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

Gah…another fiver down the swanny

The latest issue of BlokesEtc is out, and it’s pretty much as you’d expect (but with more machismo, more listicles and fewer exclamation marks). Intelligent, informed, incisive, amusing…it is none of these things. And I’m afraid my overwhelming sense of ennui prevents me from saying any more about it.


I’ll be back on Monday with some thoughts about Cycling Active, or Pro Cycling. Or something.

@TranquilloTommy

Gizza job. I could do that!

Well, it looks like my handy guide to getting a job as a cycling journalist is going to be more handy than you thought. Yes, there are jobs up for grabs at Time Inc, publishers of Cycling Weekly and Cycling Active. They want a Fitness Editor and a Fitness Writer, a News Editor, and a Tech Writer.

In case you missed the announcement, this is what they’re after:

Fitness Editor, Cycling Weekly/Cycling Active

This key role involves leading a team of writers to produce brand-centric, media-neutral  fitness content tailored to each of our channels. The ideal candidate will have a strong knowledge of heinous recipes involving beetroot, brown rice and lingenberries.

Key requirements:

  • Proven back-stabbing and arse-covering experience
  • Strong knowledge and understanding of all aspects of office politics
  • Ability to sub your own copy because we got rid of all the production staff
  • Understanding of middle-management report-creation protocols
  • Idea generation to initiate, create and develop industry-leading click-bait
  • Good planning and organisational skills (you’ll need them to get to Farnborough)

 

Fitness Writer, Cycling Weekly/Cycling Active

Our fitness writers produce massively complex fitness and training plans that no one will read or follow, across print, online and video. The ideal candidate will need to be able to fill in for the Fitness Editor while he/she develops their TV presenting career prior to moving somewhere less awful than Farnborough.

Key requirements:

As above

News Editor, Cycling Weekly

The successful candidate will lead a team of writers to produce breaking, informative, up-to-date news content from around the world (stop sniggering at the back!)

The ideal candidate will be experienced in cutting and pasting from cyclingnews.com and cyclingtips.com, curating the latest press releases from the advertisers, and producing videos that aren’t quite as good as GCN’s.

Key requirements

  • Vague understanding of domestic and international cycle sport
  • Unwillingness to ask the tough questions
  • Understanding of content needs of different advertisers
  • Good planning, organisational and butt-kissing skills
  • Clean driving licence (Really? What the hell is one of those?)

Tech Writer, Cycling Weekly/Cycling Active

Working as part of our road tech team, our tech writers test bikes and products, report on new launches and provide authoritative buying advice to our readers, visitors and viewers (coz we is brand-centric n media-neutral, innit).

The successful candidate will be passionate and hugely knowledgeable about cycling technology. Strong seplling and grammer is essential, while previous writing experience would be frowned upon.

Our tech writers move effortlessly between our canteen, the gents and the pub print brands, website and video, developing a strong understanding of how different content types and approaches work across different channels.

Key requirements

  • Some knowledge and partial understanding of cycling technology
  • Strong spleling and grammer
  • Ability to turn stuff in two days after deadline
  • Understanding of content needs for different platforms: print, video, mime, interpretive dance
  • Idea generation to initiate, create and develop industry-leading vacuous drivel

So there you have it. Jobs for everyone, triples all round! Except, of course, that the jobs are in Farnborough (apparently that’s somewhere near Southampton). I can just picture their sad little faces at the meeting in Leon House:

Gary Coward-Williams: “Listen up, everyone. You’re moving out of Croydon!”
CW/CA Staff: “Yaaaay! After years stuck in this shit-hole we’re finally allowed into the Blue Fin building!”
Gary Coward-Williams: “Well, not exactly. We’ve flogged it. The bosses and fashionistas are staying put, but you lot are relocating to….Farnborough!”
CW/CA Staff: “Er…where?”
Gary Coward-Williams: “Farnborough. It’s in…um..Berkshire? Surrey? I dunno…somewhere like that. And the good news is that an annual season ticket from London to Farnborough is only 60% of your salary. Woo-hoo!”
CW/CA Staff: “Fuck it…I’m leaving.”

@TranquilloTommy