The Declining Value of Bike Reviews….

Over the last year it’s seemed to me that “professional” bike reviews are of less value almost by the month. Magazines, Websites, Semi-professional blogs are giving you less and less conclusive reviews – particularly from the point of helping a potential buyer find a winner from a short list.

Some reviewers are so pleased to be offered the chance to review a bike that they aren’t going to rock the boat and say anything “controversial” as far as the bike companies marketing/pr departments are concerned. It’s too much like biting that hand that’s been kind enough to feed them in the first place.

Some magazines remove the chance to really assess the relative merits of a group of bikes by selecting a group that a “real” purchaser would never consider together – so again the conclusions are worthless unless taken in isolation and even then they won’t help because those points of difference are against bikes that don’t naturally fit together and therefore don’t provide a good comparison.

I think it’s time for “professional” reviewers to look again and what us the buying public do when we look for a bike. I think it’s also time that the bike companies consider that more honest and challenging reviews will help buyers make better and happier decisions about their products.

The reviews must be fair though and have an objective in mind rather than just a review on its own. I did see an online review from a major bike website that was particularly harsh on a bike recently. The reviewers issue was really with the wheels but they scored the bike badly because of the wheels. In my opinion they should have tried the bike with better wheels to more fairly assess the bike overall. Why didn’t they? Who knows. So absolutely – it cuts both ways and it must do.

The review process in my mind must support the buying process which to me is relatively simple: we work out the kind of level and usage we want from a bike, we work out a potential budget, we look around for deals on our favourite brands, and most likely throw in some new/interesting brands we don’t know so well and put a long list together.  

Once you have some experience of cycling, I believe that you’ll also more often than not have a number of frame only candidates in your short/long list. It’s very easy to find the cheapest suppliers of groupsets and wheels on the web – so you can quickly see how much you can save by going frame only and building a bike. Some of these options will no doubt be on your shortlist. My own mental shortlist no longer has any complete bikes on it.

I’ve yet to see a review anywhere recognise this blindingly obvious consumer choice.

At this point we’ll look for reviews on the web, in magazines, in bike forums. But so many bikes haven’t actually been reviewed.

As a former marketer and PR guy I appreciate the merits of trying to keep on message and where possible controlling the media to suit my brand’s purposes – but consumers aren’t stupid and we are making comparisons to other brands. So frankly this approach is counter-productive and I think it’s negative for both reviewers and manufacturers.

Not having truly helpful reviews is doing the cycling industry a dis-service. One of my favourite car Magazines for years had a directory section called the good, bad and the ugly where they put every car on sale in one of the three categories. All cars still sold, but buyers had a laugh whether or not they agreed with the assessment.

I think it’s time, the bike industry took a similar approach and embraced the differences between brands and help with more open and honest discussions of one bike versus another. So many other industries do this well – why can’t the cycling industry get it right? It’s a basic sales and marketing operation.

There are a lot of choices out there and we want more useful information to help choose between brands and between models within a brand. I don’t believe reviews are helping as much as they should – we need more useful information today.

Obviously, I’m up for writing reviews on bikes – so if you’d like me to put my money where my mouth is and write a responsible yet helpful review – please get in touch and we can let the readers decide how good the review is and get their ideas on making them more helpful for buyers. 

If you’d like to join the debate, please send me your comments or post about this on your favourite internet forum. I think it’s an issue that merits a wider debate.

Thanks for reading