Marginal gains

Maybe because NutsEtc this month is so execrable I feel a little more kindly towards Cycling Active than I might otherwise. The front cover image is nice enough (Yorkshire), and there isn’t a single exclamation mark on there. A good start!!!!!

Unfortunately the Wish You Were Here spread, designed to showcase the joys of the cobbled climbs of the Tour of Flanders sportive, is a bit crap. Surely they could have found a better photo than a flat bit at the bottom of the Kwaremont dominated by concrete telegraph poles and willow trees. FIIC!

The “Five Things” this month is with Sky’s Director of Business Operations (nope, no idea what that is either), the N+1 is a Trek Madone 9.9 (interesting), and the Most Wanted is a Fizik saddle (meh!). Simon Warren’s column is as good as ever, and Brett Lewis’ is as lame as ever.

And so to the first of the sportive previews…the Etape du Dales. The photos are nice, the text is OK (too long), and although it doesn’t make me want to ride the sportive, it does make we want to ride my bike in Yorkshire again sometime soon. At 110 miles in length, and including several pretty grueling climbs, this is actually fairly epic. I just wish they would  tell us the total number of feet or metres climbed, because that’s kind of important (yes I know I can go onto the sportive website and find out, but why doesn’t the magazine tell us?).

The next sportive previewed is the Spring Chicken, Greens, Time for Hitler and Germany, Onion, yet another sportive in the Surrey Hills. Frankly I’m bored to tears with the Surrey Hills so I skipped this 10-pager (the photos are nice, though), and moved on to a test of five CX bikes in the £1200-£1600 price range. I don’t want a CXer (although I do rather like the On-One Pickenflick, although that’s not included here despite the fact that it’s £1600 and probably better than all of the bikes on test here), but it’s quite an interesting read. Sadly it doesn’t really touch on the gearing issues than compromise entry-level CXers — too low for road use, often not low enough to winch up steep climbs. Nor does this article address the chainline efficiency of a x1 gruppo.

Next up is a test of three aluminium bikes for around the £1200 mark. Ally is coming back into fashion thanks to advances in construction and the fact that people have realised that they don’t snap in half when you thrown them down the road or over-tighten the seat post clamp. It’s a decent test, but why no Trek or Canyon or Giant or any of the other offerings? Yet again we are given three bikes seemingly chosen at random from what’s available. It’s OK as far as it goes, but the test doesn’t really offer the reader a great deal.

Here’s an idea: test the best ally-framed bike for £1200 against the best carbon-framed bike for £1200. And remove some of the variables (test them on the same set of wheels/tyres and the same seatpost/saddle). Give us some in-depth analysis of the way they feel, the way they ride. Tell us if mid-range ally really is better than cheap carbon. Maybe talk to a tame mechanic about the joys and pitfalls of both materials from a mechanic’s point-of-view. Shock horror…maybe even chat to a bike shop about the respective residual values on the secondhand market.

Unfortunately this would require giving an actual toss about what the readers want from a bike test rather than trotting out the usual guff for the benefit of the potential/existing advertisers. Which is why I’m not the Editor of a magazine any more (yes, I really am that old-school).

Anyway, next up is a test of 10 waterproof jackets. Although not comprehensive, most of the major players are there and it’s a pretty decent effort. But I was less impressed by the winter bib-tights test, which doesn’t include Assos (the bib-tight by which most others are judged) and which is a men-only affair. Considering both the Editor and Deputy Editor are women I would have thought female riders would be getting more of a look-in, but apparently not. Also, how does the Gore bib-tight score 7 when the fit is so bad?

Far better is the winter shoe test, which actually comes to the conclusion that they’re all rubbish and we should stick with regular shoes and overshoes. I know! Cycling Mag in Useful Advice Shocker! I did some research into winter shoes a while back and came to the same conclusion, but it’s good to see a mag come out and confirm it. Good work, CA. The saddlebags test (just the four of them) was a bit shit, though.

Not so the following piece on carbon-fibre. Matt Lamy has done a good job unraveling the truth from the PR bollocks about carbon-fibre, and it’s an interesting read. He also raises an interesting point about the unrecyclable nature of carbon bikes, something I haven’t seen anywhere else. Good stuff (as is the following piece about adjusting your rear derailleur).

Now we come to the cookery section, where we have maple syrup, beetroot juice, honey, and carb drinks. I so don’t care. And the February training plan and training zone stuff is just the sort of joyless, po-faced stuff that makes me wonder who reads this. Picked at random:

“The phosphocreatine system helps bolster flagging adenosine triphosphate stores very rapidly by regenerating broken down ATP using donated phosphate from a reservoir of high-energy phosphate in the muscles known as creatine phosphate.”

And it goes on for ever. And ever. It’s eight pages of impenetrable bio-chemistry. Seriously, this is utterly bonkers for a recreational cycling mag. Who the hell is going to wade through this just so they can go 20 seconds faster on a sportive? There’s probably a good piece in here somewhere…it just needs a good sub-editor to take a big red pen to it or it needs to be sent back to the author with a request to rewrite it for people without a degree in bio-chemical engineering.

And that pretty much concludes this month’s Cycling Active. It has 103 pages of editorial out of 130 pages, and quite a few in-house ads. However, it’s a slight improvement on last month’s issue and with luck it will continue to improve as Hannah gets her feet under her desk.

