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.

 

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

 

Back on track?

A quickie today, as I have bicycles to ride, places to go, coffee to drink.

The March issue of Cyclist is out, and it has a nice sunny cover. So that’s good. And they have girls on the cover, in a good way, which is a refreshing change, even though we’re already well into the 21st Century.

After the usual news and new product stuff (puffa jackets? Really? On a bike?) we have an interesting little interview with Vin Denson about his part in Fast & Furious 6 being Tommy Simpson’s super-domestique. It’s a nice little piece, as is the following article about fast fueling during a ride. The piece about the Etixx training camp was a bit of PR puff for the team and failed to address the really important questions, such as why can’t the riders tie their shoelaces quicker. They spend all this time practicing lead-outs, sprinting, weight-training, and so on, yet they haven’t mastered the one thing that will get you an invite to a hellish sandpit in the middle-east — brisk shoelace tying. For the Qataris to complain about lack of respect while simultaneously working hundreds of migrant workers to death building football stadiums seems a bit rich, but it’s their money and they can put it in whichever brown envelope they like.

This month the High Grand Wizard of the Velominati is talking about riding in bad weather, but it’s just regurgitating oft-told stories of Bernard Hinault and Andy Hampsten and saying it’s OK not to ride if it’s icy. Meh.

The Big Ride this month is on the Croatian island of Hvar. And it’s fine. Susannah Osborne is a travel writer and does these things well, but it’s 15 pages long and the photos aren’t all that (why the occasional black and white? And too much contra-jour and lens-flare). The other issue I have is why Hvar? Yes it’s pretty. And yes it has some nice enough roads. But so do so many Mediterranean islands. And Hvar isn’t a big island, so is anyone really going to ship their bike over there to spend two days riding? I don’t know. I wouldn’t, but that’s because I’ve already been there by boat and know that there are only really two roads on the island.

So last month Cyclist did a ride outside San Francisco and this month it’s in Croatia. For me, this is not the way forward. I really only want three types of riding articles:

  • Stupidly hard Gran Fondos that I will never ride but which puts the journalist in a world of pain (Etape, Marmotte, etc).
  • Beautiful iconic rides which are achievable for most of the readers (Alps, cobbles, Pyrenees, Dolomites, etc).
  • Ridiculous tales of derring-do in weird places (cycling up K2 on a unicycle).

And while it’s nice for journalists to get a free holiday somewhere sunny, it doesn’t necessarily give the readers what they want (or maybe it’s just me).

Moving on, next is a good piece about dealing with extremes of temperature while riding. It’s an interesting sciencey article that neatly finds the middle ground between advice for newbies and degree-level biochemistry. This is about imparting useful, thoughtful advice rather than treating us all like idiots or showing off how much the author knows. Good stuff.

I generally don’t like racer interviews much, but the profile on Lizzie Armitstead was more interesting than most. I generally find that women racers tend to be more interesting and forthcoming than their male counterparts, and this seems to be the case with Armitstead. It would have been interesting if she had been asked about the dichotomy posed by being excited about her Team GB kit while at the same time living as a tax-exile. Monaco is full of British sports stars who are proud to be British but are unwilling to pay tax in Britain. But then I don’t know much about non-dom tax affairs, so let’s move on to the UK Ride…Trevor Ward’s Scottish road trip. He flogged a piece to CA about cycling the islands and now he’s punted a piece to Cyclist on the joys of cycling in the Highlands. It’s a nice story, with nice photos, and it’s a lovely part of the world. What’s not to like?

The story about Demon Frameworks is also pretty good, and reminds me why I ride the Pig-Iron Pista rather than something made from plastic. Demon is a proper one-man-band fabricator and makes some lovely frames. I like stories like this, and this one is well executed. Almost Rouleur-esque in some respects.

Next is a story about the Trek team press officer, which is an engaging look behind the scenes at a part of a team that rarely gets any recognition. Being a press officer must be a total nightmare most of the time, and this piece gives us a glimpse of what it’s like. Poor buggers. I enjoyed the Bianchi Gran Fondo piece too, mostly because it reminded me why Italy is still my favourite cycling country. Roll on summer and my annual pilgrimage to the Appenines.

Bikes tested this month are a Hersh Disc (which is really a Sarto Ernergia), a Cervelo S5 and a Chesini GP. All quite interesting in their own right. The Equinox carbon wheels are also interesting, albeit pricier and heavier than many at this level. And finally, Felix is telling us all about who has moved to which team and what sponsors they have. This is clearly written for people who have used up their data allowance and haven’t had internet access for the last month.

