A guide to cycling magazines
A guide to cycling magazines
Magazine publishing is going through… interesting times. More advertising revenue is going online and so are readers. Circulations are generally down. In the last few years, the following cycling magazines have disappeared: Boneshaker, Cycling Active, Cycle Sport, Cycling World, Dirt, The Ride Journal, VeloVision, and What Mountain Bike. Yet there’s also been a launch (Casquette) since I wrote the first version of this article in early 2016, and many established magazines retain healthy readerships. Here’s a non-objective assessment of the magazines left standing.
The membership magazine of Cycling UK exists to inform and engage those members. That means reporting on what the charity is doing to promote and protect cycling for all, as well as providing articles and reviews geared towards member activities and interests. Cycle doesn’t cover sports cycling. It focuses on transport and recreation – recreation being everything from weekly club riding and social cycling, on road and off, through to adventure riding such as touring and bikepacking.
This diversity is a strength or a weakness depending on whether you like cycling as a whole or only one type. Pagination is lower than newsstand glossies, but the content has an oily-fingered authenticity they sometimes lack. Ride reports come from members and writers who want to share their stories, not journalists on press junkets. Reviews are measured – in tone, millimetres and degrees – because they’re aimed at a long-term audience, not consumers on a conveyor belt from beginner to bored.
Don’t judge ‘The UK’s best-selling cycling magazine’ by its cover, which is always a young man whose face is obscured, riding out of the saddle on a bike you can’t afford. While it’s dominated by drop-bar lightweight bikes in all their forms (racer, sportive, cyclocross, gravel) there is coverage of touring and transport cycling, along with interesting columnists such as Ned Boulting and Rob Ainsley.
The formula of reviews, rides, advice – ‘eat oats’ (who knew?); ‘climb hills easier’ (change gear?) – and improvement-oriented features is perfectly pitched for the modern MAMIL, as evidenced by that best-selling circulation. And it’s stuffed with reviews: 50 pages of them! If you want to know which of 16 roadie jackets is worth your cash or how best to spend £2k on a carbon cross bike, Cycling Plus will tell you, with broadly sensible conclusions. The photography is excellent, and the pagination high. The best option if you’re after a roadie-ish reviews mag.
Frequency: 13 per year
Like Cycling Plus, Cyclist is successfully surfing the MAMIL wave – and its circulation is holding steadier. Along with Rouleur, Cranked, and Singletrack, it majors on what print does better than the web. So you get nice paper, big pictures, in-depth features on bike builders, riders, technology, and events, and only a smattering of reviews. There are no grouptests of identikit bikes or equipment, just a few individual tests of exorbitantly priced wonderbikes.
Cyclist does a good job at selling the road cycling dream. The rides it features aren’t British lanes in winter but sun-kissed cycling hotspots, such as Mallorca’s Sa Calobra, a ride covered in issue 78 that’s so quintessentially Cyclist it feels like it could be in any issue… or all of them. For Cyclist’s carefully constructed vision of cycling makes each issue feel weirdly similar. It’s not clearly anchored to the cycling calendar like Cycling Weekly or even Rouleur, and doesn’t have a connection with its readership like Cycling Plus. But it’s well-produced and well-targeted, and if you don’t particularly want buying advice it’s the roadie magazine to beat.
Affectionately known as The Comic, Cycling Weekly has been struggling for a raison d’être ever since the internet made printed news and race results largely obsolete. For a while it floundered around, banging on about sportives like a mag for beginners. Now it seems to have remembered who its readers are: club cyclists. Specifically, road club cyclists with some years of experience.
The racing results and commentary are still there, not just for road events but other drop-bar disciplines like cyclocross. There’s a regular ‘ride with’ feature on a local club, which is exactly what a mag like Cycling Weekly should have, and the reviews – winter tights for men and women – are timely. I’d rather have bike tests featuring geometry numbers than ratings out of ten (anything less than 8/10 is basically rubbish) but it can’t be easy doing these on a weekly schedule. Dr Hutch is still there, knocking out decent columns, and there’s a dash of retro stuff. In short: improving.
