Quantity over quality

At a whopping 202 pages, this month’s Cyclist is a hefty mofo, weighing in at 141g more than Cycling Active but 136g less than Rouleur. If nothing else, you feel like you’re getting value for money just lugging it home from Smiths. The cover is quite nice too, but seems slightly sludgy and overly-warm, and I’m surprised that wasn’t corrected a the proof stage.

Anyway, after the usual news and new products stuff we have a Q&A with some long-distance lunatic who cycled the length of Africa in six weeks and has some interesting things to say about ultra-lightweight touring. The World Track Champs piece was a bit meh, Trevor Ward’s cobbles piece was excellent, and Frank Strack is offering some quite sensible advice about coffee-stops on group rides.

The first big feature is about the Verdon Gorge in Provence, and very lovely it is too: nice photos, good words, and a beautiful place that is not hard to get to. Yep, ticks all the boxes for me. But I’m afraid I didn’t read the piece about protein. When people start burbling on about branched-chain amino-acids my mind tends to wander. I didn’t bother with the Tony Martin article, either…he’s a pro cyclist, so I don’t care. The article about Snowdonia is an interesting read, but the photos are pretty horrible — sludgy, with a green cast, and several of them are very soft. Not up to the usual standard.

Next up is a decent piece about the new all-weather Gabba clones, followed by the second installment of Cyclist’s HC Climbs series by Ellis Bacon. This month features the Tourmalet and is as good as I’d hoped for. Great words, lovely photos (more drone shots), and I defy any right-thinking cyclist not to be inspired by this. Geoff Waugh’s piece about the Shimano factory is also interesting, and rather more accessible than when Rouleur did it a few years back. But I didn’t read the Vietnam story because it’s not somewhere I particularly want to ride a bike (although I do want to go there), and because it was a freebie trip so won’t be too critical of anything.

The following piece about titanium is interesting, even if it doesn’t tell us much we don’t already know, and I also enjoyed the Liege-Bastogne-Liege sportive article because if you’re going to do a sportive, make it something substantial like this one (not a 60 mile jaunt round the New Forest).

Bikes tested this month are a disc-braked BMC (meh!), a disc-braked titanium Vaaru (it’s no Passoni), and a Time Skylon (more interesting than I expected). And there’s a very lengthy look at some fairly unremarkable Edco carbon wheels that may or may not have anything to do with the full-page Edco advert 17 pages earlier.

At the back we have Felix Lowe’s latest column. And much as it pains me to say this, gentle reader, it’s actually a decent read. No, seriously…it’s an interesting look at the Cancellara v Boonen phenomenon.

And that’s your lot. There is some good stuff in this month’s mag which generally makes it worth £5.50 of your hard-earned, but there’s quite a lot that didn’t interest me particularly. Mostly, though, it’s a good read aimed at actual grown-ups who already know a little bit about cycling and don’t need to be spoon-fed a listicle containing very short words.


 

Back tomorrow with thoughts on Cycling Active. Unless the weather’s nice, in which case I’ll be out on the Pig-Iron Pista.

@TranquilloTommy

Apologies 

  
No blog today…doing proper research at the British Library (note to journos: this is the analogue version of Google and Wikipedia, and thus of no concern to any of you). Back tomorrow with something about cycling mags.

Weird twerking man-child alert!

I know I shouldn’t be mean. I know body dysmorphia is a terrible thing. And I know I shouldn’t judge by appearances…but what the fuck is that on the cover of NutsEtc??? Not the rather bland-looking Merida…I’m talking about the weird twerking man-child with the hairless plasticine legs. Eeuuuw! Creepy.

I thought the purpose of the front cover was to attract attention and act as an advert for what’s inside the mag. I suppose an image of a naked mole-rat on a bike attracts attention, but it’s still a hugely unappealing cover. It looks like a studio shot superimposed on a photo from their Lake District article, and lit by half a dozen different light-sources. It’s horrible. Truly the stuff of nightmares. And NutsEtc is finally running low on their stock of exclamation marks, so have to limit themselves to just a couple per month these days. If anyone buys this magazine it will be in spite of the cover, not because of it.

