EDITORIAL

What’s Fair as a Bike Reviewer?

Words Andrew Major
Date May 11, 2016

I recently had a headset bearing explode on me. Explode. It wasn’t a failure in the same way your 2 am bathroom break after a night of suicide wings and cheap draft didn’t involve a ‘bowel movement’. Explode-Explode.

The bike was very new. There was no reason the headset bearing should have failed. I was a ways from home.

I carry a large tool roll in my backpack. I’m not just unfashionable when it comes to my choice of shorts; I’m porting zip ties, quick links, a few common replacement bolts (M5, M6, Chainring), a mini pump, an equivalent-to-full-size Park Tool CT-6 series chain tool, Leatherman, Park Tool MT-30 multi tool, and after having to borrow a shock pump from my friend Jaclyn when a test shock sucked itself down to 50% sag, I generally have one of those too. What? No extra headset bearings? What can I say? I never went in for the Scouts.

I carry a lot of tools; even Park Tool’s MT-30 multi-tool, my CT-6 chain-tool, and a Leatherman can’t solve all the problems that deep bicycle maintenance will prevent. Pop the seals and re-grease your headset bearings from new. For the record: no problems with the bearings in this Jekyll.

Does your multi-tool have a T-30 Torx key? Does your bike use Torx bolts to hold the chainrings on? I check my chainring bolts before most rides & I’ve never needed a T-30 on the trail myself, but I’ve lent it out a few times.

There was nothing in my pack that was going to save me. Out with the multi-tool, tighten the headset until I’m worried the alloy headset bolt might pop, and pedal home on the road thankful for the full width bar that allows me to wrench my wheel side to side in ~5-degree increments (I guess you could call it ‘steering’ but that’s not what it felt like).

Super juicy review fodder right? Rabble, Rabble! RABBLE!

It’s not quite that simple though. We are talking about one of the most commonly spec’d headsets/bearings on performance road and mountain bikes ranging from mid-level to 10k+ wunderbikes. Its likely on more than 50% of the bikes 3k and up on your local shop’s floor and I’ve sold and serviced hundreds of bikes with this headset in my time in the bike industry. I’ve never seen one do this.

I’ve seen bikes with this bearing so rusted it takes a significant twist of the bar to break them loose at which point, pitted to the point of indexing as they may be, you could still ride the bike to your local shop to pick up a replacement ~$20 bearing. But I’ve never seen one do this.

What’s more fair? Mention the bearing and potentially have it read as a black mark against the bike in question – not the bike in any of the photos in this post for the record – or write it off as a rare occurrence, replace it with the same/same and move on with riding bikes?

And all this has me thinking: what is more fair?

10/10 bikes come with no grease on the rear thru-axle. Better to take it out and grease it at home then figure out how to remove a seized axle in the pissing rain while your riding ‘friends’ heckle you?

When I buy a bike for myself I build the bike for myself. It gets stripped to the frame. Every bearing cover, bottom bracket, suspension pivots, headsets, hubs where accessible gets popped and bearings get re-greased. Brakes are always bled before they are ridden. Axles are greased. Bolts gets grease, Loctite, or Anti-Seize depending on the application. If the cables and housing are cheap junk they get replaced with Shimano 4 mm mated with Wheels Manufacturing machined housing ferrules. You get the picture.

When I get a bike to review I do a bolt check and brake lever squeeze to make sure I’m not going to be killed by whoever put it together. I put base settings in the suspension, air up the tires and maybe swap the stem/bar to optimize the fit. Time to ride! You get the picture.

Let’s say I get a flat on the trail on a test bike and I can’t remove the rear axle because it is seized. Is that an issue with the bike? What if the stealth dropper post cable wasn’t tightened properly in the frame and part way through the ride I’m experiencing #10 on Cam’s list of MtB Dork-Ups?

The bike develops a creak in the bottom bracket in short order that is easily resolved by removal, grease, re-install. Is that just maintenance or is it worthy of some black on white in a final review?