 

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Unmitigated shite

Poor old Felix Dennis must be spinning in his grave. That a magazine, published by a company bearing his name, should churn out such awful shite would be heartbreaking for a man generally considered to be one of the publishing “greats” of the 20th Century. I was fortunate enough to work for him briefly back in the day, and we was a maverick genius, truly one of a kind. Google him…he was a visionary.

But NutsEtc, Dennis Publishing’s most recent addition to their cycling stable, is anything but visionary. For a few months in 2015 NutsEtc was beginning to look like a half-decent bike mag. It wasn’t perfect, but it seemed to be heading in the right direction. But last month’s issue was pretty poor, and this one is worse. It’s lowest-common-denominator publishing brought to cycling. And I, for one, don’t want to be treated like a 19-year-old noob.

Anyway, let’s get this over with, shall we? In the Ed’s Letter the new Editor admits to being a gym nut. Clearly he’s not a cyclist if he chooses to pay to spend his leisure time indoors with lots of other sweaty people when he should be outside on his bike. And, as we shall see later on, he seems to think the rest of his readers are not cyclists either. He may be right…maybe we don’t know the benefits of cycling, or how to clean a pair of shoes (yes, NutsEtc will explain all of these things this month).

10 Reasons You’ll Love This Bike — this month we’ll be loving a 9.2kg ally-framed BMC with Tiagra, apparently. Except most of us won’t. Although “being lightweight, stiff and part of BMC’s Altitude Series means you’ll snaffle hills for breakfast on this bike”. Yeah, right.

Next are some news and products pages that includes a review of piece of gym equipment that has neither pedals nor saddle and costs £1445. The First Ride this month is “disc-braked racers” and features a Kinesis Aithein, a KTM Revelator Sky, and a Lapierre Sensium. The test starts out by claiming that these three are “race-ready” and then spends the next nine pages explaining that they’re not really race bikes at all. It’s almost as if they thought “ah fuck it, it’s Christmas” (FIIC) and just boshed any old shite together.

And then there’s this:

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New Year’s Resolutions, or lightweight advice for newbies dressed up in the lamest “creative” idea since the Editor went to Basra dressed as an elf? Fair play to Susannah Osbourne, though…as a freelancer she must be delighted to see an hour’s work spread out over six pages of editorial.

And she sold them another one in the shape of “Secrets of Rio’s Olympic RoadRace Route”. This is basically a re-hash of a tourist guide book about Rio de Janeiro along with a few snippets about cycling there. This is genuinely one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen in a cycling mag, but look no further if you want to know about the monkeys in the Tijuca National Park, or where to take a great picture of Christ The Redeemer. Perhaps NutsEtc think all their readers are heading off to Brazil this summer to watch the Olympic road-race? Or maybe they thought “ah fuck it, it’s Christmas”.

The four-page New Year, New Bikes piece contains a few pics and a paragraph on each of the six bikes featured. It’s an FIIC filler.

Next up is a six-pager on why the 2016 Tour de France will be the bestest one ever ever ever! And to confirm that fact, they asked a load of people (whose livelihoods depend on lots of people watching the Tour) what they think. Unsurprisingly, they think it will be super-epic. Come on, NutsEtc…YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE JOURNALISTS! This is feeble beyond belief. On second thoughts, FIIC!

Susannah pops up again with “8 Great Escapes”, a piece about cycling abroad. She is a travel journalist, but you or I could have thrown this together in an hour or two. All the usual boxes are ticked: Mallorca training camp, Cape Rouleur, Marmotte, Girona, Rapha Retreat, etc. It doesn’t offer anything we haven’t seen countless times before, but it’s another eight pages for Susannah’s portfolio, so that’s good.

And now we come to the reviews section. The base-layers piece is reasonably good, the action cameras piece doesn’t include the GoPro Hero4, the energy gels piece doesn’t include anything from ZipVit or SiS, and the saddles test is just pointless (saddles are such a personal thing that testing them is a waste of time). The saddlebags test is just a small, random selection, plus a moron’s guide to what to put in your saddlebag (how stupid do they think we are?). They don’t even tell us the capacity of the bags. Eejits. And the Cleaning Kits piece appears to have been written for 12 year-olds (now remember, kiddies…a clean bike is a happy bike!).

The £720-£800 road bikes test is not of any interest to me, but maybe for newbies or those looking for a winter bike. Unfortunately it’s pretty turgid stuff, it fails to give all-up weights, and makes a lot of allowances for some pretty cheap kit. Yet again we don’t know why they chose these four out of the dozen or so bikes that fit the price range. FIIC.

The Edge section is the usual melange of crap — eat nuts and berries, ride like Peter Sagan, how to clean your shoes (no, really!), and 15 reasons why riding your bike is better than joining a gym. In case you hadn’t noticed, Mr Editor…this is a feckin cycling magazine. Of course we’re more interested in cycling than joining a gym. Only a total noob (or the Editor) would even consider paying money to join a gym rather than go cycling. Utter shite.

In the Out There section are short pieces on riding the Yorkshire Dales, Monte Grappa, Sussex and Pembrokeshire, all of which are short but reasonably OK. And that’s it. 130 pages, of which 107 are editorial ones. And it’s a really piss-poor effort. Seriously, it’s shockingly bad. I guess if you’re a complete novice then some of this stuff may be OK, but for anyone who’s spent more than a year on a road bike this stuff is Children’s Hour. But at least they’ve cut the number of exclamation marks on the cover down to a paltry 10!!!!!!!!!!

