As the UK emerges bleary-eyed from a winter that hit the bike industry rather hard, John Stevenson looks at the effect on the day-to-day running of the bike magazine world...

OFF THE RADAR: Worst. January. Ever.

“Worst. January. Ever.” That is how one dealer described the start of the year to me at
Madison’s iceBike* show, adding that February was much better, because people seemed to have become bored of not spending money.

As well as keeping customers at home, the lousy weather at the beginning of the year was a nightmare for magazines. A bit of rain doesn’t stop us testing bikes, but when the streets are paved with black ice and the trails are buried under a foot of snow, keeping up our test schedule requires dedication, merino baselayers and waterproof everything.

In my bike shop days, wet winter afternoons were a chance to do those little jobs that had been neglected the previous year –like clearing out the pile of half-broken items that might get stripped for parts (throw it away, it never does). Or, if the boss wasn’t around, seeing which of us could record the highest pedalling speed on one of those new-fangled cadence computers.

But magazines don’t have odd housekeeping jobs to keep us occupied in the winter, and sub-editors take a dim view of writers goofing off. Magazines have to be published, rain or shine, and this winter, that has been a bit desperate.

As I write, Mountain Biking UK’s Andrew Dodd has just escaped the office to head up to Scotland for a story that has been put off several times because of the weather. Snow in Scotland, who’d have thought it?

Cycling Plus made life hard for itself by bringing its Bike Of The Year issue forward so that it would be on sale at the end of winter when people are thinking about buying a bike. That meant the writers had to ride fifty bikes in the worst of the winter, and photograph them.

Somehow, they managed not to spend too much time sitting in the office in damp Lycra waiting for the weather to improve to merely miserable. A blessing for everyone else’s noses, that.

Photography is the killer. A great shooter can light a scene to pull the rider and bike out of the January gloom using modern off-camera flashes. If it is raining, flash guns tend to self-destruct and photoshoots turn into desperate scrabbles to get shots without destroying the camera equipment.

We’re certainly not complaining though. Reviews must be written, so bikes have to be ridden and gear has to be used. That gives us a powerful reason to get out and ride at the time of year when motivation is hardest to come by. Even this January, I don’t think any of our crew would have swapped to a regular desk job.

I can’t sign off without mentioning the biggest ray of light amid the winter doom and gloom. Our road bike magazine, Cycling Plus, recorded its twelfth consecutive circulation increase, cracking the 40,000 mark for the first time, in the annual figures produced by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

I worked for Future Publishing when Cycling Plus was launched in the early 1990s and was involved in the first few issues. At the time, fat tyres dominated sales, Mountain Biking UK was forging ahead and road cycling was a little-regarded backwater dominated by club riders and time trialists.

It is amazing how road cycling has come back into the forefront, and Cycling Plus, under
Rob Spedding, has done a lot better than follow the market.

This is largely thanks to Rob and his team’s understanding of its readers, and its creative approach to crafting an entertaining and informative lifestyle magazine that just happens to be centred around the cycling world.

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