Or, was that on the cover of the
previous issue? Or last year?
The truth of the matter is that the
current crop of magazines look so similar from issue to issue that
it's hard to know if a new issue arrived, or your house mate simply
cleaned last year's issues from under the sofa.
The format is very predictable.
The cover will almost always feature a male rider, riding to
the left, toward the fold (shaved legs and all), on a spiffy
new bike, wearing a jersey emblazoned with the name of sponsors
the rider "wishes" would pay him to ride.
Vary rarely will the rider be coming
head on, or going to the right. Maybe two issues a year.
Very very rarely will the rider be female. Very rarely.
Maybe one issue every two years, unless she just medaled in the
Olympics or something.
Close up shot of the latest shifter?
Someone out in the park for a ride, or commuting to work? A troop
of boy scouts on bikes? Never happen! Not on the cover.
If you over look the cover photo, (and
you will miss precious little if you do), and try to find one of
the articles mentioned in huge flashy letters on the front, you
will be tormented with several minutes of searching. It
seems like you can never really find the articles mentioned on the
front of these magazines, almost as if the front covers are placed
at random on each issue.
But have faith, if you read every word
you might actually find a couple column inches dealing,
tangentially, with almost everything mentioned on the cover.
Most of the time. Not always. I remember one issue where I
searched in vain for the article and wrote an Email to the editor
asking what page it was on only to be told it wasn't done in time
to meet the deadline. The cover was. Go figure.
After reading these magazines for a
while you begin to think you've seen the same article before.
If you are a poor housekeeper, or live near a library, you can
probably dig through prior issues and find a similar article
almost two years to-the-day prior to any given general article in
this month's issue.
It's an open secret (as the Russians are
fond of saying), that these publications recycle articles.
That's not all bad, for a couple of very good reasons:
The search for "grist for the
mill", new articles, uncovered topics, or novel story
lines is an increasingly fruitless quest. It's all been said
The magazines have figured out
that the average subscription duration is two years.
After that the reader moves on, and a new crop of subscribers
takes over. (Two years of shaved legs is all most guys can
stand.) The new crop is hungry for the same novice
material covered two years ago. Hence, the two-year
Further, you will notice a high
incidence of two magazines covering the same topic the same month.
I'm not talking about news items here, just the general topics,
like bike maintenance, the latest bike food fad, the same repeated
"training" articles. (Training for what? Who
do they think their readers are - the US Olympic team?).
like they have spies in each others' offices, leaking stories to
one another. There isn't enough room in the market for one such
publication, let along 3 of 4.
The sad truth of these magazines is
that if you read a year's worth of these magazines you've read
everything they have to say. They could just as well put up
a web site, cover all the usual topics, create a good index, and
save the trees.
Sooner or later you realize these
publications do not exist to serve you, the reader, but rather, to
serve the bike industry. The advertising that they carry (boy do
they ever carry advertising) is not incidental to the articles;
it's exactly the other way around. The advertising is the
raison d'etre of these publications.
You, the subscriber are, incidental.
You matter only in gross numbers. The larger the
distribution, the more they can charge for the ads. The more
they charge for the ads, the less the subscription fees matter.
So why don't they just Give
the magazine away? People won't generally take free
advertising. But for some reason if you print $3.50 on the
cover but sell it for 49 cents per issue, people believe it's a
good deal. For about two years anyway.
Something is lost
in all the "unbiased" product reviews of bikes and
indistinguishable jerseys. Something is missing in the coverage of yet another bike race that you didn't get to
see. What's lost is the simple joy and practicality of riding a bike.
Writers will wax eloquent as they try
to impress you with their climbing ability in the guise of putting
the next gee-whiz frame "through its paces" (whatever
that shop worn phrase means). But they rarely touch upon how fun it
was. They never mention the porcupine they stopped
to watch eating clover beside the road, or the ease of finding a parking spot next to the
restaurant where they stopped for lunch.
And that's fine. As long as you
know the game plan. You might even pick up a tip on bike
maintenance along the way. But you will have to wait, on
average 1 year for the subject to come up. (You can find it
on the Internet in about 30 seconds.)
Don't get me wrong, I buy one of these
magazines once a year or so, and occasionally browse them in the news
stands. I do it just to see the latest gizmo, or the slick
new frames. True to form, each time I encounter yet another re-hash of
article I first read in 1983.
I don't really expect to find an
article on obeying the rules of the road, proper lane positioning
when approaching a left turn, how to determine if a driver is
about to pull out in front of you, or simply being predictable in
I don't expect to see articles on how
to clean the bike after a commute home in the rain (they never
ride in the rain), or how do deal with riding in snow. (I
once asked one editor why they never wrote about winter cycling.
His excuse: the magazine was published in southern California
where they don't get winter! Maybe they never get riders
going to the right on the left coast either.)
As long as you understand that these
magazines are there to serve
a market rather than serving
the reader your expectations will be about right.
But most bike stores will let you
browse for free, and the big mail order places will send you a
catalog for a year if you buy six bucks worth of inner tubes from
them. There are far cheaper ways to get your monthly quota
of advertising. And riding a bike is more interesting than
reading about riding a bike.
We wish bicycling magazines had
greater depth, broader coverage, and less repetition. But we
understand the difficulties of coming up with new monthly articles. This is especially so with a subject as timeless as
After a few years of cycling, most
bike riders come to understand virtually everything they will ever
need to know about bikes. Bikes are fairly simple machines.
most come to realize bicycling is not about next years bike, or the
latest craze in gear clusters.
Bicycling is about the moment, the road, and the
It's getting from point A to point B.
suddenly finding yourself 30 miles from home - farther than you
can walk in a day - and having absolute confidence you will be
home for dinner, under your own power, in a couple hours.
We at Bicycling Life don't pretend to
keep up to date on the latest gizmo for our bikes, the latest
training regimes, and the subject of fashion hasn't reared
its head to date. Therefore, we seldom spend much time with
the current bike magazine fare.
From where we stand, we can find out
more reliable information about equipment at the Local Bike Store.
We can find more timely race results on any number of web sites.
And from where we stand, at the edge
of the road, we actually see people riding toward the right, away
from the fold, and they are not all males, and yes, sometimes it