Such sweet sorrow

Well folks, it’s been fun. But unfortunately I have to go away for a while. And where I’m going, there will be no cycling mags, internet access will be severely restricted, and frankly I will be in no position to guide you through the stinking midden that is the UK’s cycling media (cries of “huzzah!” and “trebles all round” from Bristol, Croydon, etc).

But I will leave you with a few recommendations, based on my half-arsed analysis over the last six months. Think of this as my farewell Top 5 listicle:

Magazines

1 Cyclist. Still the best all-round mag for most right-thinking grown ups. Sure, they have the occasional duff issue, but they are mostly very good value.

2 Rouleur. An acquired taste, but if you like road-racing, good photography (mostly) and decent writing, this is the mag for you. Yes, a tenner a copy is expensive, but I feel it still represents good value compared to things like Pro Cycling and Cycle Sport.

3 Cycling Plus. There’s always a lot in it, but not necessarily a lot that I want to read. Certainly worth checking it out in the newsagent’s each month to see if it’s worth buying. More often than not, it is.

4 Cycling Active. Pretty dire these days, with a dreary mix of sportives, lightweight product tests, and dismal training plans for the wannabe racer. Don’t bother, unless you’re a faux-pro with more money than sense who thinks a 60 mile sportive is a race.

5 BikesEtc. Execrable shite. If it’s still going in six month’s time I’ll be quite surprised.

Websites

1 Cyclingtips.com. Excellent Aussie site (don’t let that put you off), with some really good content written by some very good writers. Going from strength to strength.

2 Road.cc. A fairly small site, but the quality is pretty decent, and it doesn’t over-do the listicles and click-bait (although you can find it there). Usually worth a look.

 3 Bikeradar.com. A big old site with plenty of content, most of it reasonably good. The forums are pretty busy too.

4 Rouleur.cc. Strange stories that you don’t get anywhere else, good writing, thought-provoking pieces. A good place to while away a few lunch-hours.

5 RoadCyclingUK.com. Way too many listicles and click-bait. Rarely has anything on it that hasn’t been done better by someone else.

Podcasts

1 Velocast. It’s paid-for, but is far and away the best bike racing podcast(s) out there. John and Scott are knowledgeable, engaging, amusing and add enormously to my enjoyment of bike racing (although John can shut the fuck up about bloody Hour records and TTing!). Cillian’s This Week in Cycling History is excellent, too. With the money you save from not buying shite magazines, spend it on this instead.

2 Pro Women’s Cycling. Properly good stuff from Sarah Connolly and Dan Wright, it’s slightly anarchic, a bit sweary, and mostly very entertaining. Their sheer enthusiasm shines through in a very appealing way (although Dan can sometimes over-do his Australian-ness).

3 Cycling News Podcast. I know! It’s actually not too bad! It does have a tendency to be a bit po-faced and earnest, but overall it’s a pretty reasonable effort most of the time.

4 Telegraph Cycling Podcast. Hosted by the Holy Trinity of cycling authors (Dan Friebe, Richard Moore and Lionel Birnie), I want to like this podcast. But I don’t. There’s a level of smug self-satisfaction from the hosts that I find a little bit annoying. My bookshelves are full of their books, and they probably have every right to feel pleased with themselves, but it doesn’t mean I have to like them. Being a “friend of the podcast” for £10 a year gives you access to long and dreary interviews with uninteresting sports people. The rest of it is free. I like Ciro, though.

5 The Spokesmen Round Table Podcast. Although fairly US-centric, Carlton Reid (Editor of Bikebiz) upholds the UK end of things. It’s quite “tradey”, but no less interesting for that. It’s primarily about recreational cycling, but does meander on to sport stuff from time to time.


 

And that’s all I have to say about that.

 

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

I’m so sorry

I am, I really am sorry. I thought I could do this. I thought I was strong enough. But I’m not. I JUST CAN’T READ ANY MORE OF THIS SHIT! Those morons at NutsEtc have pushed me too far. Just look at the latest cover:

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Oh no, wait…that’s not it. That’s waaaay too subtle and understated. It’s this:

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And check out the language: Kill, Nastiest, Staggering, Horror, Secrets, Power! It’s utter, utter shite. Seriously. If it said “Marco Pantani Found on Moon!” I wouldn’t be surprised. But they did manage to get 13 exclamation marks onto the cover, so clearly it’s time for Nick’s medication.

