Setting Our Own Trends

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“You don’t want to give people what they want. Give them something they didn’t know that they wanted.”
Ruth Reichl, former editor of Gourmet.

This quote really resonated with me. When I pick up other cycling magazines, I am often disappointed. They talk about the trends of the moment. Right now I’m pleased that they seem to be wider tires, gravel racing, 650B wheels, and city bikes with porteur racks. I should be happy, and yet there isn’t anything inspirational or new. It’s like reading yesterday’s newspaper…

During a recent solitary ride, I finally realized why this is so. Most magazines live off their advertising revenue. The magazines rely on the bike industry to bring them ideas and content, and so they report on what the industry is pushing at any given time.

As a result, the magazines are unlikely to present new ideas. Why would a bike magazine clamor for a way of riding for which the bikes do not yet exist? Why would they suggest products that their advertisers do not yet sell? Why would they do testing that refutes commonly-held beliefs (and the advertising claims that are based on them)?

Bicycle Quarterly has a different business model from most magazines: We are financed by our readers – by cyclists. This results in a fundamentally different point of view, which has led us to think about what we – the cyclists – need, not what the industry wants to sell.

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We are pleased to have been trend-setters in many instances. Looking back over 12 years of publication, here are some things we suggested long before they became commonplace:

  • Compact double cranks: In our very first issue, we rode an Alex Singer with 46-32 chainrings. We found this gearing ideal for most riding. At the time, the big makers only offered 53-39 racing cranks or triples.
  • Gravel riding: Nine years ago, we wrote about the beauty of riding on gravel roads in the mountains.
  • Tire performance: At a time when the industry still was fawning over ceramic bearings, we looked at tires and found that they make the biggest difference in your bike’s performance. Through careful testing, we identified what makes a tire fast.
  • Front loads: Our testing showed that front loads are easier to balance and much better when riding out of the saddle – as long as your bike has the appropriate frame geometry.
  • Metal fenders: We pointed out that the uninterrupted interior and better coverage of a longer front fender kept you drier. We also weighed aluminum fenders and found that they were lighter than plastic ones.

It has been nice to see these trends adopted by the industry and – finally – by the magazines. But it’s also sad to see that many great things still don’t get exposure in mainstream magazines:

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Fully integrated performance bikes: We are starting to see a few city bikes that come with racks, fenders and lights, but if you like spirited riding, you are still told to buy a racing bike that is not much fun in the rain or at night. Bicycle Quarterly has featured and tested many bikes that combine performance with the utility of fenders, lights and a bag. What we want is the Porsche 911 of bicycles – a great performance machine that can be used every day, even when you are running errands.

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Truly wide high-performance tires: I am encouraged when I read about “wider tires” being “hot.” Then I realize that the magazines are talking about 25 mm tires. Why not ask for bikes with 38 mm tires and the performance of a racing bike?

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Well-designed lights: Most current lights use simple beam patterns that would be illegal in cars. Not only do they blind oncoming traffic, but they also put too much light in the near field and not enough into the middle distance. This makes riding at night tiring and difficult. Better optics put a well-distributed beam of light on the road, and only on the road. These lights are available, but you wouldn’t know it from reading the big bike magazines.

These are just a few examples of products that the industry doesn’t push and that the magazines don’t ask for. These products tend to be hard to make or expensive, so the bike industry isn’t too keen to offer them.

At Bicycle Quarterly, we are proud to write from the perspective of riders. Our concern never has been “What does the industry want?” but “What do we need to take our cycling to the next level?”

As a result, we have nudged and pushed the industry toward better, more versatile bikes that are also more fun to ride. And when some of these trends finally make it into the mainstream, we are happy to have contributed to making cycling more fun for more people.

Click here for more information about Bicycle Quarterly.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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28 Responses to Setting Our Own Trends

  1. Cynthia Ferenci says:

    Jan, sometimes I think you are the second coming of Velocio. You’ve promoted bicycle riding with continued honesty and integrity. Something sorely lacking in many aspects of society today. You weren’t, and still aren’t afraid to go against the louder voices within the cycling industry.

    For the past 30 years I’ve been reading every English-language cycling magazine that came out. In the ’80’s they weren’t quite so obnoxiously insistent in telling me what, and how I should ride, and all the “Must Haves” and the “Guaranteed To Do This, That, and The Other Thing” for me. Today’s cycling magazines are as anorexic as professional bike racers.

    Bicycle Quarterly is truly a breath of fresh air. I discovered it at a time in my life when I wasn’t (and am still not) able to ride like I did 7 years ago because of health problems I developed. It has helped to keep my interest in cycling alive when other magazines couldn’t. For that I thank you and all of your staff, and hope you continue along with the biggest of tailwinds!

