my own exceptionally low standards.

The lights test is actually not bad, as far as it goes, but it’s by no means comprehensive. There’s useful info, running times have been checked, and there’s a short para on each. But there are many more out there, so how did they decide on these ones? We’re not told, so it feels like it’s a quick email to the distributors and then a test of whatever they send. Personally, a separate test of town lights and country lights (which have very different requirements) would make more sense.

Next up is a test of the ultra-lightweight Fuji 1.1SL conducted during the HotChillee Alpine Challenge. It’s quite interesting and immersive reading, even though anyone who’s ever seen the HotChillee events on Eurosport will know that this is serious faux-pro wannabe stuff.

And so to winter tyres. Get a pair of 25c Conti GP 4 Seasons. All the mags say so, I say so, most of the forums say so. End of.

The How To section at the back contains all sorts of bite-sized (lightweight) pieces on choosing shoes, fueling, gearing etc, all of which is familiar ground for anyone who’s been reading the bike press for more than three months. The Grade Adventure (adventure cycling on a GT Grade) feels like an on-going advertorial, and this month they’ve gone riding around a quarry somewhere. Oh, my bad…they went to Iceland, which is an amazingly beautiful country even though C+ have made it look like a quarry in north Wales.

After an extract of Geraint Thomas’ new book (stop calling him G!) there’s a nicely written and photographed piece by Trevor Ward about riding in the snowy Cairngorms with a Paralympian which bizarrely made me want to go and ride around Scotland in the snow. I probably won’t.

Wrapping it up is Ned Boulting’s column, usually good for a chuckle, in which he spends his time either napping or getting really militant about cycling. Not having napped since I was three years old, I didn’t really understand that bit, but I’m all over the militancy. For a start, let’s improve cycling immeasurably…by banning the word EPIC!

So, 186 pages, of which 113 are editorial. That’s a very healthy Ed/Ad ratio and there are a whopping number of facing-matter ad pages in there. I find Cycling Plus’ cheap paper stock rather nasty, and the overall feel is a bit bitty, but generally it’s not a bad read. It’s one penny cheaper than Cyclist (which I’ll be deconstructing tomorrow), and 24p more than BikesEtc and Cycling Active. If that makes a difference. Which it probably doesn’t.

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7 thoughts on “Plus c’est la même chose

  1. At last, someone (you) has got something off my chest – the really lame photography in Cycling Plus. It drove me up the wall so much that it was the main reason I cancelled my subscription. Well, that and everything else you said about it….

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  2. Hello! Thanks for your review – it’s very interesting, nicely written and fair. Obviously, I don’t agree with all of it but then you wouldn’t expect me to would you? As you can no doubt imagine making a magazine about what is, essentially, a very simple activity 13-times a year is quite a challenge, but we do try our best to keep it fresh and interesting. It’s getting harder, of course, as a lot of people seem to be following our lead… But all feedback is appreciated and listened to. Oh, and it’s not that I “couldn’t be arsed” to write about the Merida – David had just said everything I wanted too! Epic!

    Rob, Editor of Cycling Plus.

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  3. Hi Rob. I absolutely get how hard it can be, especially in this internet age. And I completely understand the financial constraints being heaped on Editors. But I do think things could be done better (by all the mags) and I do think that a major part of the problem is that cycling appears so joyless and po-faced in the specialist press. Yes, we all suffer physically on our bikes, and that’s part of the attraction, but emotionally we can use our bikes to spread our metaphorical wings and soar. We can go anywhere…we’re not restricted to a playing field or gym or court, we can ride in the wheeltracks of our heroes, explore beautiful places, and experience them in a far more intimate and engaging way than you can in a car. That, to me, is what cycling is all about. Not intervals or N+1 or Strava segments.

    The “can’t be arsed” comment was a little harsh, I grant you that. But thanks for coming on here with your feedback (with good humour, to boot). Good luck with the mag (less EPIC, more joy, please).

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  4. I think you’ll find the ads are far more than you say. I counted and there are nearly 90 ads in this issue. Its why i stopped buying Cycling Plus, its just too ad heavy.
    Also, you have to take into account that a dozen or more pages are fillers, like the Contents page, big double page spreads of 1 photograph (so they don’t have to write anything) and the such. In the end you actually end up with about 90 pages of proper editorial. And before anyone shouts, i know what I’m talking about, i work in publishing.

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    1. Including the reader offers my flat plan says it’s 73 pages of ads… I’d love 90 pages at this time of year! Should I do a smiley face?

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    2. As long as there’s a commensurate number of editorial pages, I don’t care how many ad pages there are. More ads mean more editorial (in theory), and that’s fine with me, providing the editorial is worth reading.

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