Inside, BlokesEtc is the usual steaming pile of crap. Take, for instance, “10 Reasons You’ll Love This Bike”. Aside from the fact that it makes no attempt at any kind of journalistic impartiality, it’s just bollocks. Only an 11-year-old would get excited about “space-age design” and “a bike of champions”. The same things could be said of the Austin Allegro (designed in the space age) and an A-Class Mercedes (as not quite driven by Lewis Hamilton).

The first test is of “Gravity Defying Racers”, but is basically just three random bikes costing between £2000 and £2400. Why these three? We don’t know. Why is there one female-specific bike in there? We don’t know. Why does the Merida have egg-beater pedals fitted? We don’t know. Why do they bother? We don’t know.

The story about the guy who cycled to Hong Kong could have been good, but basically it’s just a collection of  (nice) photos with captions, which doesn’t tell us much about anything. The Editor’s piece entitled “40 Fat-Busting Foods” starts with “Eat yourself thinner with our hit parade of nutritional superstars!” and goes downhill from there, blithering on about “scorching fat”, “boosting metabolism”, and “flushing out toxins”. I’m pretty sure I read this article in an 18-month-old copy of Closer magazine at the dentist’s recently.

The £100 Make-Over piece was actually fairly decent, giving some sensible advice about inexpensive upgrades. The same author also wrote the piece about get-you-home bodges, which is also pretty good. The same cannot be said of the “Expert” Guide to the Spring Classics, which rehashes the oft-told stories that can be found in Peter Cossins’ and Les Woodland’s books and contains this gem: “The final climb of the Tour of Flanders, the Muur van Geraardsbergen, often proves decisive in the race.” Basic factual errors such as this make me wonder if anyone at NutsEtc knows anything about bikes and bike racing. If you’re calling it an “expert” guide, then it better be bloody expert – the Muur van Geraardsbergen used to be the penultimate climb (followed by the Bosberg), but is no longer featured in the race at all.

Next we come to the kit section, which features custom shoes (not bad, but a bit lightweight), some random summer kit that will “get you noticed in the peloton” (really?), some random helmets (meh!), and a piece about brakes based on the hugely flawed assumption that no one thinks about brakes when buying a bike, and containing an admission that the staff at NutsEtc never bother looking at a spec sheet, or giving the bike a once-over, before they “test” it. Describing a bog-standard dual-pivot brake as “clever leverage-boosting tech” makes them sound like they’re writing for The Gadget Show.

The main bike test is of four (again, seemingly chosen at random) “sportive superstars”. It’s pretty turgid stuff that fails to adequately explain the geometry figures, doesn’t give a stack or reach figure, and which just feels like the same old shite. Similarly, the ride like a pro (John Degenkolb) is the same regurgitated twaddle we’ve seen many times before. And after seeing Degenkolb sprinting to victory in last year’s Milan-Sanremo, bobbing up and down furiously like a demented German porn-star in the throes of vinegar strokes, no one should want to ride like that. Perhaps that’s what the naked mole-rat on the front cover is attempting. The piece about better braking reads like it was lifted from the Early Learning Centre Guide to My First Bicycle and includes a horribly soft photo taken from the Ventoux feature.

At the back we have a lengthy piece about cycling in the Lake District. This was clearly a freebie laid on by the Cumbria tourist board, judging by the gushing tweets emanating from the BikesEtc account. It treads the well-worn path of Windermere, Hardknott and Wrynose, but at least the photos are good. The short article about Ventoux is OK, but feels vaguely familiar which makes me wonder if it’s been re-purposed from something in Cyclist magazine.

And that’s it. A rancid puddle of shite pretty terrible mag written by people who don’t seem terribly knowledgeable or erudite when it comes to cycling. It just feels so amateurish, as if they consider their readers to be utter fucktards and the staff are just having a laugh pissing about with bikes. It just doesn’t feel very Dennis Publishing, somehow, it feels like dilettantism.

And that brings me to a subtle change that occurred on the masthead in the last (April) issue. At the top it says “Produced for Dennis Publishing Ltd by Illuminated Media Ltd”. In other words, it’s not actually a Dennis Publishing publication at all. Illuminated Media is a company set up by Nick Soldinger (the Editor), and it appears that BikesEtc is now published under licence from a different address. Exactly what this means is hard to know. Certainly the mag is very different to how it used to be, and we’ve seen a major shift in emphasis (and quality) over the last few months. Does this mean Dennis Publishing is trying to distance itself from NutsEtc? If I was the publishing director at Dennis I would certainly be making like Pontius Pilate at the moment.


