Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Times, They Are A Changin'

I don't think I've ever rescinded a recommendation in the almost-eight years this blog has been spewing opinion, but unfortunately, I'm about to break new ground.

Despite my initial positive, nay glowing, nay almost fawning review of Bicycle Times back when they first launched in 2009, I am sad to report that in this never-humble blogger's opinion, they have now jumped the shark. I was concerned when original editor Karen Brooks moved on, but I knew new-editor Gary Boulanger's reputation and witheld judgment. Now that I've digested a few issues under the new leadership, I'm prepared to say that the current iteration of Bicycle Times is not for me. Here's why:

ONE, THEY GOT FAT: I'm not going to claim that fat bikes are not a "thing." Anyone watching the industry knows that tires wider than those on my Prius are big in both the literal and metaphorical sense. But I'm not convinced that fatties are a "thing" for the everyday cyclist that was the original Bicycle Times audience. The new Times, however, dedicates a lot of column space to big rubber, as if somehow we all commute through the woods and hunt squirrels for our dinner. News flash: We don't.

TWO, THEY PLUGGED IN: Electric bikes are not new to the pages of Bicycle Times. However, there appears to be a new focus on e-bikes under the new management. One can argue (successfully) that the e-bike is a game-changer that could turn a lot of non-cyclists into everyday cyclists. In fact, I suspect that argument will be the Helmet War of the new millenium. But this lone, opnionated reader is interested in motorless bikes and thus yawns at the sight of a 30-pound battery pack.

THREE, THEY HEADED TO THE HINTERLANDS: Man, there's been a lot of "I loaded up my bike and pedaled alone across the foreboding wilds of the Outer Nowhere desert" content since the editorial switch. It's like the subtitle of the magazine is now "Your everyday Cycling ADVENTURE!!!" Don't get me wrong. Self-contained touring is amazing. I've done it myself, and wish I could do more of it. In the hands of a good writer, it can make for a ripping yarn. But as my "wish I could do more of it" might indicate, it's far from "everyday" cycling. Those of us living in the real world are confronted with any number of responsibilities that prevent us from simply packing the panniers and heading to Burma for a few months. Sure, when you get your cycling in dribs and drabs, commuting during the week and getting out for a longer spin on the weekend, maybe the occasional touring story is entertaining or inspirational. But making it a focus of something that claims to be an "everyday cycling" magazine says to your reader, "Here's the real cycling you could be doing." Mixed messages, anyone?

FOUR, THEY STARTED DRINKING: As soon as I saw a beer reviewed on the pages of Bicycing Times, I was done. Not that I'm a teeotaler or beer-prude... open my fridge right now, and you'll find a selection of malty adult beverages waiting to be quaffed. But in the same way that I don't ask my bartender to recommend a chain lube, I don't read bicycle magazines to learn about beer.

Add it all up, and you have a magazine that has strayed from its mission statement into the territory of the Surly blog (minus the e-bike content)... fat tires, bearded dudes (did I mention that Bicycle Times now has a fictional columnist called Beardo the Weirdo?), drinking beer under bridges, and showing off the scars you got from doing stupid stuff on your bike after drinking too much beer under a bridge. Maybe that describes your everyday cycling adventure, but it looks nothing like mine. Thus, I'm letting my subscription lapse.


Anonymous said...

Please accept my condolences for your loss.

Sorry to see another bike mag sink into blandness and chasing the latest trend. Is it my imagination, or is this sort of thing inevitable? Bicycling did this back in the late 70's, Cycling Plus did this somewhere around 2010 (IIRC), but Bicycle Guide just went belly up.

It does seem like it's almost impossible to survive get past the first handful of years and a change of staff. Do they just run out of good ideas? Do they get bored with the whole thing? Were they spending too much on generating content, and the bean counters told them to start making money by pandering to the audience and start moving the merchandise?

On the plus side... I do still enjoy Adventure Cycling and Bicycle Quarterly. Both have survived for a number of years, which is good. A.C. has survived a number of staff changes without too much trouble. B.Q.'s staff has been limited and stable, but I do wonder when Jan will either want or need to do something else.

Anyway... now that B.T. is no longer on your reading list, what will you fill your time with??

Steve in Peoria (still catching up on back issues of B.Q.)

Scott Loveless said...

The kiddos are both Girl Scouts and do things like sell magazines and cookies from time to time. I noticed this year that BT was on the list, so I decided to subscribe. I hadn't read it for a couple years and was less than pleased when I got my very first issue.

The December '14 cover is a picture of a bearded dude on a fat bike.

The first article is a bunch of baseless crap about nutrition written by someone who has lots of degrees in woo, er, traditional medicine.

There's a Bicycling-esque fluff piece about touring skills.

Beardo the Weirdo. WTF?

I did like the Iceland piece.

There are a bunch of very positive "reviews".

They should have given more space to the Continental tire factory article.

Another "review" of a $4k gravel bike.

You are absolutely right. It's not for commuters anymore. It's an extension of the Surly blog full of hipster-approved buzz words. If future issues continue this trend, I certainly won't be renewing.