Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I Only Read Cycle Sport -- I Swear!

I have to admit to a guilty pleasure -- but please, don't leak it to the peloton:

I still look forward to getting Bicycling magazine each month.

I hate myself for this, but it's almost like I can't control myself.

The anticipation sort of builds slowly over a couple weeks. I'll know that it has been only two weeks, maybe, since I last spent a full 30 to 45 minutes reading everything readable in the previous edition. But I catch myself turning into the dining room where Jen leaves the mail that I'm supposed to see, to look for the next slim, sugar-coated and vacuous velo-volume from the consumer-oriented minds at Rodale. Each day, there's that little bit of disappointment, knowing that I'll have to take a bath without reading new climbing tips that are almost exactly the same as the climbing tips from a few issues back.

Subscribe today for only 17 frequent-flyer miles or 3 Gu proofs of purchase!

This disappointment is a bit more pronounced right now, because my subscription lapsed. Apparently, there wasn't enough change in the couch cushions when the seventh "This is your Final Edition!!!" bill arrived. If I'd been paying attention, I would've re-upped before it lapsed. It's not like that's hard: You can get a free one-year subscription for buying a bottle of Gatorade or something. At most, I could've raised the money by bringing a week's worth of aluminum cans in to a scrap-metal center to scrape together the $1.49, or whatever a year of Bicycling costs.

The magazine is on my mind because I dropped in on Bill Strickland's post on Bicycling mag's blog, Sitting In, today. Bill is executive editor at Bicycling, which is unfortunate for all of us. It's unfortunate because Bill is a very good writer and an exceptional -- almost unrivaled -- cycling writer. Blogging is to magazine writing what spray-painting the fence is to art. Yet even in his blog, Strickland turns great phrases. He writes like a great racer rides -- with a rare combination of grace, finesse and flat-out power. (One subtle example: The fourth paragraph from the bottom of his last post, which scrapes the illusions of glamor off the pro-racing life without being caustic and cynical.)

Unfortunately, Strickland's job isn't to write for Bicycling. His job, I'm sure, is to steer meetings involving beaten-down people who made the mistake of turning something they once loved into something they now have to squeeze for money. These are meetings at which people drum their fingers, look at each other blankly, and wince as they reluctantly throw out cover-story ideas such as "Get Faster -- NOW!"; "Rock-Hard Abs!" "The Best Bike You Could Never Buy," etc. Those are the ideas that emerge; can you imagine the ones that get shot down?

And Strickland, God bless him, probably also is tasked with flogging the unreadably self-congratulatory dead horse that is the "Bike Town" bullshit into something slightly readable. (What's next, by the way? Bike Town goes to the Moon?) And he has to make sure that every major advertiser has a positive review slotted at some point in the year, with the mandatory phrase "compliant enough for all-day comfort" in every bike writeup. And, during ad-revenue downturns, he probably gets stuck firing the intern and the $30,000-a-year junior staffer who writes the energy-gel reviews so that there's enough money in the budget for Steve Madden to waddle up Mount Ventoux and write about it in the ever-thinner Tour Preview edition, which Bicycling's weekend-riding demographic won't read now that Lance doesn't race anymore.

None of those responsibilities involves much writing. In fact, far too little in that magazine involves writing any more. It's a publication that seems designed to be readable during a single bath, or a few potty stops.

The old-timey Bicycling alums, like Fred Matheny and Ed Pavelka, have barely hidden their revulsion, and I used to think they were bitter over being cast aside. I didn't read the publication much back in the '80s or '90s or whenever its golden era supposedly was.

But I've seen it decline noticeably just in the few years I've been reading it: Same crap, different wrapping paper, every month -- the crap that focus groups and market research dictate.

It's not that I don't sympathize. I can't even come up with a single decent blog-post idea per week. Coming up with ideas for new and fresh cycling stories every month? That's like doing hill repeats up a sand dune.

The strain is really showing this year: For two straight editions, Bicycling (I repeat: BICYCLING) has focused on freaking triathlons! What's next? Cover stories on the best coffee hauses to ride cruisers to? I shudder to think of what those brainstorming meetings in Emmaus must be like.

Still, the mag is like monthly donut social after church: Halfway through mass, I'm starting to think about the little glazed demons. I'm berating the damn donuts at the same time my mouth is starting to water. Then I take my kids downstairs -- it is for the kids, right? -- to the little gathering and in little more time than it takes to read an issue of Bicycling cover to cover (except the stupid little bike-tour ads in the back), I've sucked down three donuts and added three pounds, most of it comprising hydrogenated oils.

Sure, I scold myself and feel a bit dirty. But secretly, I'm wishing for more.

In fact, I hope my renewal has been processed. I can't wait to feed my face with yet another installment of "10 Great Rides You MUST Do NOW!"

- JN

1 comment:

ds said...

You want to talk about guilty pleasures....we've been (mistakenly) receiving People Magazine for the last six months. That makes Bicycling Magazine look like Pulitzer level literature.

Oh yea, don't forget about Joe Lindsay's blog on Bicycling.com. That's pretty good too, and I once won one of his contests that scored me some free socks and shirts. No joke.