It’s different for girls

At last…a book about women’s cycling! And not a moment too soon, given the increasing interest in this aspect of the sport over recent years. And Suze Clemitson (known as @festinagirl on Twitter) is clearly the right person to write it, having penned a good e-book about the Tour de France (100 Tours, 100 Tales) and written features about cycling for the Guardian.

But Ride The Revolution isn’t quite the book I thought it would be. I had expected to read the history of women’s cycling, some in-depth analysis of the current state of women’s pro cycling and the challenges it faces, and some ideas about how it might move forward. All told through the stories of riders, journalists, and administrators past and present.

However this book doesn’t really do that, and doesn’t really aim to do that. The problem is that I’m not really sure what it does do. It is split into sections — the pioneers, the riders, the service course, the media, the administrators, the campaigners, and the women who ride — each one with a number of personal stories. This is more of an anthology than anything else.

The pioneers section is good, but only includes two stories (Beryl Burton and Mein van Bree). On the back cover of the book there is a mention of Alfonsina Strada’s extraordinary Giro d’Italia in 1924, but there is no mention in the book. Nor of Billie Flemming or Eileen Gray.

The section on riders is mostly rather dull, I’m afraid. Personally, I’m only really interested in riders if they have extraordinary stories to tell, and most of these are not terribly exciting (I was a tom-boy, I raced my brother’s bike in a local race, I won, I got picked up by a team, I won some more).

In the service course section there are pieces about Emma O’Reilly and Hannah Grant, both of whom have already received plenty of coverage elsewhere over the years and who don’t really tell us much we don’t already know. And the administrators section includes Rochelle Gilmore, racer-turned-team-owner, and Tracy Gaudry, UCI Vice-President. Neither of these chapters are particular captivating, and Gilmore especially could have shed some light on the problems women’s cycling faces. But she doesn’t. And all we get from Gaudry is impenetrable management-speak beloved of people who spend far too much time on committees and far too little time actually doing anything. It’s a shame, because they should both have interesting things to say.

In the media section we have Sarah Connolly who does an excellent women’s cycling podcast (with a very annoying co-host). But instead of talking to her about her work, we just get a few examples of her rider interviews instead. The piece about Laura Meseguer is more interesting, if only for the questions it doesn’t ask. Such as: do you think your father’s senior position at Spain’s leading news agency helped you get a job there? And do you think you’d be on our screens, having had no experience of pro cycling prior to 2014, if you didn’t look like this:

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The campaigners section includes Betsy Andreu, who when asked about Armstrong’s doping responds with “You want me to talk about it again? The detail of that is out there.” That’s rather what I thought, too. The piece by Clara Hughes on the mental and physical dangers of pro cycling is a good read, and so too is the chapter by Kimberley Rampling, which does actually touch on some of the problems women’s pro cycling faces (prize money, sponsorship, coverage, etc). It’s the best piece in the book, albeit too brief to go into any real depth.

Anna Doorenbos’ piece about trying to buy cycling gear for plus-size women is heartbreaking, and I can’t even begin to imagine the difficulties involved. But sadly the problem comes down to simple economics…there just aren’t that many size 18 women out there who want cycling kit, so the manufacturers don’t make it.

I think the main problem with this book is the expectations I brought to it. I thought it would be something different. Having listened to Sarah Connolly’s podcasts berating race organisers for their shambolic efforts to arrange women’s races, I expected this book to address some of those concerns.

Take the case of the Tour de Languedoc-Roussillon in 2013, won by Emma Pooley. It was cancelled at the last minute, then reinstated moments before the start after several teams had already gone home. Pooley described: “Frequent last-minute changes of accommodation, which is a nightmare for anti-doping whereabouts; poor quality accommodation; campsites of varying cleanliness; no proper addresses for race starts… It was all highly frustrating.”

Often women racers are sleeping on campbeds in school halls, showering in car-parks, being fed terrible food by the organisers, and are expected to do all this for €100 prize money and no coverage for their sponsors. There are often examples of cars getting onto the parcours mid-race, and sometimes the roads are reopened while some of the back-markers are still racing. These are the sorts of things that are routine for the women, and which would cause uproar in the men’s peloton if it happened to them.

So while I quite enjoyed Ride The Revolution, for me it didn’t really hit the mark and I still think there’s room for a book that takes a more serious (and angry) analytical approach to how women’s cycling should move forward.

Ride The Revolution is published by Bloomsbury, priced £16.99.

A completely different animal

Issue 59 of Rouleur is upon us, and it’s another reasonable effort by the certifiable lunatics at Gruppo Media. By steadfastly refusing to conform to publishing norms, Rouleur continues to stand apart from the crowd. It’s resolutely grown-up and eschews the “Top Ten Greatest…” type articles in favour of considered, properly researched, and slightly left-field articles about the world of road racing. Branded pretentious by some, and achingly self-conscious by others, it nonetheless treads its own path.

So this issue we kick off with a hefty piece about Jan Ulrich, the man forever in the shadow of Lance Armstrong, written by The Danes (the Danish journalist and photographer duo of Morten Okobo and Jakob Kristian Sorensen). I’m not sure what I think about The Danes. They do a lot of stuff for Rouleur, but it’s often pretty challenging stuff. They did a two-part feature about Lance Armstrong a while back, and now they’re doing a two-parter about Ulrich. I’m guessing it will be Riccardo Ricco next.