 

Tomorrow I’ll be pontificating on the latest issue of Cyclist. Or Cycling Active. Probably.

@TranquilloTommy

Yaay…the Classics are back

Thank god for the Classics, that time of year when we can consign the dreadful middle-eastern races to the barely remembered dustbin of cycling history and concentrate on proper racing. And to celebrate, the latest edition of Rouleur (Issue 61) is positively Flanders-tastic. Just as my heart invariably sinks at the sight of an early-winter cyclocross cover, my heart positively raced at the sight of a Spring cover featuring cobbles and Flandrian flags.

Kicking the issue off is Martin Procter’s cartoon take on Paris-Roubaix related products that you might (but probably won’t) see in the Rouleur shop. It’s a gentle joke at the magazine’s expense, and really rather good. I particularly liked Procter’s Surreal Sunday Art Print — a very clever mash-up of The Persistence of Memory and Guernica. I reckon they probably could sell that if Martin did a more detailed version. The Favourite Things piece is about Bernie Eisel, in which he reveals that he reads Kafka and Mann as well as Ken Follett, he likes Goya and funny shaped bikes, and that he wears Paul Smith and likes avenues of trees. Not what you’d expect from a pro cyclist, and a timely reminder that they’re not all empty-headed dullards.

The first big feature is about the Ronde van Vlaanderen and features eight snap-shots from the history of the Ronde, and six profiles of the Lions of Flanders. The words by Paul Maunder are interesting and the illustrations by Simon Scarsbrook are delightful. A thoroughly enjoyable read. Next is a Q&A with Tom Boonen about his relationship with the Ronde, which is better than your average Q&A and concentrates on that relationship rather than trying to be a rider profile or an extended palmares.

Ian Cleverly’s piece on the highs and lows of running, and riding for, a Continental development team (An Post-Chain Reaction) is also a good read. I enjoy these glimpses into a world I know little about, and anything with Sean Kelly in is good in my book. Following on from this is an interesting piece about the VAMberg, the iconic climb of the Ronde van Drenthe, which apparently is actually a gigantic mound of rubbish. And I liked the story about how the Cota de Witteveen, as climbed in the 2009 Vuelta, is a totally imaginary mountain put into the race to create the first KoM.

The piece about cyclists/DSs called Van Something (in this case Van Hooydonck, Van Schueren and Vansummeren) is also pretty interesting, and Rouleur manage to get more out of pro interviews than other magazines. But I couldn’t get very excited about the POC factory tour (POC helmets are mostly hideous-looking), although the photos are really nice.

Finally there’s a lengthy piece about the Strade Biache, one of cycling’s most beautiful races. Written by Colin O’Brien, and with beautiful photos by Paolo Ciaberta, it’s a gorgeous article that captures the essence of this race and raises some interesting points about how new races can succeed if they’re staged in the right place.

And that’s it for this issue. All in all a good effort from the team at Rouleur, with lashings of Flandrian goodness and a luscious dessert of Tuscan Strade Bianche.

@TranquilloTommy

A bit of a Curate’s Egg

Holy crap, there’s a lot to get through in the latest issue of Cycling Plus. At 186 pages this is a big issue, and the C+ team has clearly been busy.

The first 50 pages are devoted to a melange of news, new kit and new bikes, plus a couple of columns, which is fine even if there wasn’t a whole lot that caught my eye. The first test is of adventure bikes, a niche about which I’m pretty sceptical. I skimmed through it and it seemed OK, but I’m not terribly interested in heavy adventure bikes with mechanical discs.

Next is another tranche of new products stuff before we get an article entitled Burn Fat Fast. I must confess my heart sank a little….NutsEtc and CA do this sort of thing endlessly, and mostly it’s tedious shite. This one is better than most, in fairness, but it doesn’t really tell me anything I didn’t know.

