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).


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.



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