26 December 2015

The New Bicycle Quarterly is Here!

I can remember the first year or two I was road cycling, I would enthusiastically pick up "Bicycling" magazine in the U.S. and read "ten tips on how to ride faster", "seven great coastal routes",  "five ways to climb faster", or maybe "six great meals that will help you to lose weight AND ride faster".   Of course, there were reviews of the latest bikes from Trek, Cannondale, Specialized and other advertisers.  After awhile, as my cycling experience and knowledge grew, I lost interest in these.

After I moved to Japan, for a few years I enjoyed "Cycle Sports", the widest circulation Japanese magazine for road cyclists and racers.  I would scan the annual list of "long ride" and "hill climb" events and discuss with friends.  And I still have filed away the issue from June 2009 which featured  the editors' selection of 20 best mountain passes of Nagano Prefecture (信州の峠 Over the Pass!). But I tired of the "one pattern" reviews, always a new model that was "better" than the prior year, always a nice test ride report for a major advertiser, one new carbon frame after another, each "better" than the last.  Another bike shop advertisement ...  nothing new under the sun.

So even as I started building up my own bikes, doing Audax rides and even building one of my own frames, I resisted getting any cycling-related publications for quite awhile.  But after seeing and riding with the Seattle Randonneurs at events in the U.S., Japan and elsewhere, and after meeting Seattle's Jan Heine of Compass Bicycles/Bicycle Quarterly at the post-Fleche party in Kamakura in 2014, I finally broke down and subscribed to Bicycle Quarterly.
I await its arrival eagerly.  The content is mostly a mix of stories from the Pacific Northwest, global randonneuring events such as PBP and LEL, and, yes, Jan & Co.'s recent fairly regular visits to Japan and sometimes elsewhere in East Asia.

The product reviews are very detailed, and even though they are "niche" products usually, they are thorough and add to my knowledge.  Jan got some unfriendly letters from readers when Issue No. 53 devoted a lot of ink to a Specialized bike, the Diverge, but with No. 54 BQ he is back to reviewing products from small, often custom builders, such as the NFE Elephant ("NFE" for "national forest explorer") which is designed for fatter wheels and touring over gravel and dirt roads.

The editors are opinionated and have a definite point of view.  I do not always agree, but I can appreciate that most of their opinions are developed from lots of testing, trial and error.  And they even offer some disclaimers when they have an obvious conflict of interest.

And almost every BQ issue has a feature on a Japanese builder, on how to "rinko" your bike, on a tour in Japan (Houshi onsen, or the Nihon Alps SR600, or otherwise).  Sometimes these offer a foreign visitor's view of Japan that is not really adding to my knowledge (a bit vague on route numbers and station/train line names, the occasional transposition of a Japanese first last name -- as in the caption to a photo of randonneurs "Jun Sato, Noriko Sakai, Matsumura Keisuke and Tak Kawano"), but often (as with the introductions to builders) they open my eyes to something near me of great interest. And as important, it is great to have even BQ's niche audience of randonneurs and other bicycle fanatics (5000+ subscribers?) learn what great opportunities there are for riding and touring by bicycle in Japan.

(I still wish that they would have credited this blog, or link to it, for their report on an attempt at the Nihon Alps SR600.)

Is BQ right for you?  You can get a taste of it at Jan Heine's blog.  You can check out a flip book there with some of the content.

Or, feel free to flip through one of my issues.  Or even borrow it ... if you promise to return it on penalty of death.

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