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.

 

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It’s getting worse

First off, thanks to Guy Andrews for yesterday’s guest blog…an interesting and thought-provoking piece (and thus a refreshing change to the bile and vitriol normally found here).

But back to the matter in hand…the May issue of Sportive Active. On the cover of this Spring issue we have a nice snowy, wintry photo of two cold cyclists. They probably did that to remind us how nice the weather is now, compared to what it was like several months ago. So that’s good.

Inside we have sportives. Many, many, many sportives. But first we have some new products, including the revelation that some bike wheels are suitable “for varied terrain…sprinting, climbing, breakaways, climbing [again] or on the flat”. Crikey, those must be EPIC wheels! Next is a look at the “game-changing” Pinarello K8-S, launched at last year’s Ronde, and never seen again. CA are a bit late to the party, but at least they didn’t just churn out a load of credulous Pinarello PR-speak…Oh.

Equally crapulous is the piece about a £3100 pair of tubular wheels that makes no attempt to put them in any kind of context (such as what sort of fucktard is going to spend more than £3000 on a pair of tubs), but they did superimpose a photo of the wheels onto a photo of blue sky and clouds, thus underlining their incredible lightness.

Both the regular columns this month are about riding kit. Simon Warren’s Old School is about learning the ropes in the 1980s, and Brett Lewis’ New School is a fascinating list of all the cycling clothing he has accumulated in two years of cycling. He certainly has all the gear…

The first sportive article is about a new event called The Struggle. It’s in quite a nice part of Yorkshire and photographed in a rather unappealing way. I started to read it, but quickly realised it’s exactly the same as all the other ones just like it. But I did read the piece about cycling for the impossibly ancient (those of us over 40), even though it contains quite a lot of shite about training plans and nutrition strategies. And it’s not a bad piece, to be honest.

The disc-brake wheel test is also reasonably good, even though I personally couldn’t care less about such things. The next sportive article is about the Tour of Cambridge, possibly the least appealing sportive imaginable (not that many of them are appealing). The Fens are flat, the scenery is flat, the wind howls, and the definition of a virgin is a 12 year old girl who can run faster than her brother. But at least it’s not Surrey.

The bike test this month is of four “British” 105-equipped bikes against the best-selling Canyon Endurance CF8.0 with 105. Of course they’re all built in the far-east anyway. But this test brings us to one of the things that has been bothering me (and many others, it would seem)…why does the bike press continue to wax lyrical about Canyons when the company clearly has many problems in its supply chain and continues to treat its customers very badly (see page 39 for the answer to that particular question). You get barely half a page about each bike, so you know what kind of test this will be. The same can be said of the metal bikes test that follows — brief, formulaic, and of no use to anyone.

Product “tests” include a look at summer socks, gilets and bike cleaning kits (be still, my beating heart!). These are followed by quite a sensible look at aero helmets, and spoke repairs, before we flick quickly past the Fitness + Training section (the usual crap about training blocks, beetroot, intervals, zinc, rhino horn, protein, snake oil, blah blah). At the back is a throwaway page about sock-doping (whatever the hell that is).

And that’s your lot. At 130 pages, there really is so little of interest in this magazine I do wonder why anyone bothers. And the new-style CA seems to suffer a kind of identity crisis. It appears to be primarily aimed at the relatively inexperienced newcomer, yet features £3000 wheels and £350 handlebars. They seem to be deliberately targeting the all-the-gear-but-no-idea brigade, which is probably why I find it excruciatingly poor these days. I know I’m not the target readership, but surely they can find something more interesting and useful than this. Then again, with Steve Prentice and Simon Collis running the show, maybe not.


 

Back on Monday with some thoughts about the latest 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

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

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

 

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.

CT.jpg

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

Marginal gains

Maybe because NutsEtc this month is so execrable I feel a little more kindly towards Cycling Active than I might otherwise. The front cover image is nice enough (Yorkshire), and there isn’t a single exclamation mark on there. A good start!!!!!

Unfortunately the Wish You Were Here spread, designed to showcase the joys of the cobbled climbs of the Tour of Flanders sportive, is a bit crap. Surely they could have found a better photo than a flat bit at the bottom of the Kwaremont dominated by concrete telegraph poles and willow trees. FIIC!

