LOOKING FORWARD – SUMMER 2018
AH SUMMER! Beautiful weather, longer days and longer rides, events you’ve been looking forward to, the zaniness of Le Tour de France, new cycling gear being introduced (and overhyped), and lots and lots and lots of sales.
I try to take a deep breath this time of year, look around, and take it all in. The training we roadies have done earlier in the year, some great rides and events we’ve been doing recently, some that we are looking forward too, and hopefully more time with family and friends shows up big this time of year and seems to make all the mental, physical, and financial energy we put into this cycling passion of ours worthwhile.
It’s also a busy time for me and the site which makes stepping back, taking stock of where we are, looking forward at where we are going, and reaching out to you for suggestions all the more important.
I’d like to cover a few things in this post:
Some Personal Observations on the Current State of Road Cycling
It’s an interesting time to be a road cycling enthusiast. The economy is better in countries where most of us live. New technologies like road disc bikes and tubeless ready wheels are outselling rim brake bikes and tubed-only clincher wheels and, in my view and apparently that of a lot of others who are buying the gear, making a real difference in rider enjoyment and performance.
Fondos and crits and charity events seem to be going strong. A lot of roadies are trying “gravel” and cyclocross riding and really liking it. There seem to be more options for where to ride, what to ride, where to buy it than I can remember.
All of this is should be a good thing.
At the same time, the “industry” continues to change. Chinese imports of bikes are way up. The number of bike shops continues to go down. Big, pace-setting companies like Shimano, Amer Sports (Mavic, ENVE), Dorel (owner of Cannondale), Vista (Bell, Giro) and many others are hurting financially, some for several years now. The pro cycling circuit continues to set an awful example of how to run an ethical sport with a sustainable business model. US cyclist deaths from traffic accidents are up.
Yet, more people seem to show up for group rides on Saturdays at my club and during the week than ever before. I’ve heard similar things from riders of other clubs. More people are riding to work and bike share services are expanding for the most part. More bike lanes are getting built in major cities in the US and are getting improved in other parts of the world that already have them. You and I could probably find a cycling based charity ride to do every second or third weekend from June through September and a great riding event most every weekend in season.
There’s no conclusion here other than, as with other things, the cycling glass is filling or emptying depending on how you want to look at it. Personally, I find there is enough good to draw from road cycling and plenty of opportunities to help fill that glass that I continue to want to be a part of doing it and I’m keeping my pedals cranking.
How I’m Trying to Improve the Site For You
When I started the site, I had one guiding principle. Post good content, something you are passionate about and really believe in, and everything else will follow.
At the time, I wasn’t sure what “everything else” was but it seemed like posting good, passionate, honest content was the North Star to guide me, especially if I was going to spend a lot of hours I didn’t think I had to figure out what cycling gear to get next and where to get it. That became the site’s goal (and tagline) when I wrote my first post after trashing my rear wheel in a crash years ago and found no informed and independent source to guide me to the best replacement for the kind of riding I was doing and the amount I was able to budget.
It turns out that “everything else” is a heck of a lot including:
* Selecting and sourcing the gear to write about.
* Evaluating it myself and getting complementary views from fellow testers like Nate, Moose, and others.
* Developing and keeping to a consistent writing approach.
* Focusing only on what should matter to road cyclists, answering the questions you and I as enthusiasts and shoppers really want to know, and being full of analysis and comparisons without being full of myself.
* Not only writing 10,000 or so word reviews, but editing them, taking photos to illustrate them, creating graphics to simplify them, and doing a bunch of other little things to get each post out the right way.
* Researching, posting, and keeping current links to stores that have first-rate customer satisfaction, great enthusiast level selection, and the best prices on all the gear I’ve written about across all of the current posts.
* Appealing to some of those stores to give you and other readers special discounts and the site commissions so that reader purchases can fund some of the gear I buy for reviews and help cover the costs of operating the site.