Anyway, let’s do this, shall we? First we have 10 Reasons Why Pinarello’s Marketing Department Love This Bike (it has gears, and everything!). And the Gan Disc is only £3500, for an Ultegra-equipped bike that weighs 8.6kg. Apparently it’s better than Chris Froome’s Dogma.

The first test is of “tough bikes”, where the magazine boys “beasted” three perfectly normal road bikes in the Brecon Beacons, because that’s where the SAS do their training so it must be tough there. Seriously? How old are these guys? Nine? If you’re talking tough, then where are the Croix de Fers, the Surlys, the Konas? Feeble.

Despite all the sensationalist crap, the essence of the Taylor Phinney piece is quite interesting. As a man who has broken more than a dozen bones in the course of my journalistic career, I empathise with Phinney and I thought this piece was nicely written (and therefore completely out of place in NutsEtc). The following piece about night riding isn’t too bad, but when I read that taking along a companion is a good idea “because you’re less likely to get spooked” I realised that these guys are actually nine years old. Bless. I hope they told their mummies where they were going.

And the kiddies at NutsEtc seem to want to be cycling superheroes (a theme that crops up every month) as well . I bet Nick has a cape somewhere at home. Anyway, you can be a cycling superhero by learning a bit of first-aid. This is actually a fairly tricky subject to write about in this litigious age, because amateur first-aiding can sometimes do more harm than good. As an Editor I wouldn’t touch this with a bargepole; instead I’d do a piece on first-aid training and leave it at that.

The piece of the World’s Toughest Sportives is a four-page listicle filler with no real substance, and the six pager on overcoming your fears of cycling is a bit odd. My advice would be to get off the turbo and ride your damn bike properly, but that’s just me. As a piece about sports psychology, though, it’s a decent read. I didn’t bother with the Eat Like Team Sky feature because a) I’ve already got a copy to Hannah Grant’s book, and b) I’m a strictly paniagua kind of guy (if you get my meaning).

And so to the reviews section. First up, hi-viz clothing. It’s OK as far as it goes, but it’s by no means comprehensive and the graphical style of piece makes it very light on words. Next pedals. It starts with this gem: “Pedals are all the same, right? Wrong!” I’m afraid I rather lost interest at that point. You see I know not all pedals are the same, and I know about Q factors, float and stack height. For those that don’t, this is probably OK, but they didn’t give you any of these figures in the test (except for float angles for the Ultegra, Keo Blades and Speedplays).

The overshoes test is a waste of time (three sentences written on each of the six products)…you’d be better off looking at the Wiggle website. And the tough tyres piece just made me want to put my head in my hands and weep. Seriously people, this is amateur hour stuff. Check your tyre pressures at least every fortnight? I suppose that’s fine if you only ride every fortnight. But there is nothing in here about rubber compounds, about carcass construction, or anything that actually matters. Plus they give weights for 25c version of the tyres, except for the Arisun which is a 23c (and still weighs 321g!).

I can’t even begin to tell you how shite this test is. If ALL you care about is not getting a puncture, then this is the test for you. Never mind that crap tyres dramatically increase your chances of falling off, at least when you do come crashing to earth you won’t have to fix a puncture. Your frame may be snapped in half, but your rock-solid, massively heavy and unresponsive tyres will be fine. FFS! It’s a single-track vehicle that depends on its tyres for everything. So don’t buy shit tyres (you’re not in the company car now!). The tyres tested have carcasses with between 30 to 60tpi…what sort of ride is that going to give? And the winners weigh in at around 700g the pair. At least have a bit of discussion about trading grip and comfort for longevity and puncture-resistance. This isn’t just shit…it’s ill-informed, stupid shit.

Sorry. This stuff makes me somewhat less than tranquillo. Moving on: titanium race bikes. It’s not a bad read (and who doesn’t love a bit of titanium), but there’s no explanation of how titanium compares to steel, ally or carbon, and how can the specs not include size and weight of the bikes tested? Sigh.

