Bicycling Magazine

I have a sort of love/hate relationship with Bicycling, the main cycling magazine in the States. I receive a copy every month, courtesy of the subscription my grandma bought for me as a birthday gift. I enjoy pulling the magazine from its plastic sleeve, checking out the cover design, leafing through the pages. It’s nice, in our increasingly digital world, to still hold something in your hands. The simple act of turning pages in a magazine and being greeted by whatever spread of color and text awaits you is one of life’s pleasures that might be extinct in a few decades.

But the content is where the issues begin. In short, it’s either really good or really bad, ranging from high-quality journalism and photography to shameless bike porn and gear reviews that read like paid endorsements. Each issue, there seem to be a couple really solid pieces of short or long-form storytelling. Recent examples include a look into Colombia’s epic rides, the story of a former racer riding across the U.S., a dying man’s final race, and an attempt at completing the Dirty Kanza amidst some difficult life events. I like reading these pieces. They’re inspirational, funny, clever, well-written, and often accompanied by gorgeous photos.

The other stuff though. Ugh. How many times can you describe a bike’s ride feel without repeating the cliche and basically meaningless characteristics of another carbon bike that is so similar there’s really no way you could tell the difference between the two? How many ways can you say “this isn’t a bike specifically for racing, or club rides, or gravel: it’s just a bike, and it’s damn fun”? How many $5,000 bikes can you say are must-have, to die for, or totally worth it?

I get it. We all looking at nice bikes. But c’mon. It’s a magazine, not a catalogue. If I want to look at bikes, I go on a company’s website. If I want reviews, I’ll look up a specific bike online and see what people say–they will likely be more honest than the reviews in Bicycling, which are 99% positive. Besides, what are the chances that a bike you’re considering buying will show up in the review section of Bicycling? Not great. (Maybe you’re a person who just buys the next hottest thing–maybe you love this part of the magazine. But I don’t.) One exception is the end-of-year reviews, where they highlight top bikes in various categories. Those can actually be helpful. Generally though, the random reviews month-to-month just seem like filler, and I wonder what they accomplish other than selling more bikes for those companies.

Same goes for kit, sunglasses, shoes, etc. Especially the really expensive stuff. A paragraph about why I should buy $400 shoes because of how super light and amazing they are is an advertisement, not journalism. The worst is the new section they’ve thrown in the back that is basically a two-page spread of items, seemingly chosen at random, with one-sentence descriptions and, in many cases, low-quality photos. Do the companies pay to have their stuff included here? If not, why the hell waste the space?

I think, in general, the magazine has improved since Leigh Flickinger took over as editor–the amount of quality pieces per issue seems to be increasing to the point where I can count on at least one or two good reads. But everything else is pretty forgettable. They’ve done away with the letters to the editor section, which I always liked reading, and Bill Strickland (who is a fantastic writer, actually) no longer shares his thoughts in the opening pages.

I understand that Bicycling is up against a bleak print media landscape, and the content reflects that. Perhaps I shouldn’t hope for any more than a few good stories each month. Not from a magazine in this industry, in this world.

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Youtubers

Recently I gave up my Netflix subscription, partly motivated by a desire to save money and spend less time staring at a screen. But I was also motivated to ditch it because lately I haven’t been watching shows and movies on that platform; there’s too much great (free) content on Youtube.

[Side note: it’s crazy to think that, as a kid, if I heard a song I liked on the radio there was no way to hear it again besides listening to the same station for the next couple days and hoping the deejay would spin it again. REM’s classic “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” was a particular favorite. I spend many car rides home changing the dial, hoping to hear the recognizable melody, annoying the shit out of my dad. Now, pretty much anything you want to hear can be found on Youtube in seconds and you can listen to it as many times as you want. I don’t love songs in the same way with such easy, immediate access. They aren’t rare, sweet-sounding treasures anymore.]

Most of what I watch is cycling-related. There are too many cycling channels to follow all of them, but I’ve established a nice little collection that provide information and entertainment. Here they are. They’re worth checking out if you don’t watch them already.

Cycling Maven

Mark’s channel has evolved from crit tip videos to daily vlogs with a cast of bike-related characters in Australia to pro-quality coverage of grand tours. This summer he’s followed all three with his sidekick Hannah.