* Getting the word out about each post and the site so somebody other than me might get some benefit from what I’ve learned.
* Answering the many good questions and comments that come in every day from readers trying to make big decisions.
* Learning how to create and maintain a website, write some code, and get posts listed in search engines.
* Publishing enough reviews to give you the sense that you can always turn to the site for the range of things you tell me you are likely to want to know about from your comments and answers to the embedded surveys.
* Finding the time to do all of this in the midst of family and work and training while staying passionate about it and not letting it become another job.
To do all the above and make the site better for you and me, I’ve been targeting the following improvements this year.
1. Post more frequently – I’m trying to give you two new or updated category-wide reviews each month from April through September and perhaps one in other months. It’s not always going to happen but that’s the goal. I’m also using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram more to tell you and show you photos of what we’re testing as new gear comes in and share reviews I’ve just posted or remind you of ones that have been well received.
2. Review more categories – Expanding the range and depth of gear and kit reviews is another thing I’ve been doing this year and am planning to do more. For example, I added a review of tubeless tires to my prior review of tubed ones. While I had done a review of wheels for road disc bikes in 2016 and 2017, that one is gone and I’ve replaced it with a new one on road disc wheelset upgrades and another on mid-depth carbon disc wheelsets.
The first ever review I did on cycling GPS units telling you why I switched to the Wahoo Element Bolt from the Garmin 520 GPS unit was well received judging from your comments. I did my first review of road bike pedals earlier this year and one on choosing between Shimano Di2, SRAM eTap, mechanical vs. electronic, 10 speed vs. 11 for rim and disc brake groupsets late last fall. Etc.,
3. Add “how to decide” reviews – Despite writing cycling reviews I believe are more in-depth and comparative than others you can find elsewhere and making recommendations of the best performing and best value gear and kit in most every category, I still have readers asking me what I recommend for them in their situation. Much as I’m interested in seeing only happy roadies, there’s not enough time in the day to make personal recommendations and still put out this site and have a life.
My solution is to provide you the cycling equivalent of posts that help you learn to fish rather than deliver a caught, prepared, and cooked one to your door. There is now a post up that will help you choose road wheels that are best for you based on your own riding profile and another on how to choose and find a new bike based on your own fit dimensions and riding style.
As always, I learned a whole lot about wheels and bikes putting together these reviews and I think you can too.
4. Build the In The Know Cycling team – Fellow testers Nate and Moose are adding a lot to both the number and relevance of reviews we’re doing on the site. Nate is Cat 3 fast enthusiast racer and group leader and Moose is big and strong with a lot of road cycling experience in his back pocket. I’m way slower than Nate and less powerful than Moose. Together we get more done and bring a mix of perspective on gear that likely fits the broad range of you who read the site.
It’s hard to find people like these two who have the passion, analytical mind, and curiosity, let alone are willing to make the time to critically evaluate gear just for the enjoyment of doing it, ie., no pay! They are great teammates. I’m on the lookout for others to join the team and add to what we are doing.
5. Remind you of how this all works – You may have noticed that I’m quite upfront and transparent about how we – meaning both you and me – make the site possible. Quite simply, it only works and will continue through the support of the commissions that come back to the site when a) you buy bikes, gear, kit, accessories or anything else using the links to the cycling stores I put up in the sidebar and reviews (here’s a current list) or b) you buy anything at all through these links to eBay and Amazon, or c) you make a simple contribution to the site thru this link. The money that comes back covers the gear, review and site costs.
In the WHY TRUST THIS SITE AND MY RECOMMENDATIONS section of each major post, I lay out the model in more detail and tell you why it’s a good deal for you – saves you time and money without costing you anything extra – beyond providing you useful reviews and recommendations in an ad-free environment and with a fellow enthusiast’s focus.
You also may have seen this box I’ve dropped in many posts this year:
In The Know Cycling supports you by doing hours of independent and comparative analysis to find and recommend the best road cycling gear and kit to improve your riding experience.
