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.

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