The “Five Things” this month is with Sky’s Director of Business Operations (nope, no idea what that is either), the N+1 is a Trek Madone 9.9 (interesting), and the Most Wanted is a Fizik saddle (meh!). Simon Warren’s column is as good as ever, and Brett Lewis’ is as lame as ever.

And so to the first of the sportive previews…the Etape du Dales. The photos are nice, the text is OK (too long), and although it doesn’t make me want to ride the sportive, it does make we want to ride my bike in Yorkshire again sometime soon. At 110 miles in length, and including several pretty grueling climbs, this is actually fairly epic. I just wish they would  tell us the total number of feet or metres climbed, because that’s kind of important (yes I know I can go onto the sportive website and find out, but why doesn’t the magazine tell us?).

The next sportive previewed is the Spring Chicken, Greens, Time for Hitler and Germany, Onion, yet another sportive in the Surrey Hills. Frankly I’m bored to tears with the Surrey Hills so I skipped this 10-pager (the photos are nice, though), and moved on to a test of five CX bikes in the £1200-£1600 price range. I don’t want a CXer (although I do rather like the On-One Pickenflick, although that’s not included here despite the fact that it’s £1600 and probably better than all of the bikes on test here), but it’s quite an interesting read. Sadly it doesn’t really touch on the gearing issues than compromise entry-level CXers — too low for road use, often not low enough to winch up steep climbs. Nor does this article address the chainline efficiency of a x1 gruppo.

Next up is a test of three aluminium bikes for around the £1200 mark. Ally is coming back into fashion thanks to advances in construction and the fact that people have realised that they don’t snap in half when you thrown them down the road or over-tighten the seat post clamp. It’s a decent test, but why no Trek or Canyon or Giant or any of the other offerings? Yet again we are given three bikes seemingly chosen at random from what’s available. It’s OK as far as it goes, but the test doesn’t really offer the reader a great deal.

Here’s an idea: test the best ally-framed bike for £1200 against the best carbon-framed bike for £1200. And remove some of the variables (test them on the same set of wheels/tyres and the same seatpost/saddle). Give us some in-depth analysis of the way they feel, the way they ride. Tell us if mid-range ally really is better than cheap carbon. Maybe talk to a tame mechanic about the joys and pitfalls of both materials from a mechanic’s point-of-view. Shock horror…maybe even chat to a bike shop about the respective residual values on the secondhand market.

Unfortunately this would require giving an actual toss about what the readers want from a bike test rather than trotting out the usual guff for the benefit of the potential/existing advertisers. Which is why I’m not the Editor of a magazine any more (yes, I really am that old-school).

Anyway, next up is a test of 10 waterproof jackets. Although not comprehensive, most of the major players are there and it’s a pretty decent effort. But I was less impressed by the winter bib-tights test, which doesn’t include Assos (the bib-tight by which most others are judged) and which is a men-only affair. Considering both the Editor and Deputy Editor are women I would have thought female riders would be getting more of a look-in, but apparently not. Also, how does the Gore bib-tight score 7 when the fit is so bad?

Far better is the winter shoe test, which actually comes to the conclusion that they’re all rubbish and we should stick with regular shoes and overshoes. I know! Cycling Mag in Useful Advice Shocker! I did some research into winter shoes a while back and came to the same conclusion, but it’s good to see a mag come out and confirm it. Good work, CA. The saddlebags test (just the four of them) was a bit shit, though.

Not so the following piece on carbon-fibre. Matt Lamy has done a good job unraveling the truth from the PR bollocks about carbon-fibre, and it’s an interesting read. He also raises an interesting point about the unrecyclable nature of carbon bikes, something I haven’t seen anywhere else. Good stuff (as is the following piece about adjusting your rear derailleur).

Now we come to the cookery section, where we have maple syrup, beetroot juice, honey, and carb drinks. I so don’t care. And the February training plan and training zone stuff is just the sort of joyless, po-faced stuff that makes me wonder who reads this. Picked at random:

“The phosphocreatine system helps bolster flagging adenosine triphosphate stores very rapidly by regenerating broken down ATP using donated phosphate from a reservoir of high-energy phosphate in the muscles known as creatine phosphate.”