The article about on-board video cameras is interesting in that it is more about the whys and wherefores rather than being a test of products. The article centres on the “vigilante” aspect of action-cameras, but does make a nod in the direction of using them as a coaching aid and also talks to Graham Bartlett (Velon’s master of spouting bollocks while saying nothing of any substance) about their use in the pro peloton. Earlier in the mag Jeremy Vine talks about presenting footage to the police and how good they are at responding, but I suspect if you aren’t a celebrity with a show on national radio you probably get a slightly different response (Are you dead? No? Well fuck off then).

Following on is a test of sports drinks is OK…most of the major players are represented, the important ingredients are listed, and it reads well enough. For me, though, it’s a bit formulaic and familiar, and I long for something more imaginative (feed them all to five-year-olds and see which one causes the highest level of hyperactivity, or something).

Next up is a three-way shoot-out between Trek’s top-of-the-range models — the Emonda, Madone and Domane (obviously the keyboard in Trek’s marketing department only has six functioning keys). It’s a good feature, an interesting idea, executed well and with nice snowy photos. It’s part test, part analysis, and Warren has done a very good job with it. I’m not in the market for one of these bikes, but it makes good reading and is the polar opposite of the joyless “test” of superbikes CA did last month.

The tubeless tyre piece is a decent look at the pros and cons of going tubeless, with some wheels and tyres examined in a little detail, but it didn’t convince me that I need to join the tubeless evangelists. So I won’t. If you’re thinking about it, this is worth a read.

At the back there’s a piece on riding from London to Paris in under 24 hours (don’t really see the appeal) and about getting a bit lost in the Lake District. They are both OK, without being anything special. And then we have Ned Boulting at the back talking about winter clothing, revealing he wraps his feet in cling-film, and listing all the lovely people who have given him free stuff.

And that’s it. I have to say this isn’t one of their best, but it still has enough in it to keep me amused for an hour or two. And there’s a bagged sportive guide with it, which is a bit more interesting that CA’s one but which is nonetheless now in the recycling bin. Overall, not so much C+ as B- (sorry).


 

I’m off on a week-long road-trip next week, so you’ll just have to fend for yourselves for a while. I’ll be back the week after with…er…stuff.

TranquilloTommy

Loads of Latin Loveliness

This is more like it. After the pain of BlokesEtc and the mediocrity of Cycling Active this month, finally we have something worth reading — the April issue of Cyclist. Recent issues have been a bit so-so, but they’ve upped their game this month and this issue’s a corker.

After the usual news and new products stuff, and a Q&A with the CEO of Trek, we have a nice short piece about whether fluoro clothing is really a safety aid followed by an excellent piece by Trevor Ward about velodromes. Trevor is a properly good writer, and he manages to capture the excitement, thrill and lunacy of track cycling perfectly. It’s interesting, well written and thought-provoking, and a million miles away from the sludgy, pedestrian prose we find all too often in the bike press.

Even Frank Strack’s column about The Rules is more considered than usual, making some interesting points about leading by example rather than sneering and criticising. Of course it’s all bollocks really, but it can be quite entertaining bollocks.

The Big Ride is all about cycling in the Apennines in Italy, and this is exactly the sort of thing I want to read. I love cycling in Italy, and I’ve had the Blockhaus on my bucket-list for some time. Reading this piece made me more determined than ever to do it. And the photos are gorgeous (except for the one on page 51, which is inexplicably soft).

I’m afraid I didn’t bother with the training plan article, for reasons I have outlined way too many times already. I was also pretty ambivalent about the Contador article, too. As a rider, I think he’s a joy to watch on a bike. But like many of his generation, too much dirty water has passed under the bridge for me to have any trust in him. And the pistolero thing is just crap. Despite that it’s a decent look at the career of one of the best stage-racers of his generation which doesn’t shy away from the doping issues.

Next up is a piece about cycling the Dingle peninsula in south-west Ireland. This is another of those places I would love to visit, but am always put off by the extremely unpredictable weather. But the author and photographer managed to pick a good weather window and the feature looks and reads very well.