Should I rebuild the bike as I would my own, and limit the possibility of experiencing these issues OR ride the bike as I assume most riders do and report on issues I would never experience if the bike was my own? These are some of the questions I find myself asking every time I saddle up a review bike.


Should test bikes be built the way most are ridden?

Trending on NSMB

Comments

david
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David  - May 15, 2016, 5:35 a.m.

Yes, it is absolutely worthy of a black mark. So many bikes are great nowadays, earning excellent to outstanding ratings, that some of the most significant differentiators are the finer details regarding the finishing. Ungreased and seized components, parts not properly fastened, and properly installed cabling are aside from the manufacture of a frame the only other thing that a turnkey bike company brings to the table. All other parts that are strapped to a frame are supplied by someone else and as a consumer we rely upon the bike company to have the proper quality mechanisms in place to asure a safe and reliable build.

More so, the bearing failure you experienced could be indicative of a problem more significant such as eccentricity or angular misalignment of the bearing seats within the frame and could be indicative of a problem wiLe a bike manufacturers core competencies….the actual manufacture of the frame. Given your empirical evidence of said headset it isn't a leap of logic to consider the afformentioned.

So should you rebuild a bike completely for a bike review? In my mind, heck no. A complete bike that is dialed and ready to rock should be the target deliverable for all highend bikes. It isn't a matter of should you rebuild but a matter of should you need to. As a reader and consumer I want to know every flaw that can be expected that exists at the design, quality, part selection, and supply chain level and I appreciate reviews that acknowledge all problems and provide more thoughtful analysis than how the suspension feels or the new improved super long reach geometry of a bike….

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doug-nielsen
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Doug Nielsen  - May 14, 2016, 11:05 a.m.

It's all part of the bike in my opinion. All is fair in love and bikes…

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jerryek
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Jerryek  - May 13, 2016, 10:02 a.m.

I have a general question about reviews. When you guys do a bike review, is the company sending you the bike to ride for a few days, weeks, indefinitely? Do you review things you own personally? And with components. do you keep a personal bike you use as a tester for things that companies send you? And is it typically just a single reviewer? Or do you compare notes with other people at NSMB who also have tried the product?

This article made me curious about how the process works. As someone who spends way too much time reading gear reviews, I never really thought to ask how these reviews are done.

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drewm
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DrewM  - May 13, 2016, 8:22 p.m.

Hi Jerryek,

I'll speak to my experience personally but really Cam/Pete would be best equipped to answer your question on behalf of NSMB.com testers in general.

It would be very rare that a review would be done after a few days (a couple of rides) and most of the bikes I have had have been around for at least a few months. Sometimes I'll get a chance to grab a ride on someone else's test bike and I may have something to contribute to their review (that they may/may not use) but generally you are reading one person's experience.

There are some specific products, like the Di2 ThunderVolt ( ) where reviews take longer specifically because more than one person is trying to build a full experience on the bike (an experience worth writing about), and then compare notes, and then figure out what changes would dial in the ride etc…

I've never reviewed anything I own with the exception of my top-5-for-15 ( ) which are all things I own and personally recommend. I'm not sure if it's un-smurf-y or not to review your own stuff. I do have my own personal bike that I test a lot of components on. Just as an example, the Mavic wheels I tested spent the winter on my bike () and I'd even hazard to guess that the preamble to that review may answer some of your question.

I'm currently testing a Renthal chain ring (M8000 compatible). The 1x chain retention of the ring is absolutely awesome and very well documented so rather than do "just another narrow/wide chainring review" talking about how great it is, I put it on my personal torture machine and I'm going to ride it into the ground and compare it to other chainrings I've used in terms of longevity. Sneak peak: so far I haven't managed to wear through the anodizing on the teeth (which is surprising as that's usually a couple-of-weeks affair) and the teeth all still have their profile so when it comes to four-bolt N/W rings it would be pretty hard to go wrong.

Other times, like these pedals: , it's pretty easy to know what you're going to say within a couple of good rides.