But this is not a potted biography of the man with a few quotes thrown in, as you so often get in Pro Cycling and Cycle Sport. This is altogether different. It’s an attempt to peel back the protective layers and examine the man within. In doing so, Okobo reveals a lot about himself as well. Normally I would hate this kind of thing…journalism should never be about the journalist. But this is a different form of writing. And it sort of works. I’ll wait until part 2 before forming a proper opinion, but so far it is engaging, and I’m looking forward to the big reveal in part two (assuming there is a big reveal…there wasn’t in the Armstrong one).

Next is a lovely piece that is exactly the sort of thing Rouleur does so well…it’s a piece about an artist who does paintings of cycling — Jeff Parr. There’s not a huge amount of text, but there are six examples of his work, all of which merit examination. This is the kind of story you would never find in the mainstream cycling press, but it’s beautiful. And only Rouleur would dare use one of Parr’s semi-abstracts as a full-bleed double-page spread.

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Another heavyweight feature comes in the form of a piece about the French Europcar team. It’s a fascinating look behind the scenes with one of the smaller teams operating on a tiny budget compared to the likes of Sky and Tinkoff. It’s also a very good vehicle for examining the problems of funding top-level cycling teams and bringing through young French talent.

Following on from this is an interview with…yes, it’s Geraint Thomas! Yaay! It’s been several minutes since I last didn’t read an interview with him, and in an effort to maintain consistency I didn’t read this one either. I’m sure Rouleur’s version is better than most, but I just don’t care.

But I do care about the Giro di Lombardia, the race of the falling leaves. It’s a beautiful and historic Classic, held in one of the most beautiful places imaginable. And Colin O’Brien tells the story of the 2015 Lombardia very well indeed. Tagged onto the end of the feature is a short and slightly odd piece about testing Sportful’s Fiandre range of clothing. It doesn’t really fit the Rouleur style, but it was an opportunity to ride with the Tinkoff team for a day.

Another slightly odd feature is the one about the UCI driving course, aimed at making sure members of the press don’t knock riders into barbed-wire fences. Like the author, I expected this to be a practical lesson in road-craft for convoy drivers. It wasn’t. It was a lengthy and boring PowerPoint presentation. The author does his best to analyse why there have been so many accidents this year, but doesn’t really go into any depth. Clearly Rouleur found this a frustrating experience, as does the reader.

Who doesn’t love a cycling article that kicks off with a quote from Steinbeck, eh? This one is about the Tour of California, and is slightly unusual in that it is written by Tom Southam, a DS with the Drapac team. It’s an insider’s view, and all the more interesting for that. I’m not a huge fan of the ToC (all those tossers in fancy dress running alongside the riders get right on my tits), but it’s a good piece. The choice and use of photos, however, has me scratching my head…too much blurry photography cropped in peculiar ways. I’m all in favour of arty stuff, but this is just silly.

And that’s your lot. It’s not a bad issue, but it’s not one of their best. Maybe organising their Rouleur Classic bike show has caused them to take their collective eye off the ball slightly. Let’s hope for better things next issue.

 

Hmmmm…

The latest issue of Cyclist is now on the shelves, and I have to say it’s a bit of a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not terrible. It’s just not quite up to the usual standards. And certainly not as good as last month’s.

The cover is a good one, specially at this gloomy time of year. There’s a nice shot of three cyclists on a twisting mountain round in Andalusia (southern Spain), bathed in Mediterranean sunshine, with the sea in the background. The cover-line invites us to head here for year-round sunshine and empty roads. Sounds good to me.

And the cover is mercifully free of question and exclamation marks, or other forms of must-read hysteria. The “Magazine of The Year” banner is a bit gratuitous. It’s a bit like me claiming to be an award-winning journalist just because a magazine I once worked on received an award at the publishing company’s annual in-house awards. Without the context it’s a meaningless boast.

Anyway, inside we start with the usual new product news — new Canyon, Adidas kit, Vittoria tyres, Shimano shoes, etc. Then we have an interview with Sean Yates, a man I find it hard to like. I’ve never met him, but most of what I’ve read about him (or seen on the TV) makes him out to be a bit of a dick. This Q&A doesn’t do anything to change that impression.

Next is an interesting piece about being too thin. This is something that has NEVER been a problem with me, but it’s a good read. Apparently 20 percent of US male cyclists suffer from abnormal eating behaviours, although what constitutes “abnormal” in a country where morbid obesity is becoming the norm is difficult to ascertain. It’s an nice piece, though.

Following on is an article about the rolling resistance of tyres. This doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know, but it’s nice to have a magazine do real-world tests to back up the theory. There are still plenty of riders out there that firmly believe 23mm tyres are faster than 25mm ones, but the overwhelming body of proof is now that 25s offer the optimum performance for most conditions. And this is the type of thing Cyclist does very well.

The same can be said of the article about cycling caps by Trevor Ward. He is all about the casquette, and is wonderfully dismissive of the baseball cap. It’s well written and well argued, and I’m becoming a bit of a fan of Ward’s…he’s clearly a man after my own heart.

Whereas Frank Strack, of Velominati fame, is clearly not. In his latest column he blithers on about all sorts of bollocks to do with riding with one’s spouse/significant-other. “They don’t appreciate the sacrifices we make” he bleats. “I made the point of choosing a partner who also rides,” he brags. “She understands the appeal to go spelunking in the Pain Cave and drop the flashlight,” he gushes. Eh? Speak English, you fool. I suspect his partner just smiles sweetly and thinks “shut up you pretentious, egotistical cretin, and just ride your damn bike”. Have a look at Cycling Plus’ deconstruction of The Rules this month if you want a bit of balance to this nonsense.