And finally is The Edge section, normally the place for advice aimed at people who know nothing about cycling. And the hysteria is back: 10 WAYS TO STOKE YOUR CYCLING…Zzzz. But at least the Editor got value from the testing-tough-bikes-like-the-SAS by doing a ride piece on the Brecon Beacons. And that’s pretty much it.

I should probably count the editorial pages, do some analysis of how the mag is doing, and all that stuff. But frankly I’m too depressed to spend any more time on this. The one or two decent articles don’t make up for the rest of it.

 

 

 

All change!

It’s been a busy few months for cycling journalists, and mostly not in a good way. A huge cull at Time Inc (publishers of Cycling Weekly, Cycling Active and Mountain Bike Rider) during the summer of 2015 has resulted in a game of musical chairs at the magazines and websites over the last few months.

Time Inc realised, rather belatedly, that their road cycling titles were on the slide. They still had legs, but they weren’t washing their faces (or something). What Time Inc needed were brand-centric media-neutral proactive content provision solutions across multiple platforms (yes, I was in the room when Sly Bailey actually said that out loud, and I hardly laughed at all). Or some such shite about low-hanging fruit, grey panthers, easy-wins and turn-key thinking.

Anyway, Time did what Time does, which is to make their editors jump through endless hoops en-route to a relaunch, which resulted in Robert Garbutt leaving the Editor’s chair at Weekly and Luke Edwardes-Evans leaving his chair at Cycling Active. This is a well-established technique in publishing — get the Editor to perform somersaults to save his magazine and his job, get him to work furiously hard on a relaunch, and then either sack him or make his life so miserable he just wants to leave. I have no idea if that’s what happened to Robert and Luke, but it’s not uncommon.

So Simon Richardson stepped up to the Big Chair at CW and Hannah Reynolds stepped up at CA. Meanwhile half a dozen other staff were axed and the rest face being relocated to Time’s new (cheap) offices in Farnborough because they sold the London HQ. I thought Time Inc was making more money sub-letting space in the Blue Fin building than publishing magazines, but perhaps not.

Meanwhile, over at Dennis Publishing, something strange was afoot. A year after its launch, BikesEtc lost its Editor, Wesley Doyle, and its Deputy Editor Andy Waterman. Normally there is an established way of handling changes of Editor — the outgoing Editor writes an Editor’s Letter in his final issue saying what a great time he’s had, what a great team he’s had, and wishing the new Editor the best of luck (check this out). In the next issue the new Editor writes a piece saying what a great job the last Editor did and how they hope to continue that good work and take the mag to new heights.

Except when they sack you. Then it all gets a bit complicated. Then there are NDAs, lawyers, tribunals, and such like. Sometimes they’ll let you depart gracefully, sometimes they make it very personal. Sometimes they let you pen a farewell to your readers, sometimes they don’t.

I don’t know what happened to Wesley Doyle and his deputy Andy Waterman, but there was no farewell Ed’s Letter or any mention of them leaving. Suddenly Pete Muir (Editorial Director, and Editor of Cyclist) was writing the Ed’s Letter, and after a month or two Nick Soldinger and David Kenning appeared on the masthead. After another month or so Nick started to write the Ed’sLetter, and it all carried on like nothing had happened. Except for the editorial direction of the magazine, which has taken a serious nose-dive. Clearly the publishing team wanted a new direction for BikesEtc, and just when it was starting to find its feet and look half-decent they brought in Soldinger to infantilise the whole thing. Even my kids think it’s too dumbed-down to read now.

Over on the interweb, more changes are afoot. James Huang, the Angry Asian and Tech Ed at BikeRadar is moving on. He didn’t say where, but industry gossip since before Christmas says he’s off to CycleTips, the excellent Australian cycling website. This is after CT successfully landed Shane Stokes not so long ago. I also hear that Neal Rogers (ex of Velo and most recently at GCN) has taken up the role as US Editor-in-Chief of CyclingTips. With Stokes, Huang and Rogers, CT has some pretty big hitters on their team now, and we can expect the already excellent CT to go from strength to strength. If they could get some designers in to make the site a little more visually exciting, that would also be good because at the moment that’s the only thing letting down an otherwise great site. Oh, and the headlines could be punchier and more SEO-friendly.

