Here at Dotbike it can be like working in a sweetshop. Lots of shiny stuff passes under our noses, some tempting, some not so tempting. We all ride bikes, we all use stuff and none of us are rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Over the years we've noticed the things people buy and the things we rate and buy regularly differ. Seven years ago when I came to work here the review recommendations of a certain cycling magazine really meant something, a five star review for a product we listed meant an instant increase in sales. It had been ridden in the wild by cyclists and the reviews came from the heart of the reviewer. I’m sure they still do, but the review items are bolted to review bikes ridden on strictly planned tests by that well known individual “We.”
The collective group-speak that is "We" doesn't compare and contrast has no personal opinion or come from a position. To be fair magazines are expensive things to get on the street and are wholly dependent on advertising revenue. So, after a few years of raging against the man they realise that the mortgage needs paying, the kids need feeding and a little pragmatism is required. As circulation grows, so does the amount of stuff coming through the door for review. Suppliers demand an even playing field so a system is devised where a number of salient points are covered on each product by every reviewer so an average view can be ascertained. So what you get is more accurately described as a comparison than a review.
“We” also has the problem that on the whole, kit just works. Take half a dozen rear lights, chosen for their price points and brightness. There won’t be a lot between them so you’re down to does the bracket work, is the switch a faff and is it reliable. Our two best selling rear lights highlight the problem “We” has. The Topeak Redlight Mega sold in huge numbers in the early part of the winter. The Smart Lunar R1 is £10 cheaper, just as bright with variable modes, we have had a similar number of returns (less than 1%) on both yet the Topeak has sold seven times as many. It’s dominance in the winter was only toppled when a drastic price change on the Smart R2 blew it off the top spot. I thought the reviews of these would show the bare facts stripped of feeling, which for the Topeak, on the whole, is true. However, the Smart R1 hasn’t been reviewed since 2010 and the R2 since 2011 both with excellent coverage. There is a fair amount of talk on forums on the R2 and we all know what a nightmare asking for opinions on forums can be. You end up with as many contradictory comments and options as humanly possible. So a recent review does seem to shift numbers.
"Where is all this going?" you ask, presuming anyone got this far. Well, magazine reviews/comparisons obviously get the brand name out there and readers get a rational comparison of like with like and appear to take notice of them. More traditional reviewers who get to put their name at the bottom give a point of view but do they get read. Chris Juden in Cycle Magazine has a wealth of experience both technical and cycling and in my experience has as many supporters as detractors. When he name dropped us in a reply to a letter in the magazine, sales of a certain brake calliper and cable hanger went through the roof. The difference is it’s a personal review with opinions and arguments not a comparison piece. Personally I prefer a review where someone has put their name at the bottom, for me that gives it some credibility. Over time the reviewers name and angle become obvious and you can take it as someone’s opinion not a committee piece. Like or loathe the writers opinions if they are fair and can back up their view then all well and good.
What I thought I’d do is opine about some of the stuff we use and sell. It will be a personal view and the stuff will have been in long term use. Hopefully it will at least start a discussion, my head says only the spell-checker and I have read this far and will ever comment. In the unlikely event of being given stuff to review, I will make it perfectly clear but it will still have been used as the rest of our kit is, unless otherwise stated we will have paid with our own cash.