Next up is a piece about riding in Andalusia, a beautiful (and warm) part of the world ideal for a bit of winter sunshine. And the piece is a good one, although it doesn’t really mention the one problem with cycling in this part of the world…it’s completely empty once you get away from the coast. And while that’s a good thing in many respects, it’s not perfect if, like me, you like to stop regularly at cafes for coffee and nibbles and cold water. But it makes a change from the Canaries, I suppose.

The article that follows is about food and “periodised nutrition”. Aimed squarely at the competitive cyclist, it’s reasonably interesting  but completely irrelevant to those of us who are merely want to eat relatively healthily and ride our bikes. I’m not an athlete, I don’t need to worry about race-day nutrition.

I’m afraid I didn’t bother reading the Geraint Thomas profile…he’s been absolutely everywhere promoting his book, and I don’t imagine there’s anything new in this article. He’s a pro athlete, so genuine insights and opinions will be notable by their absence. Whatever.

The story behind Merckx bikes is more interesting than I thought it would be, the piece about being a DS was less interesting than I thought it would be, and the piece about road bike “suspension” just made me sad. I would expect a man of Stu Bowers pedigree to exercise a little more journalistic rigour in his approach to this subject. The idea of suspension (or bits of rubbery stuff inserted into frames to increase damping) is to enable riders to be more comfortable. That’s fine for competitors in the 260km  Paris-Roubaix, but do the rest of us really need this?

Well, let’s have a look at some Strava stats for 2014 (Strava is, we are told, where the latest generation of cyclists upload their data):

• On average, UK male cyclists using Strava spent a total of 35 hours, 13 minutes in the saddle in 2014. Women spent 20 hours, 12 minutes.

• In 2014, male Strava cyclists in the UK covered an average distance of 809km (503 miles). Women covered 407km (253 miles).

• The average ride lasted 1 hour and 46 minutes (1 hour and 39 minutes for women), covering 25.5 miles (22 miles for women) at an average speed of 14mph (12.5mph for women).

Holy shit! I’m shocked. Genuinely shocked. What the fuck is everyone doing? Clearly we are all far more time-crunched (sorry) than I thought. And clearly there are loads of Stravistas who are talking the talk but not necessarily walking the walk. It may be that the figures are skewed by lots of people signing up to Strava and then rarely bothering to upload stuff. But this is a terrifying snapshot of UK cycling. I assumed we were all doing thousands of miles a year on our club runs, sportives and audaxes, but perhaps the people actually putting in the miles are more interested in cycling than tossing-off over Strava KoMs.

So who needs N+1 when you’re only spending 35 hours a year on a bike? Who needs expensively-gained comfort when you’re only covering 500 miles a year? But perhaps we need suspension on our road bikes to encourage us to spend more than 35 hours a year doing something we profess to love.

If you want something comfortable, buy a steel or titanium frame in the correct size with the correct geometry, buy the best bibshorts available, and maybe get a bike-fit if you’re not confident of tweaking your own position. A £9000 boingy Pinarello? You definitely don’t need one of those.

The other thing no one has tackled is the longevity of these designs where the suspension is really just vertical compliance of the chainstays. With the chainstays constantly flexing up to 10mm, how long will they last? Does carbon-fibre suffer fatigue in the same way metals do? Buggered if I know, but I wish this article would tell me.

There’s an interesting feature to be written about all this, but unfortunately this isn’t it. And just when you’d had enough Pinarello PR puff, we get an article about a Pinarello sportive. It’s actually a nice read, mostly because I love cycling in Italy and will cheerfully consume these things while wistfully planning next year’s holidays.

The bikes section looks at a Giant TCR Advanced Pro, a rather lovely Pretorious Outeniqua, and a Sarto Lampo. The Pretorious and Sarto are both interesting bikes, but the Giant doesn’t really rock my boat. Nor do the £2400 Easton clinchers they’ve tested, even if they are tubeless-ready.

Rounding off proceedings is Felix Lowe’s column, which this month is better than usual (which isn’t saying a lot). If you didn’t watch all the Classics and Grand Tours, this column may not make much sense to you.

And there you have it. As before, I read it on my iPad, so can’t tell you about ed/ad ratios, but they appear to be doing OK these days. I was left feeling mildly disappointed in this issue, which may be more to do with the high quality of last month’s offering. Even so, I’d say it’s worth a fiver of anyone’s money.

Haven’t we reached peak beard yet?

Oh dear lord…a beardy man illuminated by 9 billion giga-lumens of artificial light graces the cover of this month’s Cycling Plus. Seriously, people…beards are only acceptable if you are in the Navy, live in a wilderness, look like you’re 12 years old without one, or you’ve got a particularly weak chin.

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Anyway, we have a hyper-lit beardy on the cover. It’s not nice, but there you go. At least it doesn’t feel like an over-excited gossip mag (yes, NutsEtc, we’re looking at you). First off are a couple of First Rides — a Van Nic CXer, a Kona steeler, and a Marin CXer. Nothing for me here, but they’re probably of interest to some people. The Big Picture (achtung, beard-alert)  is a shot taken in New Mexico that looks for all the world like Cheddar Gorge and features a bloke with two heads and three arms.

After a few pages of newsy/new producty type stuff we have the monthly columns…Rob Ainslie talking about riding his tourer up Ventoux, and MotoGP rider Bradley Smith talking about cycling. They’re both good pieces.