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Over at Immediate Media everything looks fairly settled and stable since they bought Cycling Plus, Pro Cycling and BikeRadar (among others) from Future Publishing. They are busily populating the metaphorical 5th Floor with assorted suits and middle-managers with fancy titles spouting corporate managementspeak: “blah blah brand extensions blah blah developing a more experiential part to our business to connect consumers with the brand and with our key clients blah blah.” Yeah, whatever. Check this out for the full SP on what they’re thinking (if you can stomach it).

The big question is this: is CyclingTips going to take on BikeRadar head-to-head? CT seems to be recruiting quite aggressively, and they’ve certainly got some big names on board (yes, I’m still waiting for the call!). Does this mean CT will replace BikeRadar as the go-to site for news and products? At the moment CT doesn’t have anywhere near the content-churn of BR, but their recruitment policy seems to suggest there will be more content going up there, and a more global outlook from the site. I think there will be exciting times ahead.


 

Keep up to date here: @TranquilloTommy

Unmitigated shite

Poor old Felix Dennis must be spinning in his grave. That a magazine, published by a company bearing his name, should churn out such awful shite would be heartbreaking for a man generally considered to be one of the publishing “greats” of the 20th Century. I was fortunate enough to work for him briefly back in the day, and we was a maverick genius, truly one of a kind. Google him…he was a visionary.

But NutsEtc, Dennis Publishing’s most recent addition to their cycling stable, is anything but visionary. For a few months in 2015 NutsEtc was beginning to look like a half-decent bike mag. It wasn’t perfect, but it seemed to be heading in the right direction. But last month’s issue was pretty poor, and this one is worse. It’s lowest-common-denominator publishing brought to cycling. And I, for one, don’t want to be treated like a 19-year-old noob.

Anyway, let’s get this over with, shall we? In the Ed’s Letter the new Editor admits to being a gym nut. Clearly he’s not a cyclist if he chooses to pay to spend his leisure time indoors with lots of other sweaty people when he should be outside on his bike. And, as we shall see later on, he seems to think the rest of his readers are not cyclists either. He may be right…maybe we don’t know the benefits of cycling, or how to clean a pair of shoes (yes, NutsEtc will explain all of these things this month).

10 Reasons You’ll Love This Bike — this month we’ll be loving a 9.2kg ally-framed BMC with Tiagra, apparently. Except most of us won’t. Although “being lightweight, stiff and part of BMC’s Altitude Series means you’ll snaffle hills for breakfast on this bike”. Yeah, right.

Next are some news and products pages that includes a review of piece of gym equipment that has neither pedals nor saddle and costs £1445. The First Ride this month is “disc-braked racers” and features a Kinesis Aithein, a KTM Revelator Sky, and a Lapierre Sensium. The test starts out by claiming that these three are “race-ready” and then spends the next nine pages explaining that they’re not really race bikes at all. It’s almost as if they thought “ah fuck it, it’s Christmas” (FIIC) and just boshed any old shite together.

And then there’s this:

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New Year’s Resolutions, or lightweight advice for newbies dressed up in the lamest “creative” idea since the Editor went to Basra dressed as an elf? Fair play to Susannah Osbourne, though…as a freelancer she must be delighted to see an hour’s work spread out over six pages of editorial.

And she sold them another one in the shape of “Secrets of Rio’s Olympic RoadRace Route”. This is basically a re-hash of a tourist guide book about Rio de Janeiro along with a few snippets about cycling there. This is genuinely one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen in a cycling mag, but look no further if you want to know about the monkeys in the Tijuca National Park, or where to take a great picture of Christ The Redeemer. Perhaps NutsEtc think all their readers are heading off to Brazil this summer to watch the Olympic road-race? Or maybe they thought “ah fuck it, it’s Christmas”.

The four-page New Year, New Bikes piece contains a few pics and a paragraph on each of the six bikes featured. It’s an FIIC filler.

