Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Review - Bicycling Magazine

Boy I step out for a few days and all sorts of things happen.

Since last Tuesday night I've effectively been off the Internet. The future missus and I went to Las Vegas to celebrate the end of tax season (she's one of those accounting type people). And although I could have logged on if I truly wanted to, I guess it ended up being less important than unwinding and relaxing. I come back and Basso is off of Discovery, Di Luca wins Liege, Hamilton is accused again, ditto Jorg Jaksche, the number of Puerto-implicated riders has doubled, and alleged Puerto code number identities have been expanded. I'll have to think about that stuff for a bit, let it simmer, and perhaps do a post later.

The Internet notwithstanding, I did do a couple bike related things while I was out there.

First, I decided to lift a bit. Since I only had a few days with a "fitness center" I decided to take advantage of it and max out half my body one day, the other half the other day. I did chest/tri stuff the first day (was going to do quads but my knee twinged so I didn't) then lat/biceps the next day (and hamstrings). The third day I could barely shower as my arms wouldn't move.

Needless to say I didn't feel the need to lift again.

And five days later I'm just starting to recover. So one of the things I want to do is to get a gym type thing so I can lift more often (and not need a spotter). This way I'll have some semblance of strength by default.

I bought a baseball cap too. Normally that's not a cycling thing but I had it embroidered with the team name, Carpe Diem Racing, and the initials CDR. I didn't get sprinterdellacasa because, well, it's 50 cents a letter. And it wouldn't fit.

Really though, I didn't get it because I didn't think of it. Right now SDC has no logo, no color scheme, so nothing to go on. I guess that'll be on the list of things to do.

And finally, I bought Bicycling Magazine. It has Floyd on the cover, in a shirt and jacket (no tie). I normally don't read it, thinking it more a magazine for the masses. My preferences lean towards the pro cycling stuff so reading about the best commuting bike or the nicest hydration pack doesn't do it for me.

I picked it up because it had Floyd (and the future missus pointed out "hey there's Floyd" and it took me 30 seconds to figure out it was the white magazine in front of me). I flipped it open, saw about three pages, and decided to buy it. Notably I saw a Cervelo, a Scott, and some road bike ads in the back. Based on that, the magazine ended up in my "buy" pile.

The magazine ended on my lap on the plane - long flight, no TV, and my Knights of Templar book was starting to get a bit long.

I have to be honest. Bicycling Magazine surprised me. Okay, fine, there's a strong correlation between the best rated bikes and pages of advertising of said bikes, but there is a very interesting article about Floyd and his current doping charge battle.

Also there were some illuminating products in the "Best of" section. I didn't know you could buy a seemingly nice road bike for $700, especially considering that simply upgrading the wheels and fitting the bike (bar, stem, seat, pedals) would result in quite a usable race bike. The frame on that bike is probably as good as or better than my current "good" bike's frame.

I didn't know there were such things as $275 shorts. Suddenly the shorts from Verge and Champion Systems (both excellent, Verge offering a slightly thicker material) seem like great deals.

And the ads - a full Ultegra road bike, FSA cranks, American Classic wheels, and a full complement of Ritchey WCS bar-stem-post for $1295 (?!). That's the price of a frame alone! And yet this is an alleged 15 and a half pound bike (sans pedals). My race bike, with race wheels, is 17.5 pounds. And that's with some mighty light wheels.

Finally there were some tips for new riders (both myths and actual tips). Some mention of women's bikes. Different mountain bikes. Etc etc.

I used to turn my nose up at Bicycling. Well, okay, honestly, at first I voraciously devoured each issue as I learned about gear inches, components, and frames. Then as I "graduated" to more specialized magazines like Winning and various boutique road bike magazines, I started thinking Bicycling didn't offer me much. It was too generic, too commercialized, too simple.

Now I've come full circle. I have to think that someone who wants to stay up to date with the cycling world needs to read what the new riders are reading. It may be hard to remember but Bicycling is probably the magazine every cyclist has read. It covers virtually all bases, reflects current trends, and offers slightly-better-than general insight to equipment and technique.

As a car enthusiast, I tend to stay away from the big car magazines like Road&Track and Car&Driver. After all, why should I care about minivans or the best sedan under $35k? Who wants that stuff anyway? I want to read about which suspension mods help my car handle better, which tires perform best, the lowest cost/hp modifications, maintaining it, fixing it up.