    One thing that I believe is an important part of Bicycle Quarterly is the Vintage part. Over the years you’ve printed so much information about our cycling “ancestors”. I hope you continue to keep that part of Bicycle Quarterly alive and thriving. Not only is it a tribute to them and their bicycles, but you are documenting cycling history which could surely have been lost forever.

    • Thank you for the compliment. It is thanks to readers like you, who support our magazine, that we can follow our passion.

      Cycling history is important to us for many reasons. It inspires us in how we ride, when we seek out gravel roads that bring us the solitude and self-reliance that cyclotourists enjoyed in the 1930s and before. Historic precedents also can show us things that once were tried, but now have been forgotten. The compact cranks are the best example – they were common on cyclotouring bikes more than half a century ago. So we’ll continue to research and document cycling’s history, but always looking forward, with an eye on how it is applicable today and in the future.

  2. riggs says:

    What a pleasant column. Mass marketing and sales never reaches for the niche, they reach for the mass in the center. Televised sporting events drive many sports businesses. Preferring the practical will get you slings and arrows about being a retrogrouch. That is sad, because simply preferring functional gear over trendy or niche specific gear is not about retrogrouchiness, its about just have a pleasant day on a bike. It is telling that L’ Eroica in Italy has been so popular. Riding an old still frame over hill and dale brings to mind an old adage about cars: More fun to thrash an underpowered car than be unable to use the power in an overpowered car.

  3. Steve Palincsar says:

    Bravo BQ!

  4. marmotte27 says:

    You have already done a lot and can still do a lot to favour everyday cycling for commuting transporting stuff. Herse and the other constructeurs built bikes that then influenced the cycling industry for decades. We can still get them again.

  5. Vince DePillis says:

    The challenge for you will be to stay ahead of the curve, once the industry coopts your initial stock of good ideas. (btw– I have not given up hope for a 26 inch version of your performance fat tires!)

    Vince

    • If the industry adopts all our ideas, our mission will be accomplished! I don’t see that happening anytime soon, but if it does, maybe we’ll just retire. Or Bicycle Quarterly will just be filled with reports from marvelous rides. There is so much left to explore…

  6. Jeff Dunning says:

    I only wish I had discovered this magazine years ago. Thanks for publishing this “rag”. (My father was a railroad magazine editor–he taught me that term)

  7. Giovanni Calcagno says:

    Well said Jan!!!!

  8. Tom Howard says:

    I never fail to read each issue cover to cover. Love the ride reports and the historic articles. BQ’s scientific approach to testing equipment is thorough and fascinating. Hurray for sound science. As others have said, I just wish I had discovered your magazine earlier.

  9. At first I am glad, that there are other peoples finding answers on solitary rides.
    And I am thinking about similar things during the last weeks. After my bike for daily use was stolen, I need to replace it. But I had to discover that there is nothing like the Porsche 911 of bicycles, as you described it. What I’m looking for is kind of a variation of your randonneur ideas. I prefer a gear hub, a chain case and a basket instead of a bag in the front.
    There is no bicycle like this on the market. So I need to (re)build a similar one myself.

    Fischer-gestohlen

  10. KTinOakland says:

    Most ‘modern’ monthlies are shopping guides – catazines, I call them.
    Keep up the good work, JH and Co.

  11. TimJ says:

    I am always amazed when I look at the most recent issue of BQ and compare it to the earliest issues of VBQ. Color printing, triple the amount of content, same great articles and information. Stunning progress! Thanks for all you do.

  12. agb says:

    Do you have any plans for subscriptions in UK/Europe?

    • We have subscribers all over the world. We actually offer international subscriptions at a subsidized rate to make up for the high cost of postage, to keep it somewhat more affordable. More information is here.

      • agb says:

        That’s great news! I apologise – when it said on the page “not available for other countries” I assumed it applied to all subscriptions…

        thanks again

      • The 3-year subscriptions aren’t available for international readers, because we really don’t know what postage rates will do over that time. Unfortunately, the U.S. Postal Service has almost doubled their international rates in recent years, while keeping the domestic increase to just a few cents. (I guess international shipping mostly is used by recent immigrants, and so those big increases aren’t noticed as readily.)