A Passoni Top Force with mechanical Super Record is the only bike for which I would ever trade in the Pig-Iron Pista. These hand-made, custom-built titanium frames are an absolute work of art, and I have lusted after one for many years. I actually experience a physical yearning, much as I did when I saw my first Kawasaki Z650 as a teenager some time back in the ’70s. There is a quickening of the pulse and a physical ache that a man of my age really should have grown out of by now. But I haven’t. I really, really, really want one. So I was more than a bit excited to find a piece about the Passoni “atelier” (Italian word for an artisan’s studio) in this issue. And I wasn’t disappointed…it’s a good article about an interesting company that makes some of the most desirable (and pricey) bikes in the world. When “Cannibalising The Badger” goes to the top of the bestsellers’ list and the royalty cheques come pouring in, I shall treat myself. In the meantime I’m just going to read this article again.

 

Sorry. I’m back now. Following on from the Passoni wank-fest is another cracking article, the first in a series about pro cycling’s hors categorie climbs, about the Cime de la Bonette, France’s highest paved road. The words are as good as you’d expect from Ellis Bacon, complete with soundbites from a acer who’d actually raced up it, and the photos are stunning. Yet again, Cyclist has pushed the bounderies of convention by using photos taken from a drone. These offer a unique perspective and capture the extraordinary nature of this climb in a really stunning way. With any luck the rest of the series will be as good as this, and I’m quite excited to see how (or if) the mags will use camera drones in the future to capture different perspectives and angles. And the best thing about drones? They won’t be able to carry a bank of 50 gigawatt flash units.

Next up is another really good article, this time by James Witts about the power struggle going on between the UCI and ASO. It’s a complicated and sensitive issue, but James handles it very well and if you’re struggling to understand what the hell is going on, this is a very good place to start. The story about concept bikes is also a good one, and looks at how the concept bikes of today may (or may not) lead to new advances in design and production.

The final big article is about riding the Milan-Sanremo sportive. It’s fairly typical of this sort of article (pain, misery, excitable Italians, foul weather), but I usually enjoy them from the warmth and comfort of my day-bed safe in the knowledge that I’ll never have to do anything this stupid. And it’s more riding in Italy. Sweet.

In the Bikes section we take a look at a Colnago Master X-Light (gorgeous), a Cannondale Slate (silly lefty) and the Formigli One (butt-ugly). These are followed by some Hunt deep-section carbon wheels and a look at SRAM’s Meh-Tap wireless gruppo, and at the back Felix runs through a list of pro riders’ nicknames.

At 170 pages it is 40 pages bigger than either NutsEtc or Cycling Active, and the quality of content is streets ahead (I only skimmed two articles). Good effort.


 

Back tomorrow with thoughts on Cycling Plus.

@TranquilloTommy

 

Surrey rarely seems to be the hardest word

I’m afraid the sense of ennui brought on by BlokesEtc has only deepened with the arrival of Cycling Active this month. I really didn’t want to buy it — it has a rather gloomy photo of Box Hill on the cover and the main cover-lines are about how to break the five hour barrier on the RideLondon 100 and a piece about power meters. Oh god…kill me now!

But I know you all rely on me, so I grasped the nettle by the horns and bought a copy. And by page 17 I’m already irritated. The Hardware section is a sort of new products page stuffed with things that are overly-expensive, inappropriate or old hat — the Garmin Edge 1000 has been around for ever, as have the Park Tools scales, the Dura-Ace wheels are for tubs and cost £2000 a pair, and the torque wrench costs £115 and only goes down to 10nm so is useless for most cycling applications. It feels lazy and throw-away. The Software section includes a £125 gilet, a £300 nutrition bundle, and Rapha’s £480 Shadow shorts/jersey ensemble. Pff!

The N+1 this month is a rather unlovely (but doubtless very good) Merida Reacto for £7000. If I was spending £7000 on a bike, it sure wouldn’t be on a Merida. Nor would I spend £132 on a Campagnolo corkscrew. Yes, it’s lovely, but £132? My Chris King espresso-tamper only cost £100!

This month Simon Warren is extolling the virtues of a winter bike in his column, and although I don’t feel the need for a winter bike (I ride the Pig-Iron Pista all year round) it’s a well-argued piece. And Brett spends an entire page telling us that sometimes he can’t unclip in time. Fascinating stuff.

