The song remains the same

Apologies for the silence over the last couple of days…bikes to ride, places to go, electric motors to fit, etc.

But we’re back with a new crop of the monthly mags, and first up is Cycling Active. In classic magazine publishing style, winter issues need blue sky and sunshine on the cover, so CA have a photo of riding in Mallorca. It’s nice enough, but of all the beautiful mountains and vistas there, they chose a flat and not very interesting piece of road for their cover photo. Curious.

The front section of the mag is the usual news and new products stuff (Canyon Delivery Date Delay Disaster, and so on) before we come to the monthly columns. As ever, Simon Warren hits the nail firmly on the head with his piece about how ridiculous structured training plans are for most of us. Unless you’re a BC licence holder, you really don’t need to be doing this stuff. But what is really interesting is that CA publish these columns, because this isn’t the first time Simon has effectively said “don’t believe what you read in this mag”. I actually think it’s very brave of the mag to publish pieces like this, and I applaud them for allowing a dissenting voice to be heard. And clearly I’m going soft, because I even enjoyed Brett Lewis’ column about climbing the Madone.

The first ride piece is about a sportive around Rutland. I skimmed it because there are so many prettier places to ride your bike. The following piece, about riding in Mallorca, is good. Nice photos, decent words from someone who clearly knows the island well, and about a great place to spend a week cycling. Good piece.

The £1500-£1850 steel bikes test was also pretty good, containing a decent cross-section of what’s available and making some good points. I do think that the mag could scale back the full-page riding shots and give us some more in-depth words, but overall it’s a reasonable job.

And so we come to the “superbikes” test…three top-of-the-range racers, from Bianchi, Look and Scott. Personally, I wouldn’t allow anything as ugly as the Look 795 in my magazine, but that’s just me. Several things struck me about this test…why these three, why no riding shots, and why no analysis of what constitutes a superbike? Basically CA have treated this test just like every other test they do, devoting less than half a page to each bike. It’s a crying shame because there’s no attempt to get under the skin of these things, to convey the sheer joy and delight of riding a World Tour level bike, or to get into the minds of the designers. On the first page CA says these are cutting edge, and yet the Bianchi is not aero, has rim brakes and a mechanical groupset. Why? I want to know!

And this is the thing that really pisses me off about the bike press…why does it all have to be so formulaic? Where is the imagination? In a previous life I worked on an automotive magazine, and when one of the manufacturers launched a mentally fast and expensive flagship machine we tested it as usual, but we also gave it to one of our Joe Average readers to test. While the journos blathered on about torque curves, engine-mapping, and such like, the punter brought the piece alive by basically saying “oh my feckin god…I have never experienced anything like this before”. For the journos it was just another (albeit very good) product. For the punter it was a life-changing experience, and he was able to express the excitement, the thrill, the fear, in a way that experienced journalists are rarely able.

So I was massively disappointed with this test. If you can’t round up all the major players to participate in the test, then do something a bit different with what you’ve got. Make us yearn, make us laugh, inspire us.

Next is a selection of product tests — aero helmets (not bad), sunglasses (quite good), bar tape (don’t care) and overshoes (too lightweight). And then there’s a really good piece about gravel bikes. There’s no byline, but whoever the author is he/she has done a good job of analysing this sector of the market. And rather than toeing the industry line and spouting the marketing bollocks, this piece actually takes a proper journalistic look at the phenomenon and talks to an elite-level CXer about what is and isn’t necessary for a drop-bar off-roader. We need more stuff like this.

Needless to say I skipped over the training plan stuff (I’m firmly in the Simon Warren camp here), took a quick look at the training with a power meter piece (and gave up at the mention of “junk miles”…there’s no such thing, every mile on your bike is a good mile). I generally skip over the cookery section, but the piece on recovery drinks gave me pause for thought. And that thought was “if only Time Inc hadn’t culled so many staff then someone might have noticed that the SiS product got a double mention.” Doh!

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But I liked the piece about Emma Barraclough, sports nutritionist at Science in Sport. She has some interesting things to say and I would have liked a bit more of this. It’s certainly more interesting than eight pages on training with a power meter.

And that’s pretty much it for this month. I think CA is generally heading in the right direction and there are a couple of good pieces in the mag this month. But it does feel very formulaic and I’d like to see it mixed up a bit more. And the problem with devoting 12 pages to a forthcoming sportive, or eight pages to power meter training, is that if you’re not interested, that’s 20 pages wasted.


I’ll be back tomorrow with thoughts on Cycling Plus. In the meantime, there’s this: @TranquilloTommy

 

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4 thoughts on “The song remains the same

    1. “The problem with all of the cycling press is they ignore the ordinary Joe…”

      I always felt that Cycling Active was aimed at the ordinary cyclist – up until the end of last year. Presumably they know what they’re doing now, but I preferred it when there was more normal men and women writing about cycling. The ‘Your Rides’ isn’t actually their rides at all. It is a bunch of cyclists contributing a few paragraphs about somebody else’s ride – some sportive or other.

      It’s a pity that CA now so obviously trumpets the sportives organised by its parent company (or whatever) and the ‘superbike’-type reviews are wasted on most cyclists, I would have thought. CA appears to be trying to muscle in on the territory of Cycling Plus, but that magazine does a better job of it, having done what it does for ages.

      I do enjoy the Simon Warren column, and until the March edition I really liked the cover photographs since the relaunch. Keep Warren and the other bloke, keep the covers that stand out from the crowded shelves, don’t overdo the in-house sportive coverage and put more stuff in like Matt Lamy’s chainline piece. Oh, and put a few ordinary Joes and Jolenes back in…? They don’t all have to have lost a shedload of weight or recovered from some horrendous illness. Just make the magazine feel a bit more – I don’t know – human. I’ll keep buying it. For now…

      (By the way, the Cols theme looks fine on a mobile phone, but is a bit bab when viewed on a laptop. Have a play with something else? You can’t break WordPress. Can you? Keep up the good work.)

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  1. Thanks for the nice words about the Gravel Bike piece. Again, it was by me. Although, could you please point out that you and me are not the same person. I would hope anybody who knows me would know that by the fact you read other cycling mags and I have never knowingly done that.
    (By the way, I am only half joking with this request — my offers of work from Time Inc’s titles have all but dried up and I suspect the idea I may be behind this blog has at least something to do with this.)

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  2. Crap…sorry Matt. I’m very happy to clarify that I am not Matt Lamy (I’m at least 15 years older!). And if the work is drying up, Time Inc are even more stupid than I thought. Anyway, I really hope that this blog isn’t negatively impacting anyone’s freelance career (things are hard enough already).

    FWIW, C+ and Cyclist could do with the sort of stuff you’ve been writing recently.

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