You support the site and save yourself money and time by buying the gear we’ve reviewed through the links to stores we’ve picked based on their low prices and high customer satisfaction ratings. Some of these stores pay a commission to the site which we re-invest to create more reviews.
I hate to have to remind you of this all the time but, if I don’t and if you don’t buy some of what you need through the links or make contributions, the site won’t happen. It’s that simple.
6. Attract More Readers – Another way to do all the things I’m trying to do to improve the site is to get more readers to discover it, benefit from it, and join you in supporting it. With a larger number of readers buying gear through the store links or making contributions, I can buy more gear and do more and better reviews while remaining independent, ad-free and clear of potential industry conflicts and bias.
I’m learning about and using new tools to help readers find the site and our reviews on topics they are searching for. I’m also working to more regularly and efficiently reach out to you and new readers who sign up for e-mail notifications, RSS feeds, and social media posts.
You can help me spread the word to new readers or whatever the digital equivalent of that is called today. If you are a fan of the site or see posts you think others would benefit from reading, share it with your cycling friends through all the digital tools you have. Help In The Know Cycling “go viral” or at least reach the people you know and the ones they know that would benefit from what we are doing here.
7. Write Better Reviews – So I end this list where I started the site. I’m always thinking about and working on how to make the content I post for you better. I edit each review multiple times before posting it until I can’t bear reading it anymore and then edit it again a couple months later. I’ve added a section at the beginning of most reviews that give you the list of headlines summarizing what you need to know about the post topic. You can then click on any of those headlines and go straight to the place in the review that details what’s behind it.
Because I know you’d rather be riding than reading, I’m also putting more and more recommendations up front rather than building to them after first telling you about product developments in the category, what matters in choosing between the gear or kit I’ve evaluated, how I did my testing and other things I think are relevant to making my recommendations.
I’ve also tried to write short-form reviews and broken up long ones into multiple installments. (Neither have gone over very well.) I put in more charts for those of us who are visual learners and am willing to try other review components and formats that would work better for you.
One of the benefits of posting on the Internet is that you can write long, more comprehensives pieces than could be published in the print magazine format (remember those). In a long-form review, I can deal with a lot more of the questions I have and anticipate many of you will want to be answered in one place before making a purchase decision. I believe this is far better than a cyclist spending hours clicking around the web going from site to site, each with a different approach to reviews, commercial motivation, and varying depth and quality of analysis.
At the bottom of this post, there’s a short survey I hope you’ll take to give me your ideas on how to write better reviews a deliver a better site that will help you even more than how I’m doing it today. You can skip to it by clicking here or get to it after reading the next couple of sections. I’m open to considering any idea you want to offer.
What Reviews You’ll See Coming Up Soon
I’ve written and updated a lot of category-wide and comparative reviews already this year that I hope have provided a lot of value to you and your fellow cyclists. There are links to some of those above and you can always go to the home page to see the latest reviews.
But like any rider or cycling fan, I can’t live off of what I did in my last event that helped deliver the result I wanted (or didn’t). Instead, I need to focus on what’s ahead and train, sleep and eat with that ride, event or stage in mind.
Right now, we’re working on three new posts and have two others in the planning stages behind them.
The next review you’ll see is a one about the best aero road helmets. Most of these look and cool your head the way any other road helmet does but they can save you nearly as much time as a set of aero wheels but for a lot less money.
I last did a review of this category was in 2015. Seven of the 10 helmets I’m evaluating now have been introduced since then. Fortunately, at least for testing purposes, it’s been crazy hot and humid where I live the last few weeks so I’ve been really able to evaluate how well these helmets vent my head (and how many bottles of water I can drink on 90F+ days) in addition to considering a dozen other criteria to rate them.