On an entirely personal note, I'm very -- maybe overly -- self aware that I'm a very critical/cynical/skeptical person so I always try to engage some kind of feedback loop with any product I've tested whether other NSMB.com reviewers have experience with it or not. For example, even before I mounted up Schwable's ProCore system I engaged a few mechanics -- more skilled/experienced than myself -- and a few riders -- more skilled/experienced/brave than myself -- and checked out/participated in any threads on bb.nsmb.com to try and build an expectation for what the product would/could do so I had some check/measure against my own experiences.

I hope that is helpful!

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chad-self
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Chad Self  - Sept. 9, 2016, 9:36 a.m.

I don't have a problem holding back on points that might taint an otherwise excellent product. Bad reviews can be extremely expensive, and are especially costly to smaller manufacturer.

It's one thing to point out that the seals on a certain fork line seem to be experiencing a high volume of failures, or a ratchet strap from a certain shoe-maker ripped off of two test units within 3 months of riding; it's quite another to note that a bearing exploded unexpectedly in a product that uses the same basic components as others with nary a failure in years.

The only reason to note it, imho, is to observe how the company responded to the failure, and how quickly.

The second-most interesting thing about the article is that it could easily be seen as a commercial for a certain Park utility tool.

Cheers!

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drewm
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DrewM  - Sept. 9, 2016, 9:51 a.m.

Very well articulated/fleshed out explanation of what I assumed would be most people's view points. Thanks!

To the second most interesting point, I fear an article without photos is a non-starter and that's what's in my pack. I like that the MT-30 has a T-25 & T-30 and doesn't include a crappy chain breaker (as I've noted a few places I love using Park's CT-6 series) aside from that it's a brick that's good enough to use for trail side repairs. I go back and forth between carrying it and just a nice set of separate Bondhus Allen Keys + T25 + T30 because they are much more pleasant to use.

From Topeak to Crank Brothers to Park and places in between I've never come across a multi-tool I love (or even really like).

Apologies if it came across as subliminal advertising!

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drewm
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DrewM  - May 13, 2016, 8:39 p.m.

I have a question for you, and generally for anyone interested in replying.

Do you read bike reviews more for the entertainment/interest value or to help decide on future purchases?

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andy
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Andy  - May 12, 2016, 7:47 p.m.

Seems like the simple solution would be to run through your personal bike assembly routine, noting any egregious issues as a preface to the review. Then write a review primarily on how the bike performs, adding notes regarding any out of the ordinary mechanical issues when necessary.

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drewm
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DrewM  - May 12, 2016, 7:57 p.m.

Who do you think you are, the voice of reason?!

Thanks Andy!

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jerryek
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Jerryek  - May 12, 2016, 1:40 p.m.

This is a very valid question.

When I read a review, I tend to focus on the stuff that is important and unchangeable: geometry, suspension, frame design, etc. Grips, bars, saddle, etc aren't that important, since they are subjective and easy to replace. I also tend to build bikes custom, and this try to filter out info accordingly. But many people do things differently, and not everyone weighs pros/cons the same. I don't personally care about bottle mounts much, since I use a pack, but am interested if a frame has a threaded bb (yay!) or internal cable routing (meh, especially brake lines). I also tend to swap components a lot, so compatibility and changing standards is something I'm concerned about, but others might not care much. Any reader should be able to prioritize information.

Accounting for rare events is more problematic. The headset example is a good one, as your experience is highly unlikely to occur for most people. King or Cane Creek bbs work great 99% of the time. But what if it's a frame or component that is new to the market? This is especially difficult since the response from the manufacturer is ALWAYS the same: "this was a preproduction version, and the ones we sell are way better!" But….sometimes companies do fix things right after release and address initial weaknesses. And even really good products can have production failures. I've had a a reverb post and set of Shimano brakes that were lemons, but know that these products are, in general, quite reliable compared to competitors. In both cases, the replacements worked great. But as a tester who spends a limited time with a product, how do you know?

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drewm
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DrewM  - May 12, 2016, 4:32 p.m.

Thanks Jerryek; great points.

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craw
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Cr4w  - May 12, 2016, 8:09 a.m.