And that’s your lot. It’s a considerable improvement on the last couple of issues and even though it now costs £5.50 it’s still pretty good value. I would like to see a move back to more achievable Big Ride stories, but other than that it’s good enough to outlast the average lunch-hour.


 

Tomorrow, it’s issue 60 of Rouleur under the microscope. Until then, you can follow me here @TranquilloTommy

On the up

First off, I’m officially calling this: Vantablack is going to be huge in cycling. Yes, you read it here first. Vantablack. It’s the polar opposite to this (Vino’s hideous new bike):

WATSON_00004456-009-630x420.jpg

Vantablack is a paint made from carbon nano-tubes and absorbs 99.965% of light. They use it to coat the insides of telescopes. It’s so black as to effectively render anything you paint with it two-dimensional. If you paint a piece of crinkly silver paper (below) with it, it appears like a kind of black hole. How cool it that? It’s the ultimate matte-black stealth paintjob.

Vantablack_01.JPG

Of course the downside is that it converts light into heat, so your Vantablack carbon bike will melt if you ride it in the sun. But my bike’s made from pig-iron and mahogany, so I don’t care (it would take the heat of a thousand suns to melt the Pig-Iron Pista).

Anyway, to the matter in hand —the March issue of Cycling Plus. I like the cover, it’s got light and shade, depth and movement. First Rides include the lefty-forked ‘dale Slate and an equally gravelly Bombtrack Beyond, the new Cervelo C5 (those of us of a certain age cannot see “C5” without going “aaaaaarrrrgh!”)

Sinclair-276141.jpg

Then we get to the news/new products mash-up, which is all fine. The first big feature is a test of bikes for middle-aged fat people “endurance” bikes for between £1500 and £2000. It’s a popular segment of the market, and we are told why these particular bikes have been chosen. There are even a couple of non-disc bikes in there, which is good. The test is fine, but what really struck me was the photography…it’s lush. Robert Smith has done a great job in what looked to be some pretty challenging conditions, and the result is some really nice imagery conveying a sense of speed and power, and giving the photos a sense of place. So much better than the hyper-lit frozen-motion shots we see all too often.

Next we have more odds and ends (shoes, computers, urban jackets and Garmin’s weird radar system, which I was glad to see C+ were as mystified about as the rest of us). After which we get the Seven Deadly Sins of Cycling. It’s basically a different way of presenting some good, solid advice to the readers. It’s aimed at the newbies rather than experienced riders, but it’s a decent read nonetheless.

The pedals test didn’t do much for me, but then I’ve found my perfect pedals and have no intention of changing them any time soon. I was slightly surprised to find £180 Dura-Ace pedals in an “affordable pedals” test, but then maybe compared to Speedplay Nanograms (£600 a pair) they are pretty cheap.

The piece on the Three-Peaks Cyclo-Cross Challenge is a good read. Like many of these things, I will never, ever take part in one, but I enjoy reading about other people’s misery and suffering on two wheels. Except the event doesn’t seem to need wheels because it’s basically a cross-country run with a bicycle slung over your shoulder. Entertaining idiots!

I liked Warren Rossiter’s piece about the Bianchi l’Eroica and the Specialissima very much, not least because Warren himself rode for the photos and I like to see a slightly chunky middle-aged man having fun on two lovely bikes. And Warren writes very well. Good stuff.

I should have put my prejudices to one side and actually read the piece about power meters. But I didn’t. I have zero interest in power meters because anything that requires a temperature compensation algorithm has no place on my bike. But this looks like a pretty reasonable look at what’s available, even if there is a distinct lack of data in the piece.

The How-To section contains a handful of rather lightweight advice pieces, but one in particular caught my eye: Descend Like a Pro. Really? 300 words from Tiffany Cromwell and you’re descending like a pro? Gimme a break. For a start, no one should do anything like a Pro, let alone descend (have you seen Thibault Pinot riding down hills?). Pros are not role-models, so don’t do anything like one. Don’t eat like a pro, don’t sleep like a pro, don’t ride like a pro. Seriously, these people are not normal and you don’t want to be like them.

Moving on…John Witney is writing about turning his brother into a MAMIL. I don’t know whether John comes up with these ideas himself, or whether he’s just clearly the right man for the job, but it’s good stuff. Like his bunking-off-on-a-day-trip-to-Mallorca piece last month, John has a light touch and it makes for a good read. The illustrations, though…downright wrong!