Next up is a six-pager on why the 2016 Tour de France will be the bestest one ever ever ever! And to confirm that fact, they asked a load of people (whose livelihoods depend on lots of people watching the Tour) what they think. Unsurprisingly, they think it will be super-epic. Come on, NutsEtc…YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE JOURNALISTS! This is feeble beyond belief. On second thoughts, FIIC!

Susannah pops up again with “8 Great Escapes”, a piece about cycling abroad. She is a travel journalist, but you or I could have thrown this together in an hour or two. All the usual boxes are ticked: Mallorca training camp, Cape Rouleur, Marmotte, Girona, Rapha Retreat, etc. It doesn’t offer anything we haven’t seen countless times before, but it’s another eight pages for Susannah’s portfolio, so that’s good.

And now we come to the reviews section. The base-layers piece is reasonably good, the action cameras piece doesn’t include the GoPro Hero4, the energy gels piece doesn’t include anything from ZipVit or SiS, and the saddles test is just pointless (saddles are such a personal thing that testing them is a waste of time). The saddlebags test is just a small, random selection, plus a moron’s guide to what to put in your saddlebag (how stupid do they think we are?). They don’t even tell us the capacity of the bags. Eejits. And the Cleaning Kits piece appears to have been written for 12 year-olds (now remember, kiddies…a clean bike is a happy bike!).

The £720-£800 road bikes test is not of any interest to me, but maybe for newbies or those looking for a winter bike. Unfortunately it’s pretty turgid stuff, it fails to give all-up weights, and makes a lot of allowances for some pretty cheap kit. Yet again we don’t know why they chose these four out of the dozen or so bikes that fit the price range. FIIC.

The Edge section is the usual melange of crap — eat nuts and berries, ride like Peter Sagan, how to clean your shoes (no, really!), and 15 reasons why riding your bike is better than joining a gym. In case you hadn’t noticed, Mr Editor…this is a feckin cycling magazine. Of course we’re more interested in cycling than joining a gym. Only a total noob (or the Editor) would even consider paying money to join a gym rather than go cycling. Utter shite.

In the Out There section are short pieces on riding the Yorkshire Dales, Monte Grappa, Sussex and Pembrokeshire, all of which are short but reasonably OK. And that’s it. 130 pages, of which 107 are editorial ones. And it’s a really piss-poor effort. Seriously, it’s shockingly bad. I guess if you’re a complete novice then some of this stuff may be OK, but for anyone who’s spent more than a year on a road bike this stuff is Children’s Hour. But at least they’ve cut the number of exclamation marks on the cover down to a paltry 10!!!!!!!!!!

Punctuation Landslide!!!

In punctuation news, a sudden run on the world’s stock of exclamation marks has led analysts to speculate that Dennis Publishing is attempting to corner the punctuation market in the lucrative run up to Christmas. There are genuine fears at Cycling Plus that all they’ll be able to get hold of is a couple of question marks and some left-over semi-colons for their New Year’s edition. ¡There is even talk of bringing in some grey-import exclamation marks from Hello! magazine in Spain!

Anyway, the January issue of BikesEtc takes cover-line hysteria to new heights with 12 exclamation marks on this month’s cover. Yes! Twelve! OMFG! I blame the new Editor (yes, another bike magazine with a new Editor), who is clearly VERY excited by the prospect of writing cover-lines!!! Or maybe he just can’t help himself, given some of his previous jobs:

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Soldinger has actually been at BikesEtc for a couple of months, but strangely there was no announcement of his arrival, or the previous Editor’s departure, and the Editorial Director has written the Ed’s Letter for the last couple of issues. Soldinger has also worked at Loaded and Now magazines, and while at Nuts he flew out to Basra dressed as an elf to deliver Nuts Christmas presents to British troops stationed there.

Oh dear. Still, he’s a professional journalist and I’m sure we won’t have any of that sexist crap in NutsEtc BikesEtc. Nor will we have hyperbolic cover-lines with the words “sexiest”, “beasts”, “revealed”, blah blah. Except that’s exactly what we get. Check out: “Revealed! The Race Legend Fuelled by Cow’s Blood!” It’s sensationalist drivel. Really.