And it goes on for ever. And ever. It’s eight pages of impenetrable bio-chemistry. Seriously, this is utterly bonkers for a recreational cycling mag. Who the hell is going to wade through this just so they can go 20 seconds faster on a sportive? There’s probably a good piece in here somewhere…it just needs a good sub-editor to take a big red pen to it or it needs to be sent back to the author with a request to rewrite it for people without a degree in bio-chemical engineering.

And that pretty much concludes this month’s Cycling Active. It has 103 pages of editorial out of 130 pages, and quite a few in-house ads. However, it’s a slight improvement on last month’s issue and with luck it will continue to improve as Hannah gets her feet under her desk.

 

What, no EPIC???

The January issue of Sportive Active Cycling Active has just hit the shelves, and it’s even more sportivetastic than ever. There is a certain sense of weary resignation as I sit down to read it. I know what to expect, and I know what I’m going to think about it. But here goes…

One of the things I like about CA these days is the front cover imagery. They don’t do worm’s-eye-views of bikes, they don’t do beardy men or 19-year-old kids blasted with far too much fill-flash, they do relatively normal people riding their bikes in a picturesque part of the world under natural lighting. And for me it works. Most of the other magazines look the same, and I find it hard to tell them apart.

So the cover of CA this month is mercifully free of crap photography and also free of hysterical punctuation (BikesEtc has 12 exclamation marks on the January cover. That’s this many: ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !). Anyway, inside the mag it’s the usual fare…fucking sportives. I’m not a fan of sportives (I find them at best faintly ridiculous, at worst utterly ridiculous). So I’m not really the target audience for the new-look CA. Anyway, first up is an advertorial for the Box Hill sportive, along with some text from a punter about what a fabulous event this is. Meh!

Then we have the Editor’s letter from the new Editor, Hannah Reynolds. The publishers have promoted internally (Hannah has previously been doing stuff for Cycling Weakly and occasionally CA) rather than trying to poach from elsewhere or bring in some new blood.

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She’s a little over-anxious to get her cycling credentials out there, and claims that she uses Strava to determine a good place to buy a house (really?), but I wish her well and hope she does a better job than the interim incumbent before her.

After a few pages of old news we have a page of punters bigging-up sportives they’ve ridden…a pointless waste of a page. Then we have a listicle about Simon Mottram, founder of Rapha. It’s an excuse for Simon to plug Rapha, and a wasted opportunity. This guy is interesting, so ask him some interesting questions and give the piece more than a page.

Next is four pages of new products followed by a DPS devoted to the new flagship Bianchi, an £8000 work of art that somehow CA have managed to render dull and pedestrian. This should be a celebration of everything that is wonderful about cycling, but instead it’s a procession of facts and figures. Cycling Weakly did the same with their Bike-of-the-Year articles last week…they sucked the joy and excitement out of some truly wonderful bikes.

Maybe these people have become jaded. Maybe they’ve seen so much of this stuff that it no longer excites them. So sack them, and get people in who can enthuse, inspire, and make you yearn. This new Bianchi is their flagship, and yet it isn’t aero, doesn’t have disc brakes and doesn’t have electronic gears. What does that say about Bianchi? What does that say about where top-end bikes are heading? There’s plenty of food for thought there, but instead CA give us the spec sheet and some techno-babble about vibration-damping. They don’t even tell us how much it weighs, FFS! It’s lazy crap.

Simon Warren’s column is a bit of a surprise. He basically comes out and says “don’t believe anything that you read in this magazine”. I know! First he mocks gravel bikes (turn to page 72 for a test of gravel bikes), then integrated cockpits (page 27) then disc brakes (page 58) and so on. Of course he’s right about most of this (except the 25mm tyre thing), but surely he shouldn’t be saying this stuff out loud. In a cycling magazine.

Then we have Brett Lewis, CA’s resident newbie MAMIL, explaining his inferiority complex. Deep down he knows that it’s desperately sad for a man his age to want a medal for riding around the countryside for a couple of hours, but dammit…Rapha-Man got his kit all dirty and damn well earned that tawdry metal disc!

