Nonetheless, for those of you entering 2006 with the resolve to exercise more often, I present for your consideration the January/February issue of Bicycling. Like the sport itself, the mag is accessible to nearly every audience, from newbies fresh off their training wheels to Miguel Induráin wannabes. But in trying to be so inclusive, the title risks underwhelming the latter group--the readers more likely to subscribe to a magazine dubbed Bicycling--and sacrificing a sizable percentage of their disposable income at the altar of its advertisers.
Not surprisingly, the January/February issue works best when it ditches the tips for Brenda Banana Seat and riffs for the true enthusiasts. Its mother-of-all-cliches headline notwithstanding--I haven't done a formal survey, but I wouldn't be surprised to see "New Year New You" in Glamour, Weight Watchers, Prevention or Astrology Today as well--the cover feature offers a level of detail that will almost certainly be lost on weekend warriors, including five distinct 12-week training regimens. Even better is the Sports Illustrated-worthy story on cycling physiologist Michele Ferrari, either one of the sport's preeminent minds or a notorious doping fiend, depending on whom you ask.
Bicycling just doesn't take the content targeted at cycling disciples far enough. It devotes a single crammed-to-the-hilt page to the strong, occasionally catty observations of its testing panelists--or exactly half the space occupied by the obvious "Newbie No More" piece on beginner mistakes ("You're getting frustrated, and it's holding you back"). A smartly laid out "Cue Sheet" does well to identify must-ride events over the next few weeks for devotees, but it lands within a few pages of a bland Q&A with Chicago Bears massage therapist/biking fan Sue Marcus, and an aimless nutrition piece that advises cyclists to avoid Swedish meatballs during the holidays. So wait--Swedish meatballs aren't a vegetable? Good to know.
I have no problem with the two-page layout on home fitness gear or the "What Bike Should I Buy?" item that purports to identify a specific ride for a specific individual (e.g., an albino locksmith prone to sneezing jags and having only $16.80 to spend). I just don't know what these stories are doing in a cycling enthusiast title; they'd be a better fit in a general-fitness mag. Similarly, nothing distinguishes the Dubai pix featured in "The Ride" from comparable spreads in travel publications.
Bicycling also tends to try too hard from a design perspective, whether the random bursts of red text in the Ferrari feature or the creepy, amateurish illustration that precedes it. The sidebars-aplenty layout works really well in the front-of-book "SPIN" section of blurbs and nuggets (the "Because You Ride" box equating the intake of five Swiss Miss cocoa mix packets with the caloric output of a spin class is worth a giggle), but gets dizzying by the time you reach the similarly appointed "Gear" and "Handbook" sections.
If I'm the editors of Bicycling, I grab myself a copy of Runner's World (they have the same corporate sugar daddy, right? I should probably start paying attention to stuff like this) and start mimicking its every move. Where Runner's World is subtle, Bicycling opts for occasional and ill-timed bursts of flash; where Runner's World dotes on hard-core runners, Bicycling dilutes its focus across the cycling spectrum. A few easy tonal and content tweaks could make the latter as essential a monthly read as the former.