The Big Ride feature claims to be about somewhere in Scotland, but clearly isn’t (there was sunshine and people with all their own teeth). Actually, it’s the Isle of Arran. Maybe the weather’s different there. Anyway, it’s a nice piece about a lovely part of the world. Interestingly, Trevor Ward (the author) managed to squeeze the most out of his Scottish trip by flogging a piece to Cyclist this month as well. Now that’s smart freelancing.

At the back, Ned displays some shockingly poor parenting skills. He advocates keeping your kids away from bike racing on the telly, but in reality they add to the enjoyment, particularly if they are already getting to grips with football as well.

Me: What do you think of Astana?

Kids: Shit!

Me: What do you think of shit?

Kids: Astana!

All: We hate Vino and we hate Vino, we hate Vino and we hate Vino…etc

And my middle son’s first words? Djamolidine Abdoujaparov (at least that’s what it sounded like to me). So get the kids involved early on and while away those long transitional stages with sweary songs and firing darts with suction tips at the TV when your least-favourite rider appears on the screen.

And that’s it for this month. All told, a good effort by the C+ team. I didn’t think this would happen, but I am increasingly finding more to interest me in C+ than in Cyclist these days. I’ll be back on Monday with a few thoughts on Cyclist.

@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

On the slide

One of the things I like about Cyclist magazine is that it usually encourages me to read about things that aren’t necessarily relevant to me, but which are nonetheless interesting. The article about the art and science of motivation is a case in point. Although ostensibly about sports psychology and racing, it still contains ideas and information that can be of use to a recreational cyclist (tackling monstrous climbs, digging out some determination for the last 10 miles of an imperial century, that sort of thing). Although not aimed at a non-competitive sloth such as myself, it’s still an interesting read.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The February issue of Cyclist is out, and it’s beginning to look a little like a pro cycling mag. Last month we had Geraint Thomas and “periodised nutrition”, this month we’ve got articles on Claudio Chiappucci, Fabian Cancellara, Markel Irizar and the aforementioned performance motivation piece. That’s more pro cycling than I want to see in a mainstream mag.

Anyway, after the usual news and new product stuff (including a shameless PR puff for Boardman Bikes) we have a Q&A with El Diblo (Chiappucci), which is a bit meh! If you really want to know about him, read the chapter about him in Richard Moore’s book “Etape”. The following spread, on work suits you can wear while cycling, is a complete mystery to me, but then I don’t actually own a suit (except for the SkinToo gimp suit in the cellar).

Max Glaskin’s cycling science piece about filling your tyres with helium was also a bit odd, and rather longer than it needed to be. But then we get Trevor Ward talking about why cycling outside in winter (as opposed to cycling on a £1200 turbo trainer in your garage) is a good thing. I like Trevor’s stuff. He makes sense. He’s a bit old-school. And then there’s Velominati Frank taking an eternity to tell a reader not to care about flaunting his junk in the workplace (arriving at work in cycling shorts).

The Big Ride is a big 14 pages of stuff about cycling in Marin County near San Francisco. I can’t see all that many riders making the effort to get over to north California for this kind of thing, so I’m a little baffled by this. It’s a nice read, but surely they could have found something a bit more relevant to the readership. Also, the photographer was clearly struggling with the very harsh lighting conditions, which has resulted in some pretty washed-out images. On the plus side, the California Dreaming headline gets another outing, and the mag proved that the gravel bike thing is bollocks by riding countless miles of gravel on two standard road bikes.

After the interesting motivation article there is a seven-page piece about Cancellara which tells us nothing we don’t already know. They didn’t even tell us why he’s called Spartacus (the original was a short, powerful Thracian) nor why he has an image of a 5th Century BC Corinthian helmet painted on his bike when Spartacus was a murmillo gladiator in the 1st Century BC who would have worn a full-faced galea. In the interests of verisimilitude I trust that Trek will sort this out soonest.

The UK Ride story is about the Wye Valley  by the omnipresent Susannah Osborne. It’s a decent piece about a lovely part of the world, even if some of the photos are a bit grim and rainy. Then we have six pages of stuff about graphene, a potentially useful material for making tyres (and other things) from. The problem for me is that this is more about Vittoria than about graphene, so I take everything in it with a pinch of salt. Vittoria are investing in the future of graphene so of course they are going to say it’s the best thing ever. What I’d like to see is a few other experts expressing some opinions, because as it stands its a big PR job for Vittoria.

Next is another pro cycling piece, this time about Markel Irizar, one of Trek’s domestiques. It’s OK as far as it goes, but like many of these types of articles, it’s doesn’t attempt to understand the man or the job. Burying yourself in the service of someone else is a curious thing for a sportsperson, so why do they do it? Is there a psychological trait that enables domestiques to do what they do? I think the author needed a much tighter brief because it’s a bit “I-ride-super-fast-and-I’m-super-tired-but-it’s-my-job”.