The first big feature is a preview ride of The Hell of Ashdown sportive, promoted by Catford CC. I know…epic! A quick look at the webiste tells you everything you need to know about this:

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This epitomises everything that is wrong about sportives. There’s 6000ft of climbing, which is a fair amount, but really, it’s not enfer du nord hellish. In reality, going to Catford is far more hellish than a few hills in Kent. Anyway, CA give 12 pages to this when five would have done just fine. At the end of the day, it’s just Kent.

Next is a 10-page preview of the Cheshire Cat sportive. Again, I couldn’t care less because I hope never to ride another sportive again, but one of the riders is Les West, a Brit cycling legend from the 1960s and ’70s, so it’s worth reading just to find out a bit about him.

Then we have a test of sportive bikes (surprise!) priced between £2000 and £3200. Yet again, I find myself absolutely baffled about the choice of bikes tested. If you’ve got a budget of £2000, you’re not going to be looking at bikes costing £3200. Or vice versa. Take out the £3200 BMC and you have four bikes all around the same price and with the same market in mind. What is unusual is that the author takes tentative steps towards the heretical viewpoint that discs may not be essential on a road bike. Anyway, high front ends and compact frames make for deeply unattractive bikes (usually), so move on to some even uglier bikes…gravel bikes.

Gravel bikes are another utterly pointless niche that no one needs. Do the pros ride gravel bikes in the Strade Bianche? No they fucking don’t. And they certainly wouldn’t be riding a parts-bin bitsa like the Marin. Anyway, these things are ugly and pointless, so let’s move on to the “Big” group tests. First is multi-tools. There are a bazillion multi-tools available, so how does CA chose which ones to test? We have no idea…they just pick “ten of the best”. Does that mean that anything not tested is not as good as any of those tested? We don’t know. And three of them score 6 out of 10, so is anything that’s not included automatically scoring less than 6 out of 10? We don’t know that either. It feels like one of those send-out-an-email-and-test-whatever-comes-in tests.

Then we have a winter tyres test, which fails to include any of the tyres that have scored highly in other tyre tests. The Conti 4 Seasons is generally regarded as the go-to winter tyre, but is not included in this test, nor is the Vittoria Open Pavé or the Michelin Pro4 Endurance. Without any of these tyres in the test, it is rendered pointless. It’s the same with the rear lights test…just four random rear lights. No attempt at context or an explanation why these four. It just feels lazy and shit.

The same can be said of the softshell jackets “test”, but at least this has an amusing cock-up in it:

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Next is an interesting two-pager about tubeless tyres and a useful  how-to piece about front derailleurs. And then we’re on to the fitness and training section — 22 pages of training programmes, turbo training (yet another piece about Zwift), recipes for fishy things, and a reasonably interesting piece about energy gels (even though we’ve read quite a few of these over the years).

The final piece is a frustrating one. It’s about the race doctor on the Tour of Britain, but it barely scratches the surface of what could have been a much more in-depth and interesting piece. An opportunity missed, I feel.

And that’s your lot. Of 130 pages, 103 are editorial and there are quite a few house ads thrown in as well. Hannnah Reynolds faces a tough job dragging CA into the mainstream. It’s far too sportive-oriented for my tastes, but the publishers have a lot of sportives they need to fill (they probably make more money out of these than they do from publishing) so I can see what they’re trying to achieve. They clearly feel we have not reached “peak sportive” yet, but I do wonder how much longer people like Brett will be prepared to cough up £30+ to go for a bike ride and “win” a medal.

Everything’s EPIC!!! Except it isn’t really

I almost didn’t make it past page 27 of the latest issue of Cycling Active (December 2015). Under the heading “Most Wanted” is a short piece about the new Zipp 404 Firestrike Limited carbon clincher wheelset, and it’s just the sort of breathless PR guff that makes you want to hurl the magazine straight in the bin. How are we supposed to take them seriously when they publish stuff like this?