Francis Cade

Gorgeous cinematography, British humor, lots of cafe stops with millenials.

The Vegan Cyclist

Race footage with insightful commentary, training advice, gear reviews, vegan recipes, artsy stuff: this channel has it all, for vegans and non-vegans alike.

Path Less Pedaled

Super laid-back, likeable couple takes you on bike-related adventures and offers practical tips for people interested in riding for fun and exploration.

Orica Scott

Backstage Pass makes you feel like a member of the team and takes you behind the scenes with the most loveable team in the pro peloton.

Phil Gaimon

Cookie-loving ex-pro spends his retirement taking Strava KOMs from dopers. Need I say more?

Honorable mention goes to Global Cycling Network, which produces solid, helpful content while also being somewhat clickbait-y, and Rapha Films, which either produces breathtaking short films about the transcendent beauty of cycling or thinly-veiled, melodramatic advertisements.

And at one time I thought Durianrider was worth watching. Not so much anymore.

 

Book Review: Gironimo by Tim Moore

Gironimo: Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy

By Tim Moore

360 pp

(2014)

It’s rare when my library has a new book in the tiny sports section; even rarer when that book is about cycling. I eagerly checked it out, then finished it in less than a week. I loved it. Cycling, travel, a bit of history. The perfect combination for my literary taste.

Basically, middle-aged British guy Tim Moore is searching for a mid-life challenge, and settles on riding the route of the 1914 Giro d Italia, which he determines was the most difficult bike race in history. Four hundred kilometer stages through the Alps, terrible weather, bikes with only two gears, and other factors combined to decimate the field of riders. Only eight finished.

Gironimo1_medium
A tougher man than me.

The book traces his journey from searching for and building a period-correct bike (and goofy wool kit) to completing the course (albeit over 50 hours behind the race winner), with lots of misadventures in between. It’s a bike tour book, but unlike other bike tour books, fits into a broader context. There is history behind the route, and Moore intersperses his travails with an account of the race as it unfolded in 1914. I enjoyed that.

Moore’s writing is hilarious; I actually laughed out loud multiple times. There are some British expressions that I didn’t understand (what’s a “lay-by”?). In contrast to a writer like Bill Bryson, who I increasingly find to dispense amusing if predictable humor without too much muscle beneath it, Moore flashes moments of poignant reflection (sometimes undercut by a self-deprecating jab). I’d quote some here, but like an idiot I’ve already returned the book to the library. So you’ll just have to trust me.

Ultimately, the book made me appreciate the heroic/insane accomplishments of riders a century ago, and has recalibrated my definition of a difficult day on the bike. If they could race through the Alps at midnight in a rainstorm on creaking steel bikes with wine corks for brakes (seriously, I’m not joking), fueled only by red wine and amphetamines, and a middle-aged out of shape man can retrace their path, surely I can do whatever ride I’m moaning about.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Fiat Pandas

Feelin’ Super Pro

First, watch this video. Unfortunately the free version of WordPress doesn’t allow video uploads.

https://www.relive.cc/view/1103893645

Seems like creating a video like this would be complicated, right?

Wrong.

You just go to Relive.cc and connect your Strava account. Yes, they are probably selling your workout data to the Russians, but in exchange you get cool 3D flyover videos of your adventures, delivered directly to your inbox minutes later. If you’ve ever wanted to see your rides look like a stage on the Tour de France telecast, this is the app for you. It will make you feel more pro than one of those stickers with your name and country’s flag on your top tube. More pro than shaved legs and $4,000 carbon wheels.

Besides giving all of us Strava folks something else to analyze for far too long after our workouts, and adding more motivation to do so-called “epic” adventures, this could be a great way for race promoters to display their courses online so racers can get intimidated or overconfident before registering.

This isn’t a paid endorsement. I just really like it. Maybe the fascination will wear off (I’ve only done two rides since discovering it).

But can we all take a moment to reflect on how insane technology is these days? Something like this, hell, something like Strava or a Garmin Edge or the Internet alone, was inconceivable less than 30 years ago. Think about that. Blows my mind.