The first test is an interesting one. German bikes. This works as a concept, and makes interesting reading. If you can’t get six bikes that all cost £1500/£2000/whatever, then find a common thread and run with that. That’s what C+ has done here, and they have attempted to see if there is such a thing as “German-ness” when it comes to bike design. Personally, I would have liked more analogies drawn between German automotive design, architecture and industrial design, maybe looking at the way Germans approach engineering and design solutions, but ultimately this is still an interesting way of testing a few bikes.

Next up is a section of new product tests (wheels, brake blocks, saddles, etc) which are absolutely fine, although I think they’re pretty generous with the Vittoria wheels which cost £900, weigh 1982g and get three-and-a-half stars. And then we have a meaty six-page feature about heart-rate versus power-meter training. I’m sure this is good stuff, but the pull-quote

“It’s important not just to have a coach, but that your relationship is closer than just firing over the occasional email.”

made me roll my eyes and wonder just who reads articles like this. If you’re a racer, then I guess stuff like this is relevant. But surely the vast majority of C+ readers are recreational riders who are happy to ride with their club, their mates or on the occasional sportive. You don’t need a coach or power meter for that. Nor a training plan. If you’re blathering on about VO2 max, Functional Threshold Power, and lactate levels, and you’re not a racer, then you need to have a word with yourself. And while you’re at it, ask yourself what exactly it is that you are training for?

The next big feature is a six-pager about what it’s like to be a recreational cyclist thrown into a pro team. It’s a nice read, albeit rather longer than strictly necessary, and gives an interesting insight into the huge gulf that exists between us recreational riders and the pros.

Following on is a test of softshell jackets and winter bibs. As usual this is a men-only feature, but at least C+ has attempted something elegantly simple here…they’ve done it by manufacturer. And, most of the big players are represented here. Not all, but most. A pretty good job, I would say. On a related note, it would be nice to see some more women in the pages of the mainstream press. CA does it, but no one else. And the female market is growing. Perhaps all the publishers are about to bring out their own women’s cycling mags (which would doubtless be piss-poor tokenism).

Next is a winter bike test — old-school Dolan Preffisio versus new-school Giant Defy. It’s not a bad feature, but I take issue with the premise that everyone should have a winter bike. The author says why wreck a £120 cassette when you can wreck one costing £25? What he doesn’t mention is that this £25 cassette comes attached to a £1000 bike. You can buy eight £120 cassettes for the price of a winter bike. My problem is that I want to ride my best (only) road bike all the time. That bike has been everywhere with me, we have history together, it cost a lot of money…of course I want to ride it everywhere. And I do. I just have a pair of winter wheels with a cheapo cassette on. And if I was ever in the market for a winter bike, I’d buy a secondhand one for £400, not a new one for £1000.

Anyway, it’s a test of turbo trainers next. Personally, I hate my turbo, and tend to use it only if there is actual snow on the ground. But lots of people buy them, and the new generation of “smart” trainers allow people to Zwift and get all Bluetoothy. I’m not even remotely interested in spending £800 on a trainer, but at least C+ has conducted a properly scientific and repeatable test, including things that are important, such as how loud these things are. An explanation of decibel readings (were they dBA or dBC readings?) would have been good…did you know that every increase of 3 dB represents a doubling of sound intensity, or acoustic power?. But that’s not necessarily a doubling of perceived noise. Anyway, a good, thorough test.

Dear god, there’s a lot in this magazine! Next up is an excellent piece about riding the Paris-Brest-Paris, a 1200km uber-audax randonneur type event. You’d have to be certifiably insane to enter this, but it makes for a great read. Equally as good is David Millar’s deconstruction of the Velominati Rules. I’m not a huge fan of Millar, or the Velominati, but he talks some sense in this article.

At the back is the On The Road section, with a good piece about the Granfondo Stelvio (one of my favourite climbs), a sportive round Oxford (don’t care), and the forthcoming LEJOG sportive (now that’s a proper sportive!). Rounding off the mag is Ned Boulting’s column…this month ostensibly about ebikes, but actually about being terrorised by the world’s smallest dog. It made me chuckle.

And there you have it. At 186 pages overall, it has 118 pages of editorial and feels pretty good value for £4.99. The front of the mag is very bitty, mainly due to the poxy ad department selling so many right-hand facing-matter pages, and I suspect the production editor has a complete ‘mare flat-planning this lot, but it’s a decent effort and considerably less EPIC! than last month. Cycling Plus has definitely upped its game this month, let’s hope that trend continues.

 

Punctuation Landslide!!!

In punctuation news, a sudden run on the world’s stock of exclamation marks has led analysts to speculate that Dennis Publishing is attempting to corner the punctuation market in the lucrative run up to Christmas. There are genuine fears at Cycling Plus that all they’ll be able to get hold of is a couple of question marks and some left-over semi-colons for their New Year’s edition. ¡There is even talk of bringing in some grey-import exclamation marks from Hello! magazine in Spain!

Anyway, the January issue of BikesEtc takes cover-line hysteria to new heights with 12 exclamation marks on this month’s cover. Yes! Twelve! OMFG! I blame the new Editor (yes, another bike magazine with a new Editor), who is clearly VERY excited by the prospect of writing cover-lines!!! Or maybe he just can’t help himself, given some of his previous jobs:

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Soldinger has actually been at BikesEtc for a couple of months, but strangely there was no announcement of his arrival, or the previous Editor’s departure, and the Editorial Director has written the Ed’s Letter for the last couple of issues. Soldinger has also worked at Loaded and Now magazines, and while at Nuts he flew out to Basra dressed as an elf to deliver Nuts Christmas presents to British troops stationed there.