Unlike Cycling Weekly, which is for cyclists who race, used to race, or at least belong to a club with racers in it, Procycling is for those who watch racing: the fans. Disclaimer: I’m not a hardcore fan. So I can’t get excited by a piece from Dan Martin on a race he did or an interview with a team manager I’ve never heard of. They might as well be VectorBelly sports interviews: ‘I need to sports harder in my next race.’
It’s churlish of me to complain about a magazine called Procycling covering pro cycling. Yet it feels a bit one-note. The pro cycling stuff in Cyclist or Rouleur – a piece on Roger De Vlaeminck and a feature on the 2019 Worlds in Yorkshire respectively, in the issues I picked up – feels more well rounded and engaging. However, if you are the armchair fan I’m not, you might love this. The photography is outstanding and Procycling showcases it well by using a larger page format.
Frequency: 13 issues
Circulation: 10,000 (publisher statement)
A compact size, small enough to fit in your man-bag or musette, Rouleur now comes with a lower price tag that might pass muster outside the metropolis. Maybe it’s feeling the heat from Cyclist? Rouleur was the first to eschew the traditional magazine formula of buying advice and top tips, and focus instead on thoughtful writing, arty photography, and nice paper. Now it feels like it’s lost that USP.
It still has interesting pro-cycling features. In the issue pictured, there’s a good piece by Philippa York on being a journalist at a women’s race. Sometimes the articles are overwrought. In the same issue, there’s an article on SRAM that looks for parallels with Kanye West – a conceit that doesn’t work. And while mono photos of cyclocross racing are what I’d expect in Rouleur, a moody cyclocross fashion shoot on a beach feels like a parody. Overall I prefer it to Procycling, although you don’t get as much mag for your money as you do with Cyclist.
Frequency: 8 per year
Circulation: Not stated
Mountain Biking UK
MBUK’s transition from irreverent adrenaline mag to mainstream mountain biking publication is neatly encapsulated by the December 2018 cover: the ‘rad Santa’ alternative version for subscribers would at one time have been the only cover. Maybe it’s aiming to mop up former What Mountain Bike readers in a declining market? Maybe the readership is just older? Or perhaps it’s the absence of founder and former editor-in-chief Tym Manley?
I can’t help feeling it’s lost its identity, but it’s still a solid, general-purpose publication for trail riders who like to get their wheels off the ground and then submit gory photos of the results of getting that wrong. The UK ride guides are the best in any off-road magazine, and the open-minded bike reviews (pioneered by the late Steve Worland) are more varied and nuanced than you might expect. December 2018 has £500 hardtails. The ineffable Mint Sauce cartoon is still there. What’s missing is the exuberantly silly stuff, like Danny MacAskill wheelieing off a roof, dressed as Santa.
Frequency: 13 per year
Mountain Bike Rider
Like MBUK, MBR is primarily a magazine for trail riders (5-6in travel bike, helmet, knee pads, flat pedals) rather than cross-country riders or relaxed rough-stuffers. Whether it’s because mountain bikers or magazine purchasers in general have aged, MBR feels like a mag for grown-ups these days. The gory injury snaps are gone, and the issue pictured features a nice father-and-son bikepacking trip.
The bike reviews include some numbers that others omit – front-centres, for example – and the ratings out of ten (on a scale of ‘less than 8’ to 10) have been dropped. It’s product heavy and includes the same kind of long-term test bike updates as MBUK, something that makes me think the bikes should have been tested more thoroughly to begin with. The nice routes and maps it once had have been replaced by thumbnail descriptions and GPX downloads, which is a shame, yet it’s kept the kind of skills instruction walkthroughs that YouTube does so much better than print. If you want a product-focussed MTB mag, it’s a toss-up between MBR and MBUK.
Frequency: 13 per year
By middle-aged mountain bikers, for middle-aged mountain bikers: Singletrack won’t tell you how to rail Coed y Brenin’s berms, fix punctures, or choose the right energy bar. Good! Instead it has accounts of largely wheels-on-the-ground riding, both domestic and foreign; off-road routes in actual countryside; factory visits; interviews; trail building; access issues; retro stuff; bikepacking; and more. It’s pretty much what you want a contemporary off-road magazine to be.