Max Glaskin is back with the best piece of the issue, about handling characteristics and frame geometry. This is properly good stuff, but why only four pages? There’s loads more to be said (some of which Max covers in his excellent “Cycling Science” book) and I would like to have seen far more diagrams illustrating points made in the test. It’s a really good article, but it feels a bit throw-away compared to seven pages on Spartacus or 14 pages on San Francisco. Better treatment would have made this a stand-out feature.

I read the story about the Otztaler Radmarathon, not because I was particularly interested in the event (I will never enter one of these ludicrous European sportives) but just to see if it was any different to the dozens of stories like this that appear in the cycling press. It wasn’t. The format for these uber-sportive stories goes something like this:

Start with amusing anecdote/observation from the day.

Jump back to the initial plan for the feature (hopefully the initial plan will go amusingly wrong at some point).

Start the sportive slowly, get overtaken by everyone, find the rhythm, start to overtake a few people.

Tag onto the back of a group of fast-riding Italians/Germans/Swedes. Struggle to stay in touch.

Suffer horribly over massive climbs, be amazed at ancient old git riding faster than most other people on an old single-speed Alcyon, make it to the finish just in front of broom-wagon.

The end.

The Bikes section tested a boingy Pinarello (£4675 for the frame alone), a yellow Cannondale CAAAAAAAD12 Disc, and a Jaegher Meister/Bomb/Interceptor. The Jaegher is quite interesting (an expensive steeler).

And finally there’s Felix Lowe’s column. Nuff said.

I actually read this edition of Cyclist in the old-fashioned ink-and-paper version (I rose briefly from my day-bed and ventured forth to a purveyor of fags n mags nearby) so I can tell you it’s 130 pages, of which 90 are editorial. And I have to confess to being rather underwhelmed by this issue, much as I was by last month’s. It’s not terrible, but it isn’t up to what we’ve come to expect. With C+ (and even CA) upping their game in recent months, Cyclist needs to keep it’s eye on the ball if it is to remain the thinking cyclists’ mag of choice.

 

 

Hmmmm…

The latest issue of Cyclist is now on the shelves, and I have to say it’s a bit of a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not terrible. It’s just not quite up to the usual standards. And certainly not as good as last month’s.

The cover is a good one, specially at this gloomy time of year. There’s a nice shot of three cyclists on a twisting mountain round in Andalusia (southern Spain), bathed in Mediterranean sunshine, with the sea in the background. The cover-line invites us to head here for year-round sunshine and empty roads. Sounds good to me.

And the cover is mercifully free of question and exclamation marks, or other forms of must-read hysteria. The “Magazine of The Year” banner is a bit gratuitous. It’s a bit like me claiming to be an award-winning journalist just because a magazine I once worked on received an award at the publishing company’s annual in-house awards. Without the context it’s a meaningless boast.

Anyway, inside we start with the usual new product news — new Canyon, Adidas kit, Vittoria tyres, Shimano shoes, etc. Then we have an interview with Sean Yates, a man I find it hard to like. I’ve never met him, but most of what I’ve read about him (or seen on the TV) makes him out to be a bit of a dick. This Q&A doesn’t do anything to change that impression.

Next is an interesting piece about being too thin. This is something that has NEVER been a problem with me, but it’s a good read. Apparently 20 percent of US male cyclists suffer from abnormal eating behaviours, although what constitutes “abnormal” in a country where morbid obesity is becoming the norm is difficult to ascertain. It’s an nice piece, though.

Following on is an article about the rolling resistance of tyres. This doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know, but it’s nice to have a magazine do real-world tests to back up the theory. There are still plenty of riders out there that firmly believe 23mm tyres are faster than 25mm ones, but the overwhelming body of proof is now that 25s offer the optimum performance for most conditions. And this is the type of thing Cyclist does very well.

The same can be said of the article about cycling caps by Trevor Ward. He is all about the casquette, and is wonderfully dismissive of the baseball cap. It’s well written and well argued, and I’m becoming a bit of a fan of Ward’s…he’s clearly a man after my own heart.

Whereas Frank Strack, of Velominati fame, is clearly not. In his latest column he blithers on about all sorts of bollocks to do with riding with one’s spouse/significant-other. “They don’t appreciate the sacrifices we make” he bleats. “I made the point of choosing a partner who also rides,” he brags. “She understands the appeal to go spelunking in the Pain Cave and drop the flashlight,” he gushes. Eh? Speak English, you fool. I suspect his partner just smiles sweetly and thinks “shut up you pretentious, egotistical cretin, and just ride your damn bike”. Have a look at Cycling Plus’ deconstruction of The Rules this month if you want a bit of balance to this nonsense.