Oh dear. Still, he’s a professional journalist and I’m sure we won’t have any of that sexist crap in NutsEtc BikesEtc. Nor will we have hyperbolic cover-lines with the words “sexiest”, “beasts”, “revealed”, blah blah. Except that’s exactly what we get. Check out: “Revealed! The Race Legend Fuelled by Cow’s Blood!” It’s sensationalist drivel. Really.

Maybe Dennis Publishing is aiming for the top end and bottom end of the market with Cyclist and NutsEtc, leaving Time Inc and Immediate Media to fight it out for the middle-ground. I don’t know. But what I do know is that this month’s cover of NutsEtc is appalling shite. Just as Nuts was appalling shite. I can’t wait for them to do a piece on the women’s peloton: Top 10 Pro Team Hotties Undressed! Latin Lovelies in Girl-on-Girl Giro Rosa Action!

So, what’s inside this month’s edition? Well, we start off with a listicle about a new Hoy bike entitled “10 reasons you’ll love this bike”. I could give you 10 reasons why I don’t love this bike, but that would be as boring as the article. Next we have a rather random test of three “pro” bikes. Except they’re not really. They’re running Ultegra, have cheap wheels, and cost around £3000. Pff!

Next is the NutsEtc Awards, a 14-pager bigging up all manner of stuff from the last year. It’s not too bad, but there isn’t much meat to it, and we do get a gratuitous photo of Daniele Colli‘s horrifically broken left arm which is uncalled-for. Following on from this is one of those throw-away features that fills some space, gives you an excuse for a cover-line, but which has no real substance: The 10 Sexiest Bikes Out There. The design of this feature is hideous, and there’s been no attempt to really explain what makes a bike sexy (if anything). And including the Venge ViAS in this list is a joke.

The winter riding feature is good, though. They sensibly got an expert (long-distance adventure-cyclist Tom Allen) to write it rather than some staffer trotting out the usual guff we’ve come to expect. An interesting piece.

So too is the next feature — a look at the life of Mick Murphy. This sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the rest of the mag. It feels like it should be in Rouleur rather than NutsEtc, but it’s a great read about an interesting bloke that few people have heard of. Good effort, except for the pathetic cow-blood graphic.

Now we come to the reviews section. The Winter Jerseys test doesn’t include the Castelli Gabba, the one by which all others are judged, so we can immediately dismiss this. The Premium Lights test seemed OK (I don’t know enough about these things to know if the test is actually any good). Winter socks? They’re all good. The Budget Wheels test is not bad at all, and the Winter Gloves piece, although not extensive, does a fair job.

And then there’s this: £1600 Carbon Bikes. There are, of course, several dozen bikes that fall into this category, but we get four seemingly chosen at random. If I was in the market for a bike at this price-point I would certainly read this feature, but it’s not going to be terribly helpful in the overall scheme of things…there is too much missing (Trek, Boardman, Canyon, etc). A better approach might have been to pick four bikes many readers might otherwise have overlooked in this category…offerings from KTM, Cube, Merida, etc. That would get round the problem of the test not being comprehensive and also offer readers something they may not have considered.

Next up is the usual training section: Eat more fish, ride like a pro, don’t go mad at Christmas, clean your chain, ride your turbo, blah blah blah. All good stuff if you’ve only been riding a bike for six months, repetitive and boring if you’ve been doing this for more than a year or so.

At the back of the mag is the rides section, which includes the Cotswolds, Sa Colabra, the Dragon Ride, and North Devon. These are all reasonably interesting, if slightly lightweight (still better than the 12 pages CA give these things).

And that’s that. There are 110 pages of editorial in a 130-page mag, which means paid-for advertising is looking a bit sparse. I really hope someone slips some Diazapam into the new Editor’s tea, because if this level of hysteria continues I fear the worst (Editor Spontaneously Combusts in Blizzard of Punctuation Shocker!!!).

 

What, no EPIC???

The January issue of Sportive Active Cycling Active has just hit the shelves, and it’s even more sportivetastic than ever. There is a certain sense of weary resignation as I sit down to read it. I know what to expect, and I know what I’m going to think about it. But here goes…

One of the things I like about CA these days is the front cover imagery. They don’t do worm’s-eye-views of bikes, they don’t do beardy men or 19-year-old kids blasted with far too much fill-flash, they do relatively normal people riding their bikes in a picturesque part of the world under natural lighting. And for me it works. Most of the other magazines look the same, and I find it hard to tell them apart.

So the cover of CA this month is mercifully free of crap photography and also free of hysterical punctuation (BikesEtc has 12 exclamation marks on the January cover. That’s this many: ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !). Anyway, inside the mag it’s the usual fare…fucking sportives. I’m not a fan of sportives (I find them at best faintly ridiculous, at worst utterly ridiculous). So I’m not really the target audience for the new-look CA. Anyway, first up is an advertorial for the Box Hill sportive, along with some text from a punter about what a fabulous event this is. Meh!

Then we have the Editor’s letter from the new Editor, Hannah Reynolds. The publishers have promoted internally (Hannah has previously been doing stuff for Cycling Weakly and occasionally CA) rather than trying to poach from elsewhere or bring in some new blood.

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She’s a little over-anxious to get her cycling credentials out there, and claims that she uses Strava to determine a good place to buy a house (really?), but I wish her well and hope she does a better job than the interim incumbent before her.