Maybe Dennis Publishing is aiming for the top end and bottom end of the market with Cyclist and NutsEtc, leaving Time Inc and Immediate Media to fight it out for the middle-ground. I don’t know. But what I do know is that this month’s cover of NutsEtc is appalling shite. Just as Nuts was appalling shite. I can’t wait for them to do a piece on the women’s peloton: Top 10 Pro Team Hotties Undressed! Latin Lovelies in Girl-on-Girl Giro Rosa Action!

So, what’s inside this month’s edition? Well, we start off with a listicle about a new Hoy bike entitled “10 reasons you’ll love this bike”. I could give you 10 reasons why I don’t love this bike, but that would be as boring as the article. Next we have a rather random test of three “pro” bikes. Except they’re not really. They’re running Ultegra, have cheap wheels, and cost around £3000. Pff!

Next is the NutsEtc Awards, a 14-pager bigging up all manner of stuff from the last year. It’s not too bad, but there isn’t much meat to it, and we do get a gratuitous photo of Daniele Colli‘s horrifically broken left arm which is uncalled-for. Following on from this is one of those throw-away features that fills some space, gives you an excuse for a cover-line, but which has no real substance: The 10 Sexiest Bikes Out There. The design of this feature is hideous, and there’s been no attempt to really explain what makes a bike sexy (if anything). And including the Venge ViAS in this list is a joke.

The winter riding feature is good, though. They sensibly got an expert (long-distance adventure-cyclist Tom Allen) to write it rather than some staffer trotting out the usual guff we’ve come to expect. An interesting piece.

So too is the next feature — a look at the life of Mick Murphy. This sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the rest of the mag. It feels like it should be in Rouleur rather than NutsEtc, but it’s a great read about an interesting bloke that few people have heard of. Good effort, except for the pathetic cow-blood graphic.

Now we come to the reviews section. The Winter Jerseys test doesn’t include the Castelli Gabba, the one by which all others are judged, so we can immediately dismiss this. The Premium Lights test seemed OK (I don’t know enough about these things to know if the test is actually any good). Winter socks? They’re all good. The Budget Wheels test is not bad at all, and the Winter Gloves piece, although not extensive, does a fair job.

And then there’s this: £1600 Carbon Bikes. There are, of course, several dozen bikes that fall into this category, but we get four seemingly chosen at random. If I was in the market for a bike at this price-point I would certainly read this feature, but it’s not going to be terribly helpful in the overall scheme of things…there is too much missing (Trek, Boardman, Canyon, etc). A better approach might have been to pick four bikes many readers might otherwise have overlooked in this category…offerings from KTM, Cube, Merida, etc. That would get round the problem of the test not being comprehensive and also offer readers something they may not have considered.

Next up is the usual training section: Eat more fish, ride like a pro, don’t go mad at Christmas, clean your chain, ride your turbo, blah blah blah. All good stuff if you’ve only been riding a bike for six months, repetitive and boring if you’ve been doing this for more than a year or so.

At the back of the mag is the rides section, which includes the Cotswolds, Sa Colabra, the Dragon Ride, and North Devon. These are all reasonably interesting, if slightly lightweight (still better than the 12 pages CA give these things).

And that’s that. There are 110 pages of editorial in a 130-page mag, which means paid-for advertising is looking a bit sparse. I really hope someone slips some Diazapam into the new Editor’s tea, because if this level of hysteria continues I fear the worst (Editor Spontaneously Combusts in Blizzard of Punctuation Shocker!!!).

 

Aaaarrrgh…my eyes!

The December issue of BikesEtc is on the shelves, and as usual it’s a mixed bag. The newest kid on the block, launched a little over a year ago by the publishers of Cyclist mgazine, BikesEtc is all about product. Cyclist is more about beautiful rides and the science behind cycling, BikesEtc is all about bikes and kit. They complement each other well.