Brett’s back with the Big Ride piece this month, and it’s about the RideLondon 100 sportive, or “race” as Brett likes to imagine. I know this is a hugely popular event and that thousands and thousands of people take part, but I personally can’t think of anything worse. My opinion isn’t changed by this article, which basically says that it’s carnage on the hills, narrow roads and feed-stations, caused by the sort of fuckwittery that is all too commonplace on sportives. The most startling revelation is that Brett has managed to get the weight of his Felt AR5 down to an astonishing 5.8kg. Really? Ultimately, I’m bored to tears with Surrey.

The following piece about the Forest of Bowland and the North Yorks moors was nicely written and has some good photos. And it’s somewhere other than Surrey, so that’s good.

Next up is a test of £3000 “climbing” bikes. It’s OK, but the usual criticisms apply — not enough words, no attempt to express the joy (the best they can come up with is stuff like: “if you can manage to tame it it’ll put a smile on your face”), and a full-bleed photo of each bike in action which adds absolutely nothing to the test (but fills space).

IMG_5269.jpg

At least the following test of £2000 disc bikes doesn’t bother with the unnecessarily large riding shots (they don’t have any riding shots at all). But they do describe the bikes as “stunning” before awarding a distinctly average 7 out of 10 to two of them. And for two grand you get a bike that weighs over 9kg and doesn’t even come with full Ultegra. Hmmm. I wish the mags generally would attempt some kind of critical analysis of the trade-offs made when buying disc-braked bikes. If nothing else, this test perfectly illustrates that weight is an issue, and the extra cost of discs is clawed back by mix-and-sometimes-match gruppos and cheap finishing kit.

There’s a power meter test, but it’s really more of a review because there’s no attempt to measure the accuracy of these things. The arm-warmers test is incomplete and too lightweight to be much good, as is the performance shoes piece. The bib-shorts test is a bit better, but is a male-only affair (as usual) and still by no means comprehensive.

The tech piece by Matt Lamy is another good one (and no, I’m not Matt Lamy, in case you were wondering, I just think he’s one of the better cycling journalists out there), this time about graphene. One of the other mags did a piece about graphene (can’t remember which one, and am too idle to bother searching it out), but that was basically a puff piece for Vittoria. This one actually talks to other experts, not just the man at Vittoria, and as a result is more insightful and interesting.

The training section is the usual mix of dreary training plans, food fads (this month we’re very excited by an amino acid), recipes for disgusting looking things involving yet more beetroot, and a very bizarre six-page piece about wearable tech, most of which is pretty expensive and left-field for the average cyclist. And it doesn’t include any of the ones you might want to know about (Garmins, FitBits, etc). The piece about energy bars is OK (although most of us have read half a dozen of these in the last two years), but only tests five of the gazillion available.

Here’s an idea. Get in every energy bar available, read the label to see how much of what good stuff it’s got in, and try them all, and then chuck out the ones that don’t have enough of the right contents, are impossible to open on the move, and the ones that taste horrible. Whittle them down a short-list of 12, and go again. When you’ve got the six best, write about those ones. You could have a side-bar of memorable quotes from the test (“tastes like an Uzbek sprinter’s chammy” etc). At least that way it looks like you tried to do a comprehensive test, rather than just picking stuff at random.

And I’m putting this one out for Nick and the team at NutsEtc:  Sit the work experience kid on a turbo-trainer in the office and make him cycle while he consumes energy bar after energy bar, ramp up the resistance on the turbo and make him eat more and more until he pukes — there’s the cover-line, right there: Power-Bar Pig-Out…when carbs attack!

And that’s basically that. There’s a free sportive guide bagged with this issue, which went straight in the recycling, and I was left feeling pretty underwhelmed by CA this month. It just feels a bit lightweight and half-arsed. I never really get the feeling that they’re going the extra mile for the readers, and there’s a that’ll-have-to-do feel to the whole thing.

I do wonder if Cycling Active and Cycling Weekly sharing writers and production staff homogenises both titles to the point of complete blandness. Most journalists I know have a deep loyalty to their mags, and it must be difficult to engender any kind of team spirit when you’re neither one thing nor the other. Add to that the general disaffection at job losses, and the impending relocation to Farnborough, and I suspect you have a less than happy ship. Unfortunately it shows in the product.

 


@TranquilloTommy