Can't you do both? Prep the new test bike as you would for any bike in your stable but include all the factory assembly fails. I'm not even sure how much of that information would be fair to share. Of course some brands' bikes come out of the box in great shape, nearly ready to ride. But there are plenty that need a ton of work to become showroom-ready - but how often do bike shops share this information with the consumer?

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blackbird
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tw  - May 12, 2016, 8:34 a.m.

There are reviews like this, maybe Pinkbike? Bike check with each component of note is evaluated and praised/criticized.

I think a review followed by a component assessment (if there is any of note) helps to add balance.

……and a riders size (weight, height) should be included. A buck and a half rider has a different impact on equipment than my svelt 217.

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drewm
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DrewM  - May 12, 2016, 8:43 a.m.

Just an interesting aside re. rider weight. In my experience working in shops, if we are talking about two riders that are charging equally hard (lets say they are racing DH) and I had to guess who destroyed more parts based on only one physical characteristic I'd go with whoever had the shorter inseam.

The relative difference of 180lbs vs. 220lbs with today's manufacturing isn't really notable aside from suspension setup. But the options a rider with short legs and short arms has in terms of maneuvering a bike through steep terrain are very different. Not saying he's not smooth, but look at Sam Hill's line choices vs. say Greg Minnaar.

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drewm
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DrewM  - May 12, 2016, 9:12 a.m.

I don't think it's a matter of what's fair to share… but imagine poor Cam sitting down to edit a 10,000 word review where I wax poetic for four paragraphs about the glory of using Loctite on the threads of suspension pivot bolts but grease on the shoulder (ensuring the two don't touch) for best long term performance.

What was the bed in process to ensure the best performance from the stock pads/rotors?

Does anyone want to read that I re-routed all the cables because the stock routing drove me nuts?

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0
mevp  - May 12, 2016, 9:23 a.m.

Yes! Those details about how to set up a bike are a lot more interesting than a review. All reviews kind of read the same. It climbs great, descends even better. Give us something we can learn from like routing details, how to properly lube a bolt.

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zigak
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ZigaK  - May 12, 2016, 9:38 a.m.

that's the old reviews, the new improved ones say that all of them say that, but it it is in fact true for the bike in question

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dodge-lancaster
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Dodge Lancaster  - May 13, 2016, 1:42 p.m.

"Does anyone want to read that I re-routed all the cables because the stock routing drove me nuts?"

Absolutely!

Anything that is great or crappy about a bike should be part of the review, which definitely includes the factory setup. I'm fairly new to the sport and never gave a 2nd thought to cabling thinking that the factory had it all in hand… turns out in under a year I've got dents wearing through my seat stay, rear dropout and linkage and one of the cables rubbed clean through the housing of another! This is the attention to detail that can set one brand apart from another, or at least inform the readers of the review that that something is amiss

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drewm
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DrewM  - May 13, 2016, 8:26 p.m.

Thanks David,

There has been a lot of similar feedback, so I will definitely endeavour to incorporate little tips/mods/etc into reviews going forward.

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dodge-lancaster
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Dodge Lancaster  - May 18, 2016, 9:13 a.m.

Cheers Drew. Tips and mods are always fun to read about but I was more suggesting that factory made gripes and niggles be mentioned in the review, just like any small finishing touches that show great attention to detail - ever seen a stock bike where they just nailed the cable routing? It's probably indicative of thoughtful design that might permeate through the entire build…

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cam@nsmb.com
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Cam McRae  - May 12, 2016, 9:35 a.m.

Are you volunteering to be our personal mechanic?

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craw
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Cr4w  - May 12, 2016, 1:14 p.m.

I can safely say that @DrewM is a better and more thorough mechanic than I!

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Vikb
+1 Andrew Major
Vik Banerjee  - May 12, 2016, 7:50 a.m.

It's like a reporter doing a profile on a public figure…if something comes to light that's unflattering, but you think it's not typical of them or there is an explanation that casts them in a better light you don't decide to cover it up. You report it objectively with whatever background information you think is pertinent for your readers to have the necessary context to understand the situation. At least that's what you do if you are a credible journalist.