After a few pages of old news we have a page of punters bigging-up sportives they’ve ridden…a pointless waste of a page. Then we have a listicle about Simon Mottram, founder of Rapha. It’s an excuse for Simon to plug Rapha, and a wasted opportunity. This guy is interesting, so ask him some interesting questions and give the piece more than a page.

Next is four pages of new products followed by a DPS devoted to the new flagship Bianchi, an £8000 work of art that somehow CA have managed to render dull and pedestrian. This should be a celebration of everything that is wonderful about cycling, but instead it’s a procession of facts and figures. Cycling Weakly did the same with their Bike-of-the-Year articles last week…they sucked the joy and excitement out of some truly wonderful bikes.

Maybe these people have become jaded. Maybe they’ve seen so much of this stuff that it no longer excites them. So sack them, and get people in who can enthuse, inspire, and make you yearn. This new Bianchi is their flagship, and yet it isn’t aero, doesn’t have disc brakes and doesn’t have electronic gears. What does that say about Bianchi? What does that say about where top-end bikes are heading? There’s plenty of food for thought there, but instead CA give us the spec sheet and some techno-babble about vibration-damping. They don’t even tell us how much it weighs, FFS! It’s lazy crap.

Simon Warren’s column is a bit of a surprise. He basically comes out and says “don’t believe anything that you read in this magazine”. I know! First he mocks gravel bikes (turn to page 72 for a test of gravel bikes), then integrated cockpits (page 27) then disc brakes (page 58) and so on. Of course he’s right about most of this (except the 25mm tyre thing), but surely he shouldn’t be saying this stuff out loud. In a cycling magazine.

Then we have Brett Lewis, CA’s resident newbie MAMIL, explaining his inferiority complex. Deep down he knows that it’s desperately sad for a man his age to want a medal for riding around the countryside for a couple of hours, but dammit…Rapha-Man got his kit all dirty and damn well earned that tawdry metal disc!

The first big feature is a preview ride of The Hell of Ashdown sportive, promoted by Catford CC. I know…epic! A quick look at the webiste tells you everything you need to know about this:

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This epitomises everything that is wrong about sportives. There’s 6000ft of climbing, which is a fair amount, but really, it’s not enfer du nord hellish. In reality, going to Catford is far more hellish than a few hills in Kent. Anyway, CA give 12 pages to this when five would have done just fine. At the end of the day, it’s just Kent.

Next is a 10-page preview of the Cheshire Cat sportive. Again, I couldn’t care less because I hope never to ride another sportive again, but one of the riders is Les West, a Brit cycling legend from the 1960s and ’70s, so it’s worth reading just to find out a bit about him.

Then we have a test of sportive bikes (surprise!) priced between £2000 and £3200. Yet again, I find myself absolutely baffled about the choice of bikes tested. If you’ve got a budget of £2000, you’re not going to be looking at bikes costing £3200. Or vice versa. Take out the £3200 BMC and you have four bikes all around the same price and with the same market in mind. What is unusual is that the author takes tentative steps towards the heretical viewpoint that discs may not be essential on a road bike. Anyway, high front ends and compact frames make for deeply unattractive bikes (usually), so move on to some even uglier bikes…gravel bikes.

Gravel bikes are another utterly pointless niche that no one needs. Do the pros ride gravel bikes in the Strade Bianche? No they fucking don’t. And they certainly wouldn’t be riding a parts-bin bitsa like the Marin. Anyway, these things are ugly and pointless, so let’s move on to the “Big” group tests. First is multi-tools. There are a bazillion multi-tools available, so how does CA chose which ones to test? We have no idea…they just pick “ten of the best”. Does that mean that anything not tested is not as good as any of those tested? We don’t know. And three of them score 6 out of 10, so is anything that’s not included automatically scoring less than 6 out of 10? We don’t know that either. It feels like one of those send-out-an-email-and-test-whatever-comes-in tests.

Then we have a winter tyres test, which fails to include any of the tyres that have scored highly in other tyre tests. The Conti 4 Seasons is generally regarded as the go-to winter tyre, but is not included in this test, nor is the Vittoria Open Pavé or the Michelin Pro4 Endurance. Without any of these tyres in the test, it is rendered pointless. It’s the same with the rear lights test…just four random rear lights. No attempt at context or an explanation why these four. It just feels lazy and shit.

The same can be said of the softshell jackets “test”, but at least this has an amusing cock-up in it:

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Next is an interesting two-pager about tubeless tyres and a useful  how-to piece about front derailleurs. And then we’re on to the fitness and training section — 22 pages of training programmes, turbo training (yet another piece about Zwift), recipes for fishy things, and a reasonably interesting piece about energy gels (even though we’ve read quite a few of these over the years).

The final piece is a frustrating one. It’s about the race doctor on the Tour of Britain, but it barely scratches the surface of what could have been a much more in-depth and interesting piece. An opportunity missed, I feel.

And that’s your lot. Of 130 pages, 103 are editorial and there are quite a few house ads thrown in as well. Hannnah Reynolds faces a tough job dragging CA into the mainstream. It’s far too sportive-oriented for my tastes, but the publishers have a lot of sportives they need to fill (they probably make more money out of these than they do from publishing) so I can see what they’re trying to achieve. They clearly feel we have not reached “peak sportive” yet, but I do wonder how much longer people like Brett will be prepared to cough up £30+ to go for a bike ride and “win” a medal.