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.
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:
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:
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.