I don't see it any different for a bike review. I expect you to report what happened from the time you got the bike until you got rid of it. If the HS bearing blew up on ride #2 tell me. You can also tell me that's a really unusual incident and it almost never happens, is not the fault of the bike company and would be quickly dealt with by the LBS under warranty.

If you start omitting stuff because you want to "craft" the right narrative for the review I call BS. That's not journalism that's creative writing. It's also insulting to your readers because implicit in the action is the fact you don't think we can handle the truth. It's a slippery slope that might start with good intentions, but once it's okay to omit critical events from a review it's hard to have faith that the reviews don't end up as marketing spew.

The connection between advertising and reviews is already too cozy so I really don't think doing anything that further assaults the credibility of a review is a smart move.

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cam@nsmb.com
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Cam McRae  - May 12, 2016, 9:34 a.m.

That wasn't really the question Vik - nor the point of the article. The question was whether Andrew should have built the bike up the way he normally does, which would have prevented this mishap, or whether he should have left it as it is normally built for the consumer.

Of course it would be mentioned. In fact it's already been mentioned. It's the larger question at issue here that Andrew felt was worth discussing. Even when there is an anomalous failure on a bike we add it to the review - and make it clear that it seems to be an outlier. That's the way we've always done it and we'll continue to do so. Drew's point about mentioning it is that it would be unfair to draw broad conclusions about the bike or component spec because of this event.

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steveo
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SteveO  - May 12, 2016, 10:51 a.m.

Cam, the article above is so filled with "do we include ___?" questions that Vik's confusion is perfectly understandable.

The simply fact that NSMB doesn't already have protocol in place for situations like this says a lot about your testing process. Establish some base rules, stick to them, be consistent, and provide clarity for readers along the way.

I do get a kick out of how many articles and comments editors at NSMB seem to write about how their tests are better, blah blah blah. If that's the case, why do you have to keep justifying it? Maybe they aren't? Food for thought.

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cam@nsmb.com
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Cam McRae  - May 12, 2016, 11:06 a.m.

We already have a protocol. Tell everything that happened that is relevant (any failure is relevant) and tell the truth. Who has written that our tests are 'better?' I don't recall that happening - but I'm sure you have the reference to back that up.

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Vikb
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Vik Banerjee  - May 12, 2016, 11:41 a.m.

I re-read the article and the comments I made relate to points raised by the article - whether that's what the intention was or not. It's certainly not clear that the only point/question you are trying to make is whether to re- build before a review or not.

To that question I'd say it should be ridden as delivered unless there are safety concerns. If it comes as a pile of parts build it up how you would a frame up build [just mention that in the review] and if it just needs the bars turned, front wheel attached and some air in the tires/suspension ride it that way.

If a company sends you a review bike that's in poor shape or was assembled correctly that's something I'd want to see in a review. A company that can't connect the dots is worth taking about even if they theoretically make a great product which once properly assembled is a reliable ride.

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drewm
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DrewM  - May 12, 2016, 12:06 p.m.

Hi Steve,

Thanks for the comment.

I'm not sure from your comment if you're trying to raise a point that legitimately concerns you about testing protocol or just stretching the content out to cover the framework of some past beef with NSMB or just some general dick measuring. Anyways, apologies if it is the former.

This was intended as a conversation starter and also as a personal check on my own opinions (and I think it's been successful) and I certainly didn't mean to imply -- and apologize for the lack of clarity of its been actually read as such -- that I was attempting to crowd source NSMB.coms protocols for reviews.

I thought Vik's post was interesting and I didn't think it was off point or off topic.

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yvr
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YVR  - May 12, 2016, 2:18 p.m.

Given the tagline on the NSMB website is 'Authentic mountain bike media …' you're implicitly stating a no-BS/marketing policy. Yet holes appear in that façade on a routine basis. Your readers call NSMB out on it and then suddenly the NSMB editors are filling up the comment columns in defense. The 'truth' is subjective and open to a wide variety of interpretation - so perhaps a spreadsheet approach would provide a bit of objectivity to the whole 'bike review' process.

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cam@nsmb.com
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Cam McRae  - May 12, 2016, 2:22 p.m.