Singletrack has a strong online presence and the mag benefits from the division of content between the two platforms. Features, rides, and the main bike test end up in print; news, new products, and reader interaction are online. This provides room for bigger pictures and longer articles, which print does well. I miss Through The Grinder from the mag; I still think print does in-depth reviews better. And I’d still like to see geometry numbers in the bike tests. As Rear Admiral Grace M Hopper said: ‘One accurate measurement is worth a thousand expert opinions.’
Frequency: 6 per year
Circulation: 9,000 - 10,000 (publisher statement)
The successor to Privateer, which was launched as an off-road version of Rouleur, Cranked is an expensive mountain biking magazine with lovely paper stock and lush photography. The contents are an eclectic off-road mix aimed at readers who don’t need to be told what to buy. So if features people, factory visits, riding, tech, trail building, and opinion columns but no product tests at all.
Cranked runs longer articles than any other mountain biking magazine. This is a two-edged sword. When they align with your interests – such as, for me, an 18-page (!) article on Chris Porter’s ideas about mountain bike geometry – this feels like an indulgent treat. When they don’t – a 14-pager on custom-painted helmets, let’s say – I feel oddly let down. There are more hits than misses, however, and if you’re a long-term mountain biker it’s well worth checking out. I get every issue.
Frequency: 4 per year
Circulation: Not stated but 'rising' (publisher statement)
A stablemate of Cyclist, BikesEtc could scarcely be more different. It’s a magazine ‘for the road and beyond’ that’s stuffed with product reviews. (The bikes get a spurious decimal point, thus ‘8.9/10’ etc.) Where Cyclist has in-depth articles, those in BikesEtc are formulaic and relatively shallow. The issue pictured tells you ‘how to smash a multi-stage sportive’ (pace yourself?) and gives ‘35 tips that’ll save your cycling kit’ (‘use mudguards’ is conspicuously absent).
The route articles are varied and well done, one of them dovetailing neatly with one of the bike tests. And its scattergun approach to topics and product reviews does provide breadth. Yet I think it would benefit from being more explicitly a magazine for cycling beginners, where there’s a gap in the market. At the moment, it feels like it wants to be Cycling Plus. It isn’t.
Most magazines barely acknowledge women’s cycling; Casquette is all about it. It feels a meeting of minds between The Adventure Syndicate and VeloVixen, in that it has articles by and about inspiring female cyclists, plus a strong focus on style. The coverage is roadie biased but is more about people than hardware. For example, the issue pictured has articles by Karen Darke on motivation, Emily Chappell on how cycling can help with depression, and one about cyclocrosser Helen Wyman, a strong advocate of women’s racing cycling. I enjoyed them all.
The design is fresh and the tone is accessible without talking down to its readers. Some magazines seem to recirculate the same articles ad infinitum. Casquette doesn’t – at least not yet. The only downside is its lack of frequency.
Price: Price: free (P&P typically £2.50)
Frequency: 1 per year
Circulation: 10,000 (publisher statement)
A to B
A to B is an idiosyncratic quarterly about folding bikes, e-bikes, and sustainable transport that sometimes veers off into unrelated topics; the issue pictured has an article on wood stoves. Coverage of Bromptons is extensive. So I grinned when I read the editor’s letter in issue 122 (‘We didn’t intend to make this a Brompton special…’), and was unsurprised to read in issue 121 that ‘Dahon, Bickerton and Tern now openly refuse to let us anywhere near their bikes, on the premise that we’re Brompton biased.’ Ah!
This is a serious blow to a magazine that rightly claims to be the UK’s foremost for folding bikes. Its e-bike coverage is wide ranging too. I’m only surprised that there isn’t more about transport bikes such as (unassisted) roadsters, hybrids, and cargo bikes, because they’re also sustainable transport. It’s an entertaining read, however, and not expensive. Where else would you find not one but two features on building a super-lightweight Brompton?
Frequency: 4 per year
Circulation: 5,000 to 6,000 (publisher statement)