Next up is a piece about riding in Andalusia, a beautiful (and warm) part of the world ideal for a bit of winter sunshine. And the piece is a good one, although it doesn’t really mention the one problem with cycling in this part of the world…it’s completely empty once you get away from the coast. And while that’s a good thing in many respects, it’s not perfect if, like me, you like to stop regularly at cafes for coffee and nibbles and cold water. But it makes a change from the Canaries, I suppose.

The article that follows is about food and “periodised nutrition”. Aimed squarely at the competitive cyclist, it’s reasonably interesting  but completely irrelevant to those of us who are merely want to eat relatively healthily and ride our bikes. I’m not an athlete, I don’t need to worry about race-day nutrition.

I’m afraid I didn’t bother reading the Geraint Thomas profile…he’s been absolutely everywhere promoting his book, and I don’t imagine there’s anything new in this article. He’s a pro athlete, so genuine insights and opinions will be notable by their absence. Whatever.

The story behind Merckx bikes is more interesting than I thought it would be, the piece about being a DS was less interesting than I thought it would be, and the piece about road bike “suspension” just made me sad. I would expect a man of Stu Bowers pedigree to exercise a little more journalistic rigour in his approach to this subject. The idea of suspension (or bits of rubbery stuff inserted into frames to increase damping) is to enable riders to be more comfortable. That’s fine for competitors in the 260km  Paris-Roubaix, but do the rest of us really need this?

Well, let’s have a look at some Strava stats for 2014 (Strava is, we are told, where the latest generation of cyclists upload their data):

• On average, UK male cyclists using Strava spent a total of 35 hours, 13 minutes in the saddle in 2014. Women spent 20 hours, 12 minutes.

• In 2014, male Strava cyclists in the UK covered an average distance of 809km (503 miles). Women covered 407km (253 miles).

• The average ride lasted 1 hour and 46 minutes (1 hour and 39 minutes for women), covering 25.5 miles (22 miles for women) at an average speed of 14mph (12.5mph for women).

Holy shit! I’m shocked. Genuinely shocked. What the fuck is everyone doing? Clearly we are all far more time-crunched (sorry) than I thought. And clearly there are loads of Stravistas who are talking the talk but not necessarily walking the walk. It may be that the figures are skewed by lots of people signing up to Strava and then rarely bothering to upload stuff. But this is a terrifying snapshot of UK cycling. I assumed we were all doing thousands of miles a year on our club runs, sportives and audaxes, but perhaps the people actually putting in the miles are more interested in cycling than tossing-off over Strava KoMs.

So who needs N+1 when you’re only spending 35 hours a year on a bike? Who needs expensively-gained comfort when you’re only covering 500 miles a year? But perhaps we need suspension on our road bikes to encourage us to spend more than 35 hours a year doing something we profess to love.

If you want something comfortable, buy a steel or titanium frame in the correct size with the correct geometry, buy the best bibshorts available, and maybe get a bike-fit if you’re not confident of tweaking your own position. A £9000 boingy Pinarello? You definitely don’t need one of those.

The other thing no one has tackled is the longevity of these designs where the suspension is really just vertical compliance of the chainstays. With the chainstays constantly flexing up to 10mm, how long will they last? Does carbon-fibre suffer fatigue in the same way metals do? Buggered if I know, but I wish this article would tell me.

There’s an interesting feature to be written about all this, but unfortunately this isn’t it. And just when you’d had enough Pinarello PR puff, we get an article about a Pinarello sportive. It’s actually a nice read, mostly because I love cycling in Italy and will cheerfully consume these things while wistfully planning next year’s holidays.

The bikes section looks at a Giant TCR Advanced Pro, a rather lovely Pretorious Outeniqua, and a Sarto Lampo. The Pretorious and Sarto are both interesting bikes, but the Giant doesn’t really rock my boat. Nor do the £2400 Easton clinchers they’ve tested, even if they are tubeless-ready.

Rounding off proceedings is Felix Lowe’s column, which this month is better than usual (which isn’t saying a lot). If you didn’t watch all the Classics and Grand Tours, this column may not make much sense to you.

And there you have it. As before, I read it on my iPad, so can’t tell you about ed/ad ratios, but they appear to be doing OK these days. I was left feeling mildly disappointed in this issue, which may be more to do with the high quality of last month’s offering. Even so, I’d say it’s worth a fiver of anyone’s money.