Know your audience, and know the audience of the media that you consume… Good words to live by.
Clearly, if you’re reading this right now you should be a tandem enthusiast. I say should because it’s posted to a blog targeted at tandem enthusiasts and written by a tandem enthusiast who looks at the cycling world through a bike with multiple saddles placed one-behind-the-other. If you’re a hipster, a trackie, or devotee of fat-tire, golden-age-of-European cycling then much of what I write will probably be of little interest or, perhaps even be somewhat objectionable. Hey, what can I say, you’re not my target audience.
So it is with Bicycle Quarterly. Devoted readers are assumed to be bike geeks of the 1st order, and in particular the carry-over crowd from the Vintage Bicycle Quarterly that preceded Bicycle Quarterly. Now, let’s be clear, just because Jan dropped “vintage” from the title of his magazine and website and now includes more contemporary subjects and bicycle reviews doesn’t change the fact that in his heart and soul, he’s a Vintage Bicycle Quarterly guy. I don’t have a problem with that, by the way. Much goodness has come from his sharing of that passion and as cycling moves into a new era where racing bikes are being outsold by comfort or otherwise more practical bikes, the potential audience of BQ continues to expand.
This brings me to the latest edition of BQ, which I’m still reading. However, I’ve read enough of this current edition to be reminded of all these things mentioned above:
1. Bike geeks will rejoice at the Mel Pinto interview. I know I did, and it was the first thing I read… twice!! Mel Pinto is an icon in the American cycling community, bar none, and an immigrant success story that underscores what has always made this country great. Chances are, if you’ve got a AARP card in your wallet like I do, you’ve probably bought something for a bicycle at some point that went through one of Mel Pinto’s warehouses.
2. Readers who aren’t 100% bought into Jan’s philosophy on cycling technology might find themselves as disappointed with the Surly Big Dummy review, as was Andy Corsan of Surly. Frankly, I’m a bit surprised that Mr. Corsan was surprised by the flavor of the BQ review. In fact, it makes me wonder if he’d ever read any back issues of BQ before handing off a Big Dummy as the subject of a review. I’m not into cargo bikes, so I don’t have a dog in this fight. But, as always, it’s interesting to read the BQ reviews and refreshing to see that they do at least let the builders or folks who are involved in producing bikes respond to their reviews. That’s hugely important to me and something you rarely see in other magazine reviews… noting most of those are fluff pieces.
3. When BQ talks about its objective and double-blind testing, know that the testers are not exactly diverse in their views on cycling and bicycle technology. Check the bios, note where they live and ride, what they ride, how they ride and then compare that to your own background as a cyclist. The results are never surprising. But, then again, the same is typically true of any bicycle review where the person doing the test rides will also have both known and perhaps unknown biases and preferences that shape their impressions. Again, to be a happy BQ reader means getting your head around the background of the reviewers and editor. Once you get in that place, a lot of what gets written makes sense. And, I would say that I can see a subtle change in some of Jan’s comments in more recent blog entries where he’s opening up his aperature a bit in keeping with his expanding, broader audience. His “A Journey of Discovery, Part 7″ was very refreshing.
4. From the Tony Pereira review & comments on disc brakes, I was somewhat surprised to see our friend James Annan’s expose on potential design issues with “some” disc brake and fork combinations dredged-up in the disc brake sidebar. While not attempting to diminish the fact that there have been some bad disc fork designs, readers really need to look closely at the brake configuration that failed on James & Jules enduro tandem back around December 1st, 2002. That fork was a disaster waiting to happen, having read the first-hand accounts back in December 2002 on one of the discussion forums I host, we were privy to all of the unpolished, gory details and photos of the poorly designed & modified fork that failed. Again, a lot of good has come from that incident and all of James subsequent research and public awareness efforts as there have clearly been other disc-brake related front wheel ejection incidents that could have been prevented by something as simple as lawyer lips. But, this is old news to long-time disc brake users who have gotten past a lot of the anxiety that I see whenever a disc-brake bike is reviewed in BQ. Perhaps some valid concerns, but a very old point of reference.
In closing, make no mistake about it: I’m a huge fan of Bicycle Quarterly and have the utmost respect for Jan, Mark Alex and the other folks who provide the content and work behind the scenes at BQ, so don’t mis-read that in my comments. However, know that I go into each edition of BQ with an open mind and an appreciation for who the target audience is and the bias’ and background of the author… after all, I’ve read every issue of Vintage Bicycle Quarterly and Bicycle Quarterly and routinely read Jan’s blog, Off the Beaten Path.