A guide to cycling magazines
A guide to cycling magazines
Print isn’t dead. Yet whenever this article is updated, a few more cycling titles are. Magazines should be able to coexist with websites like radio does with TV. The experience is different and they do different things well. The trend in magazine circulation figures and advertising revenues is nevertheless down – terminally so for some publications. Farewell Casquette, BikesEtc, and, surprisingly, Procycling. What follows, roughly in circulation order, is an overview of the magazines still standing.
Cycle is an outlier in this list. That’s not just because it’s a membership magazine, which exists to inform and engage those members rather than make a profit, nor because its circulation is much higher. It has a different focus. Most bike magazines are aimed at roadies or trail riders – middle aged men in lycra or baggies. Cycle deals with the wider cycling world.
Every issue includes adventure cycling such as touring and bikepacking. It champions transport cycling for all. And it covers all kinds of non-competitive on-road and off-ride riding. This wide remit is either a strength or a weakness, depending on how invested you are in different kinds of cycling. Pagination is lower than that of newsstand titles but Cycle’s content has an oily-fingered authenticity they often lack. It’s aimed at a long-term audience, not consumers on a conveyor belt from beginner to bored.
The UK’s best-selling cycling magazine is primarily a buyer’s guide for MAMILs. If you’re into sporty drop-bar bikes and related kit, Cycling Plus will tell you what to spend your money on – with broadly sensible conclusions. It can feel formulaic. Every cover ever: bloke in sunglasses riding out of the saddle on a bike you can’t afford. Typical feature: smash your next sportive/climb/Zwift session. Sample review: four carbon road bikes. Training Zone: something about intervals or chickpeas.
Yet it does cast its net wider than this. There’s a review of £1k e-bikes for commuting in the magazine pictured. There’s always an aspirational ride or two – oddly, both of them in the Alps in issue 387. Columnists such as Ned Boulting and Rob Ainsley inject life that’s missing from the shiny metal on the other pages. And the photography is very good. If you want drop-bar buying advice, it’s still the magazine to beat.
Frequency: 13 per year
Circulation: 28,952 (ABC)
Like Rouleur, Cranked, and Singletrack, Cyclist majors on what print does best. That means big pictures, in-depth features, and only a smattering of reviews – invariably of very expensive stuff, such as a £9k gravel bike in the issue pictured. The reviews contain useful information like top tube lengths and trail but are often tinged with the taste of marketing Kool-Aid. “It is completely intangible, but it’s there” a reviewer asserts of the mystical quality of one überbike’s frame.
The reviews in the issue pictured are mostly of gravel bikes. The cover feature is also gravel oriented – an on/off-road ascent and descent of a typically Cyclist destination: Mont Ventoux. There used to be a Cyclist OffRoad spinoff, which ran to four issues. With that gone, the wider-tyre content has been folded into the parent title. This works fine: Cyclist remains tightly targeted at aspirational MAMILs. While successive issues can feel weirdly similar, any given copy generally has enough proper reading for a long train ride.
Frequency: 13 per year
Circulation: 21,353 (ABC)
For over a century Cycling Weekly’s USP was the cycling news and race results the daily papers ignored. Then you could get that online. So what was it for? Initially it looked like the editorial team weren’t sure. Now it reads like they are. It is – still – for those who race, watch racing, used to race, or belong to a club with racers in it. (As long as said racing is done on drops. The days of a mountain biking section, on green paper so that apoplectic roadies could easily identify it and rip it out, are long gone.)
Being weekly it tracks the cycling calendar to good effect, as this review-of-the-year bumper edition shows. But it’s not just news and results. Like other magazines it has reviews (the kit ones are timely), interviews, columns (Dr Hutch is always readable), technical articles, and general features such as, in this issue, a ‘Christmas survival guide’. Some magazines sell you a dream of cycling. Cycling Weekly sells you the kind of cycling that smells of embrocation.
Frequency: 51 per year
Circulation: 16,838 (ABC Jan-Dec 2019; likely lower now)
Procycling’s demise came as a shock. It didn’t seem to be doing anything wrong, aside from not being bought by enough readers. A monthly(ish) magazine can’t do race reports like a weekly but can still provide race analysis, interviews, pro-rider columns, and race-related features. Procycling did that well, accompanied by excellent photography that its wider page format showcased perfectly. The problem, presumably, is that a reader has to be a hardcore armchair fan to want this and only this month in, month out. Cyclist and Rouleur include some sports cycling in much more diverse magazines, while Cycling Weekly is by definition more timely.
Price: was £6.20
Frequency: was 13 per year
Circulation: evidently not enough
Rouleur was the first title to eschew the pre-internet magazine formula of buying advice and top tips, and focus instead on thoughtful writing, arty photography, and nice paper. It was a bold move that now looks prescient. Rouleur is growing: more pages, a larger format, and evidently more readers than it had a few years ago.
In terms of content, it’s an out-and-out roadie magazine that deals with subjects close to the heart of racers and sportivistas – such as team and rider profiles, and features on brands like Pinarello and technology like power meters – without getting into the results and race analysis that’s already available on the telly and the internet. I was pleasantly surprised to see a touring article in this issue (a ride from Taiwan to Tyneside) and amazed to read a piece on e-biking. Where’s the iconography of suffering in e-biking?
Frequency: 8 per year
Circulation: over 25,000, including Spanish & Italian editions (publisher statement)
Mountain Biking UK
The UK’s best-selling mountain biking magazine is a different animal than it once was. A tamer one. It used to leaven the bread and butter stuff with gonzo bike stunts involving cliffs, aeroplanes, or scuba gear. That irreverence has gone. What’s left is a decent enough magazine for trail and jump park riders who like to get their wheels off the ground… and then submit photos (That’s Gotta Hurt) when it goes wrong.