Aside from the fact that these Zipps have been around for ages, and only a complete idiot/triathlete would pay £2500 for a heavy pair of wheels that could be written off by a pothole, there’s stuff like this: “keeping the all-up weight to an impressively low 1,750g”, and “exquisite 58mm deep-section wheels have been meticulously honed in the wind tunnel”. And, OMG, the skewers are titanium! They should be made from platinum at that price!

And no mention of anything useful, like lacing patterns, bracing heights, or if Zipp have sorted out the recurring problems with 188 hubs that had a tendency to fall to pieces at inopportune moments. But we do get a photo of golf balls, to underline the aero credentials of the wheels. So that’s nice. We don’t actually get to see the whole wheel though, but hey…who wants to see what they’re getting for their two grand, eh?

Skipping past the news pages (why do magazines bother with news pages when we’ve all read it weeks before online?), and resisting the temptation to bin the mag after just 14 editorial pages, I plough on. Simon Warren is writing about tractors and time-trialing (I like Simon’s stuff…he’s a fellow retro-grouch) and Brett Lewis is writing about…ah, who cares, and there’s a two-page filler about Merckx in 1975.

And so to the first of several EPIC tales of EPIC riding an EPIC sportive route in an EPIC part of the world. Or two blokes riding the route of the Fred Whitton Challenge. Of course we’ve all read stories about the Fred Whitton before, but this one is just that much more EPIC than all the others. And it’s an EPIC 12 pages in length.

Next is another EPIC ride, this time round Wiltshire, following the route of “Wiltshire’s toughest sportive” (stop sniggering at the back…this is EPIC stuff!). Ten pages are devoted to this. And herein lies Cycling Active’s problem. Their publishers recently bought UK Cycling Events, the highly profitable organisers of many sportives, and now they have repositioned Cycling Active to promote their sportive business. That, in turn, puts CA up against the rest of the mainstream press. Before, CA occupied a tidy little niche aimed at the entry-level riders and those who didn’t want to spend £1000 on a set of wheels which can’t be rebuilt. The problem with that niche is that the advertisers were similarly entry-level and cost-conscious, so CA goes sportivetastic, everything’s NEW and EPIC, and it becomes just like everything else.

Next up is a load of rehashed press release stuff about the “best bikes of 2016”, despite the fact that they haven’t actually ridden them yet. Meh! And then we have a group test of winter training bikes, because apparently you can’t use your “race bike” during the winter and a winter bike is a “must-have”. As usual, the weights given are for assorted different sizes, making direct comparison impossible, and the Genesis is slagged off for being heavy, even though it’s half a kilo lighter than the “clear winner”. What would have been a lot more useful would be to see what £500 gets you on the secondhand market, but that’s not going to make the advertisers happy.

“More product, more product” screams the Ad Manager. So in goes a group-test-lite look at tubeless wheels, pumps, hats and gloves, none of which is terribly informative, but all of which gets weighed in the spirit of EPIC weight-weeniedom (does anyone really care that one beanie is 13g lighter than another?). Then, bugger me, there’s something interesting and useful…a two-page piece about chainline efficiency. It could have been more in-depth, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. There’s also a good piece about bike-fits which is a cut above the usual you-must-have-a-bike-fit-because-you’re-too-stupid-to-do-it-yourself.

The back of the mag is mostly taken up with EPIC training plan stuff, which is probably fine if you’re a Cat 3 racer or give a shit about doing intervals and making like a faux-pro. I’m not. Nor do I give a toss about “green powders” and supplements for cooking unappealing things with rice. In my experience most MAMILs just shovel food in their faces and hope to burn it off at the weekend.

So that’s it. Interestingly, many of the other mags, knowing that winter’s here and no one is buying cycling mags, have opted for free stuff bagged to the issue (calendars and gift-guides, mostly). Not so CA, who instead rely on coverlines with the words EPIC, NEW, BEST and ULTIMATE to sell the mag. With 104 editorial pages out of 130, and a large number of in-house ads (10 in total), these must be worrying times for the Ad team. Certainly the numbers won’t support this Ed/Ad ratio for long, so CA has to hope the new format will tempt readers away from other titles. Editorially, they’re going to have to do better than this.