  13. Frank says:

    Jan, it seems to me that the most important difference between BQ and other magazines is this: BQ is the only magazine that fully recognizes the importance of the human being where bicycles are concerned. Other magazines “test” bicycles as if they had no rider. When doing aero tests, they omit the rider, when comparing bicycle frames, they measure static stiffness values (and consider stiffer as better) and when testing tires, they use steel drums without a rider. The list goes on …
    BQ on the other hand has always taken the rider to be an integral, even the most valuable part of the ride. E.g. BQ considered fenders not as useless weight, but as necessary to protect the most crucial part of the bicycle: its motor, its on-board computer, its payload.
    Other magazines treat bicycles as some kind of underpowered car, whereas BQ is the only magazine written for humans and from a human perspective. Thank you for that.

  14. Dustin says:

    Not to be a critic, but BQ is also the only magazine testing components they sell.

    • Our sister company, Compass Bicycles, has grown out of Bicycle Quarterly‘s rider-focused approach. When we realized that many of the components we wanted and needed for our bikes were not available, we first tried to convince the industry to make them. When that was not successful, we decided to make them ourselves.

      You are right that this represents a conflict of interest. We are very aware of this. In fact, we usually are harsher in our judgment when testing parts we sell than we are with others’ components. It’s actually easier to criticize a component we sell than one that is sold by a friend or advertiser. Most of all, if we find a product to be unsatisfactory, we either improve it or stop selling it. As a rider-focused company, that is the natural and easy thing to do.

      Nonetheless, we fully disclose these and other conflicts of interest with every review. I believe we are the only cycling magazine doing so.

  15. John Duval says:

    Not to diminish the accomplishments in these endeavors, but “compact” cranks were available for MTB and road in the early 90s and never went away. As I recall, the 11t cog was introduced along side the “compact” crank, giving it the same net gear range (the goal being to save weight). Since then, the 53t ring replaced the 52 as standard, as did the 11t cog replace the 13t, and BCD is still huge. If anything, the mainstream is still headed in the wrong direction.

    If I am missing something, let me know, because 171mm cranks aren’t so good when you are 2m tall!

    • You are right about the compact triples introduced by SunTour and soon copied by others, for mountain bikes. Those were accompanied with smaller rear cogs, so the goal never was to lower the gearing, but to reduce weight and, to a lesser degree, reduce the chance of your big chainring hitting logs and other obstacles on the trail.

      I was referring to compact doubles on road bikes, used to lower the gearing. Those were not available in 2002, when we first championed them. (One exception was the Berthoud “Rebelle”, a re-machined TA crank. The name “rebel” already tells you how uncommon this idea was then.) Today, almost every road bike has 50-34 chainrings instead of 53-39.

      I changed the wording in the post to make it clear that I meant to talk about compact doubles.

      I am not sure I understand your comment about 171 mm cranks. Bicycle Quarterly never has espoused a particular crank length. Our sister company, Compass Bicycles, offers the René Herse crank in 171 mm. That is simply to make a stronger crank: The crank is forged to its net shape, rather than cut to length, which would interrupt the grain flow and weaken the crank. We had to settle on one crank length, and decided to use 171 mm as a middle-of-the-road value. If you need 190 or 210 mm cranks, then I am sorry that we don’t offer them (and nor do most makers).

  16. simonjhillier says:

    It is for these exact reasons why BQ is the only cycling periodical I read and subscribe to.

    I can’t live with a magazine which continually writes the same articles praising all bikes and gear tested, pandering to the advertisers. I understand it, I just don’t wish to be a part of it.

    Your “four times annually” magazine is also why I have just placed an order for a 650b bike, from Mitch Pryor at MAP, having read your wonderful twenty page article in the current issue which has convinced me that it is the bike for me.

    Many thanks Jan and Hahn and all who contribute.

  17. GuitarSlinger says:

    The ” 911 of Bicycles ” ! The perfect analogy for what many of us want . Another one I’ve used while shopping for a new ride lately if the sales person knows M/C’s better than cars is the Ducati MultiStrada of bicycles . Though the 911 one still comes closer in my mind . Especially here in CO where a properly tired Carrera 4 can be driven 24/7/365 regardless of the weather [re;snow ]

    By the way Jan . As I’ve said before . Right there on the magazine racks of our Colorado destination bookstore .. The Tattered Cover [ all three locations ] Right next to all the “Catazines” [ that is a great one of which I will borrow ] BQ in all its glory

  18. Doug Wagner says:

    Love your magazine, and have been a subscriber since the first issue. Ruth Reichl was the self – obsessed foodie under whose dubious leadership Gourmet Magazine died. Hope she doesn’t jinx you ;-)

  19. Larry T. says:

    Rouleur used to be the ONLY English-language magazine I paid money for…until I added BQ. Very refreshing reading with not much in the way of “competitive shopping” which describes most of the current cycling media, whether in print or online.

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