The strongest parts of the current magazine (apart from the ineffable and always enjoyable Mint Sauce cartoon) are the route guides, which have lovely OS maps as well as GPX downloads, and the eclectic reviews. MBUK may use buzzwords like ‘downcountry’ (translation: normal mountain biking) but it still reviews, say, affordable hardtails without prejudice. The only oddity in the issue pictured is an article on how to jump your bike (including suicide no-handers). A walkthrough, like we used to do in the 1990s! This belongs on YouTube.
Frequency: 13 per year
Circulation: 21,465 (ABC)
Mountain Bike Rider
Like its rival MBUK, MBR is an old-school, product-focused magazine aimed at trail riders with full-suspension bikes, flat pedals, and kneepads. Maybe its target audience is older. It has no injury photos, lots of e-bikes, and more ‘sensible’ features. There’s a nice one on repairing and recycling in the issue pictured, and the how-to is a collection of useful tips for beginners rather than a walkthrough that might put you in A&E. The biggest difference, however, is that MBR’s audience is smaller – perhaps unsustainably so.
That’s not because it’s a worse magazine than MBUK. Its routes aren’t as good: a paragraph and a GPX link are no substitute for an OS map segment with instructions. And the design overall doesn’t have room to breathe, so it feels more like a mag to dip rather than dive into. Yet the bike reviews have details MBUK’s lack, such as the front centres distance – a number that any review of a ‘long, low, slack’ mountain bike is meaningless without. Content isn’t really the issue. It just needs more craft – and readers.
Frequency: 13 per year
By middle-aged mountain bikers, for middle-aged mountain bikers: Singletrack World is a mature off-road magazine in more ways than one. The riding is real world trails rather than bike parks – exploring Skye rather than getting air. The content is post-internet. Product news and short reviews go on singletrackworld.com, ‘Europe’s biggest MTB website’, freeing up the mag for longer features and bigger pictures.
Coverage now includes gravel bikes and rides, which might annoy tribal keyboard warriors but seems a natural fit. Gravel is basically mountain biking circa 1990, which Singletrack World’s audience lived through. The magazine’s only real weakness is that, although good with words and images, it’s bad with numbers. Key figures are missing not just from bike tests (geometry!) but from the tyres test in this issue. We’re not told diameter, width, weight, or available sizes. Otherwise good.
Price: £7.50 50% off with Cycling UK membership
Frequency: 6 per year
Circulation: 8,300 (publisher statement)
Cranked is the spiritual successor to Privateer, the now defunct off-road stablemate of Rouleur. Like Rouleur it has lovely paper stock, a clean and uncluttered design, long features, quality photography – and no reviews. None. Not even a short product showcase like Rouleur’s ‘Desire’ section. Cranked is aimed at mountain bikers who don’t need to be told what to buy, either because they’ve been there and done that or just don’t care.
What that leaves, other than a few opinion columns, is a wide-ranging collection of luxuriously long ‘put the kettle on first’ articles. Because they’re so long, however, there’s more at stake in getting the editorial mix just right. I enjoyed this issue’s 16-page piece on Gee Atherton, despite being unwilling to jump a bike off anything higher than a chair. But 31 pages on riding somewhere I’ll likely never visit (Sweden, two articles) made me flick past before my coffee went cold. It’s nevertheless my favourite mountain biking mag. There are generally more hits than misses.
Frequency: 4 per year
A to B
A to B is an idiosyncratic quarterly that used to focus on alternative (to the car) transport, mostly folding bikes, e-bikes, and rail. These days there’s been considerable editorial drift. The issue has interesting articles on: a lightweight electric Brompton conversion by Cytronex; Brompton lighting; and the Caledonian Sleeper service. So far, so good. The piece on greening your energy supply is tangential but thought provoking. Then there are two WTF? articles: one on phone boxes, another on being a potter.
With nine pages of letters, A to B feels as much like a club as a magazine. That’s not a criticism: it seems to be doing what those readers/members want, even if getting from A to B now means going via C, D, and Z. If you’re a Brompton owner (or are Brompton curious) and have an interest in e-bikes, public transport, and environmental stuff, it is, at £1.29 for a digital copy, worth investigating. It’s an odd one, for sure, but refreshingly non-commercial.
Price: £3 (digital £1.29)
Frequency: 3-4 per year
Circulation: 2,500-3,000 worldwide (publisher statement)
From the same publisher as Cyclist, Cycling Electric is a buyer’s guide to e-bikes that looks like a one-off special. It’s not: this is issue four. Yet its (in)frequency, lack of an option to subscribe, and sheer number of reviews – 46 e-bikes in this issue! – mark it as a magazine you’d likely buy once or twice as you weighed up your e-bike options. There’s a niche for this. E-bike sales are surging and potential purchasers will want pointers.
That’s what Cycling Electric provides. The reviews read more like copywriting than actual tests of bikes that someone has swung a leg over but they make some salient points and give an idea of what each e-bike is for. For beginners, it’s probably enough. As well as the reviews there are features on topics like e-mountain biking, e-road riding, and why you shouldn’t hack an e-bike.
Frequency: 2 per year
Circulation: not stated
Cycle magazine is Cycling UK's membership magazine and it is the UK's most read cycling magazine. Cycle magazine is a bi-monthly magazine which will be sent to our members and supporters in the post, however, members are also able to access Cycle and back issues online.
Cycle magazine includes reviews of cycles and cycling equipment, shares routes, has inspiring stories about cyclists and their travels, informs our members and supporters of the work we are doing as a charity and so much more.
Get yours for free, six times a year with a Cycling UK membership.