But then suddenly I'm thinking about getting a new econo-car. Those specialty tuner type magazines don't have anything to say about original equipment cars. And although I might check and see what kind of aftermarket equipment is available for the new cars out there, I have to go back to those big magazines to actually learn about the new cars out there.

That's how Bicycling fits into my world. It's a big magazine that offers a high-altitude shot of the cycling world. I may want to get details of one spot or another, but without Bicycling I lose the overall picture.

Who knows, I may actually subscribe to it.


Anonymous said...

Do all our heroes dope? Let's hope not. After many years of road I've found mountain biking. It's like being a kid again:-).

Anonymous said...

Great review Aki & welcome back!

I feel the same way about Bicycling. It's a nice, quick read at 30,000'. VeloNews and the new "ROAD" magazine are more specialized, but Bicycling gives you the Cliff's Notes to what's current in cycling.

Of course, now I'm feeling discontent with my 19 lb Cannondale . . .

Anonymous said...

Read three issues of Bicycling a year, and you'll be fine. They pretty much just repeat the same "Get Fit Fast" articles the other 9 issues anyway.

Anonymous said...

As usual, you bring a great, thoughtful, balanced tone to your writing--you should write for Bicycling! I have had the same experience with the magazine. I still can't get past the overall editorial tone, though. It sometimes tries too hard to be hip, but when they do focus on something interesting and drop the posing, they do a great job. BTW, my wife rides and races that $1295 bike you mentioned, and she likes it a lot.

Aki said...

I've been thinking that Bicycling is like my sporadic weight lifting - since it's so infrequent in my life (I probably bought my last Bicycling in the late 80's or early 90's), when I see the magazine it clobbers me over the head with all sorts of new things.

(Note: I do lift more frequently than once every decade but not nearly as much as I'd like.)

That said, I don't remember ever seeing an outright lie in it. Always a polite way of putting things ("The bike felt rock solid on descents" and it should have because it was so heavy). And at some level very reliable. Not too much controversy.

soc - my bike weighs about 19-20 lbs without my race wheels (and more with the gear I carry - bag, pump, misc things). But a 15 pound bike just seems sexy. A sub 15 pound bike is (UCI) illegal and so sounds even sexier!

hobgoblin - I didn't know that's where the bike came from. Interesting specs to say the least - I'll have to take a closer look next time I see it.

TJ said...

I'm curious what kinds of things you would want to read in Bicycling Magazine to make you return to it and keep reading? What is the item that is glaringly missing?

Aki said...

Keep in mind that I'm more a racer, I'm a technical geek, and I don't do much in terms of loaded/unloaded touring, travel (think Kenya on a bike or RAGBRAI), or mountain bike (anymore).

I think Bicycling is missing some of the more technical details of groups. Comparisons, for example, of weights and unusual aspects of each group, side by side, with the various levels lined up with its competitors.

I'd like to see more technical reviews on things like crank/wheel/etc stiffness, aero tests on wheels, rolling resistance of tires, durability/stiffness of bars/stems/forks - those things that can cause major problems if/when they fail. Pedal comparisons (ease of clipping in, weight of cleat, pictures of the cleat/hardware/mounting pattern).

For unusual comparisons you can highlight unusual bikes - unicycles, trikes, even production tandems.

For riding technique I think that basic riding techniques and skills will never go out of style. Not necessarily "how to ride a century next weekend" but more like "how to ride a straight line while looking over your shoulder for cars". Boring but necessary, and very few people know how to do that one.

I come from a racing background but advocacy is important (legal rights for cyclists if they get hit/killed, shoulders/paths for cyclists, etc).

Finally maybe a touring issue with racks, bags, some nice bikes which offer a wide range of gears, easy maintenance, and loads of set up options (racks, eyelets, customization).

I'm saying all this but I haven't read any more Bicyclings since the one with the Ducati or Ferrari bike on the cover (which, by the way, is really useless since there is virtually no information on that bike inside - why not be the first magazine to actually review such a bike).

All bikes tested should be disassembled and its individual components weighed. You should be able to build a nice database of weights and such, and point out that perhaps "such and such" crank gained some weight, or maybe this wheelset did, etc.