But what the fuck are they thinking with their front cover photography? This month we have a worm’s-eye-view of a bloke with a ginger beard riding a Colnago CLX. The photographer must have used at least a dozen flashguns to ensure there is not a shadow anywhere in the photo, lending it a preternaturally lurid look. The focal point of the photo is the cables exiting the bar tape, the underside of the stem, a view straight up the rider’s nose, and his ginger-haired knuckles. Nooooo! It’s a fucking Colnago, a thing of beauty. I want to see it, not some hairy-knuckled beardy bloke blasted by 20,000 lumens of artificial light.

And the worm’s-eye-view camera angle is hateful…the worst possible view of a bicycle, all front wheel, forks and headtube. No bike looks good from this angle. Yes, it’s hard to photograph an essentially landscape product in a portrait format, but this really isn’t the way to do it. Fortunately the mag is bagged with a free Christmas gift-guide, so the full horror of the front cover isn’t revealed until you get home, by which time you’ve already bought/nicked it.

After the usual front-end product news we’re into the first bike test — the £1k Wonders, with the subhead “Budget-busting bikes”. Now forgive my ignorance, but doesn’t “budget-busting” imply something expensive? But I do like their on-location bike tests…so much more immersive than the usual stuff mags tend to do. And the £1k price tag hits the Ride-to-Work scheme market perfectly.

Next up is a really interesting feature on two blokes who picked 12 bucket-list rides and rode one each month for a year. A really nice idea, well written, nicely photographed and inspirational. I’m not jealous of much I read in the cycling press, but I’m jealous of this. They’ve produced a book about it, called Twelve Months in The Saddlle, which I’ll be reviewing in due course.

Then we have an interesting feature on your next bike, entitled Room for One More. Although based on the rather tiresome premise of N+1 (the correct number of bikes to own), it actually gives a neat explanation of the numerous niches that have developed in road cycling. In my world you only need three bikes at the absolute most — a road bike, an MTB, and a crappy old clunker for use round town. No one needs a gravel bike or a fat bike or any of this bollocks…buy the right bike in the first place and change the tyres according to conditions. Anyway, a nice take on the current niche lunacy, without being too overtly advertising-led.

Following on from this is a piece by Max Glaskin on the forces at play on you while you’re cycling. Glaskin has written a book called Cycling Science, and this is based on that book (which is excellent, by the way). A really interesting and well written piece that explodes a few myths along the way. Equally readable, but in a more lighthearted vein, is a piece by Trevor Ward on cycling etiquette for roadies…most cyclists out there should read, absorb, and practice what is written here.

If all this is fine and dandy so far, things go downhill a bit when we come to the reviews section. First is a look at bib-tights. Or should I say a look at some bib-tights. There is nothing here from Assos, Rapha, Castelli or La Passione, and there is no mention of women’s bib-tights, so the piece feels lightweight and incomplete. Pitching it as “men’s bib-tights for under £100” would have been better. Then we have a spread of winter hats (good), four pages of winter tyres (hopelessly lightweight), four pages of turbo trainers (also lightweight and insubstantial…why not get some noise readings from a decibel meter?), four pages on bike locks (also lightweight, using Sold Secure ratings rather than trying their own test), and four pages of budget bike computers, which holds absolutely no interest for me, but maybe of interest to the B’twin brigade. To be honest, most of this stuff is little more than a roundup of what is available, and thus of limited use.

The big bike test of the issue is £2000 bikes running Ultegra gruppos. Again, an excellent idea — this is a part of the market that is very popular, Ultegra is very good gear, and there will be a lot of people who want to read 15 pages on these bikes. And they do it well, combining studio and location photography, detailed geometry figures and comprehensive specs.

At the back, The Edge training and tips section is pretty good, and avoids faux-pro training regimes and disgusting recipes for quinoa and brown rice, and the Out There section includes a couple of interesting looking rides that don’t run to an excessive number of pages.

Overall, a pretty good read. Personally speaking, if you’re going to test stuff, then actually test it. They do with the bikes, why not do more with the products? But the Christmas gift-guide is pretty good…mark the things you fancy, then hand it to your significant other in plenty of time for the festive season. The main mag has 104 pages of editorial out of 130, the same as this month’s Cycling Active, but has far more in it worth reading, and more paid-for ads.