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.


6 thoughts on “Marginal gains

  1. CA is picking up, it’s not as good as Cyclist or Rouleur but compared to NutsEtc!! or C+, it’s a lot better. I don’t envy magazine editors, angling, running, cycling etc as the years are largely the same and they end up rehashing the same stuff annually, there’s only so much you can say on winter cycling. I’d love fewer cliches about hoops and shite about responsive climber but chattery over rough surfaces though. I have a feeling it’s utter bollocks but why write it? Make the reviewer look good I suspect a bit like the biochemistry article in CA, badly subbed and even as a scientist I switched off.

    I’d love your take on other genres, Runners World is a lifestyle magazine and utterly turd in my opinion, the one stretch that will stop you getting injured, eat curry and win races, your best marathon on one run a week. Triathlon Plus is presumably from the same stable as C+, it usually has the same wheels (sorry, hoops) review as C+, compares a 3k TT bike with one costing 1500 and knocks it for cheap wheels and honestly makes NutsEtc!!!! look good. Really, you should review it.


  2. Yes it’s hard for magazine editors to keep it fresh and interesting…but it’s their job! If they can’t, they shouldn’t be sitting in the Big Chair. The ability to think laterally is pretty useful, as is the ability to empathise and relate to the readers. The problem is that the publishers are all bean-counters more concerned with bottom-line profitability than editorial excellence. It’s easier (and cheaper) to suck up to the advertisers and cover up falling circulation figures than it is to produce to a quality product that people want to read.

    And testing product is a definite art, something that is surprisingly hard to do well. Stick most people on a selection of £1500 carbon bikes and most wouldn’t be able to detect any significant differences. The average cycling journalist is an enthusiast first and foremost, and they don’t necessarily have the kind of analytical expertise to identify and describe the minute differences between similar bikes. Nor do they necessarily have the command of language to convey the essence of a bike to the readers. So we get regurgitated PR bollocks, a lack of journalistic rigour, and the feeling we are all being taken for mugs. When I read journalists saying that there’s some flex in a crankset I wonder if it’s really possible to detect a minute amount of deflection while sprinting out of the saddle. I’ve never managed it, and I’d be interested to know how much force is necessary to deflect a crank-arm enough to notice while riding.

    Sadly we’re all content-providers rather than journalists now, and our first “loyalty” is to the magazine’s profitability rather than the readership. Publishers are like politicians…short-termism rules. They want profits now, and by the time the advertisers realise they are advertising to 150 people the publisher will have moved on to another company/division. In the long-term the declining standards and readership mean that most magazines are doomed to disappear, become freesheets like Time Out and NME, or become a web-only product at the mercy of the advertisers. As a magazine man I find that sad, especially when my abilities with SEO are more valuable than my abilities to research, analyse, describe and inspire.


  3. Very interesting website and whilst I find it hard to read at times – due to the visceral nature of your writing and of course the acerbic tone which is much deserved. I work in the ‘bike’ industry, all be it bike sales for a big player and have over the years worked for the Big S and Giant of whom sell some great bikes and some shocking bikes. I concluded before Xmas, October / November approx. that the cycle mag industry is not finite (after spending a small fortune over the years and reading Cycling Plus in the hairdressers waiting for my girl, thus concluding it is a waste of £) and largely appeals to the new riders of which the boom seems to be over, post Bejing 2008 (the start of the downing of golf clubs and upping of carbon) as I can no longer stomach sound bites from ex pro’s on ‘how to climb better, what to eat, what not to eat, how to recover, which tyres to use, which cost is stupidly expensive compared to the other’. I made a decision to stop buying everything aside from Cyclist and I agree with everything you have written so far on the blog and concur that Cyclist is streets ahead of a very bad bunch now. Thanks for brining this to the masses, albeit, I do feel sorry for some of the hacks in your sights !!! 😉
    I have come to learn the the modern cyclist has a cycle, pun intended and a bit like Neo in the Matrix, one has to walk through the door to learn how not to spend unwisely through sage advice, experienced road users and time in the saddle, not rehashed rubbish ! Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Might I recommend the Northwave GTX boot. I suffered mightily for years, since getting a pair of these (2nd-hand, eBay, £50) my winter rides are actually enjoyable, extremity-wise. Actually water/wind-proof, and a good fit (I have wide feets). Go a size large and layer 2 pairs of Merino socks, the Defeet Woolie Boolies are excellent and super-hard-wearing.

      Liked by 1 person

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