We are also in the midst of reviewing the new wave of all-around carbon clincher wheels for rim brake bikes in the 40mm to 50mm deep range. While that dimension has only changed a little amongst the wheelsets in this category, they have gotten much wider (from 17C to 19C and 21C) and are featuring more aerodynamic rim profiles, and in some cases, new hubs. All of that along with most now being tubeless ready has really switched up the field.
Before the end of the summer, I’m also hoping to update our Best Carbon Disc Wheelset review which I first published only last fall. This category is moving so fast with new entries from Zipp, Reynolds, Mavic, Bontrager, Boyd, and Hunt, some of which I’m testing already and all of which I hope to compare to the DT Swiss, ENVE, Fulcrum, and Roval wheelsets in this category I wrote about in the earlier review.
I’m also sorting through a long list and have begun evaluating carbon wheelsets for rim brake bikes that sell for $1000 to $1500 to give you an idea of what kind of performance you can expect for that price. Finally, I’m working on a new review of road cycling shoes with stiff soles and two BOA dials for the best combination of performance and comfort we roadies can get for our feet.
So, a lot on the plate now. Better end this here before my wife starts giving me that look for committing to more than I can pull off and do everything else I’m supposed to be doing around the house.
Real Deals On Gear and Kit Worth Taking A Look At
Beyond shopping for what you need, every now and then there are deals on things you may want that make it hard to pass up. I try to separate the regular discounts and clearance sales from those that are unusually good on current gear and kit I’ve reviewed and recommended and discounts that are storewide without too many exclusions.
These are what I call the Real Deals. Here is a handful of those I see now.
As always you can get 10% off most of those items that never go on sale (and also many of those that do) thanks to exclusive deals I’ve worked out for In The Know Cycling readers with the Power Meter City and Tredz if you use the code ITK10 at checkout. There are some exclusions.
If you are looking for a new bike and have read my post on how to buy bikes online, there are some great deals out there now.
If you live in the UK or Europe, Tredz has its own 30% deal now on road bikes from Specialized, Giant, Felt, Cannondale, Bianchi, Wilier, and others. Chain Reaction Cycles also has a spend and save 15% ($300/£150), 20% ($600/£300) or 30% ($1200/£600) deal going on for road, mountain or commuting bikes.
If you’ve never bought at Chain Reaction Cycles or Wiggle before, they’ve got a save $20 on $100 purchase deal going on for new customers. Use the code SUMMERSAVE at CRC and SUMMER23 at Wiggle to get the discount. That’s a nice discount if you want to pick up a new jersey or pair of bibs (my latest review of the best ones is here) or a pair of tires, a chain, a new cassette or some other things you might soon need.
All of these stores are in the top 5 of my online bike store rankings based on their prices, customer satisfaction ratings, selection. and support to In The Know Cycling readers.
You can always check in the box under the rotating photos on the site’s homepage called DEALS AND DISCOUNTS FOR IN THE KNOW CYCLING READERS for the latest …uh… deals and discounts for In The Know Cycling readers! I also regularly update the list of recommended stores who have the best prices on each piece of gear I’ve recommended in the right-hand column on every page of the site as well in the reviews themselves.
Give Me Your Feedback and Suggestions, Please!
Despite all of the activity and plans I’ve written about above, I’m very open to and looking for your ideas on how to give you better content and a better site. I’m willing to consider most anything as long as I can pull it off while remaining focused on your needs and those of fellow enthusiasts and staying independent of ads and commercial interests.
Here’s the link to the In The Know Cycling Reader Survey – 2018 where you can answer a few multiple choice questions and add specific comments. The digital survey “genius” that looked at this one estimates 89% of you who start it will finish it and it will take you an average of 4 minutes to complete it.
If that and all the good you’ll be doing for the site isn’t motivation enough to complete the survey, you can also enter at the end of it for a chance to win $100, £100 or €100 to spend at your favorite cycling store.
You in? Thanks.
Also feel free to add comments below in addition to whatever you say in the survey. Perhaps it will get others thinking.
That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. I look forward to your feedback and support of the site. Enjoy your next and every ride safely.