Tell me about these holes so we can fill them. On a regular basis.

If you'd prefer a publication that doesn't respond to comments at all there are plenty of those for you to visit.

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yvr
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YVR  - May 12, 2016, 3:04 p.m.

Two straight up press releases from Santa Cruz, the Trek Farley EX makes you a 'jerk', the Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt/volt review is more about Di2 than the bike (which was heavily modified from stock) and Mavic wheels are somehow awesome despite the repeated hub failures. How many other media outlets have the editors in constant defense of their work? Read the critique, glean what you can and move on. Given NSMB income is based on advertising, I wouldn't be too aggressive at insulting the consumer base to save your ego.

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drewm
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DrewM  - May 12, 2016, 3:07 p.m.

Hi YVR, thanks for the comment/reading!

I've always, personally, enjoyed the constructive conversations that can take place in comments sections and have really enjoyed participating in responses to articles I've penned. I guess that could be perceived as being defensive (?) but it real is meant to be constructive.

There is definitely a huge subjective element in reviewing product and I certainly enjoy reading other rider's thoughtfully articulated experiences especially when they don't parrallel my own.

If the tag line is a goal to aim for is it a "facade" if a reviewer like myself doesn't achieve it to your standards?

I seem to get my fair share of thoughtless "you suck at riding bikes if X didn't happen with product Y" and "this was the WORST pos review I've EVER read" but it is rare that someone, like yourself, takes the time to flush out their concern/criticism so I'd be very interested if you have examples where/how I could do better.

My email address is linked at the top of the article if you prefer!

Thanks!

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cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - May 12, 2016, 5:52 p.m.

Insulted you? I guess you are sensitive - or maybe you think I offended someone else? Sorry if I offended either way.

I'd rather sacrifice profit than leave unsubstantiated insinuations of bias unaddressed. Maybe it's the Scotsman in me. But thanks for your concern about our business model and the advice. Interesting that you know so much about our income.

Now about those 'holes'…

1) Press releases disguised as press releases don't need filling. We judge them based on audience interest and post or ignore accordingly and never disguise them as editorial. We didn't post the release of the Sid recently as a result.

2) The Farley? Maybe that was a joke? We've never sold ads to Trek and I never denied being a jerk.

3) Andrew came to his own conclusions about the wheels. Should I have told him to be clearer about the failings he was already clear about? Should I have told him to change his conclusions? We don't work that way. Our reviewers are autonomous when it comes to their findings about products. Mavic has never advertised with us either.

4) We asked Rocky for the Thunderbolt frame because it was Di2 compatible and we wanted to test that. The first impressions piece we write before a review is always focussed on the spec because that allows us to focus on ride quality and performance in the final review. When we follow up with the full review we are going to modify the bike further. So you know. Interesting that this is a concern for you.

5) Have you considered that other media outlets, who often field criticisms like this more often than we do, don't defend them because they can't? We have cultivated an audience with the intelligence and awareness to question what they read. I include you in that group and I'm proud of our discerning audience. There are other outlets who have self-selected for an audience that wants to be mindlessly spoonfed regurgitated marketing speak disguised as editorial. They can have them.

I have no idea how any of these are 'holes' and I don't think it's widely perceived that our authenticity is a façade. It's not what we hear from people at all in fact - but I'm sure there are others who share your opinion.

I realize that it's difficult for a media representative to defend anything without looking like a douche, (despite Andrew doing this perfectly) but I'd rather look like a douche than have our integrity impugned anonymously and without substantial back up and leave it sitting there. I realize it's a character flaw but at least I have others to keep it company.

Speaking of integrity, your anonymous user name and reg. email makes me wonder if you work in the bike industry. Maybe even the media? But I'm sure you'll clear that up for us.

Thanks for engaging

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cam@nsmb.com
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Cam McRae  - May 14, 2016, 12:21 a.m.

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cam@nsmb.com
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Cam McRae  - May 14, 2016, 9:54 a.m.

Interesting. YVR has shut his account down. My hunch was correct and we know who YVR was. A strategy Donald Trump would be proud of!

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drewm
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DrewM  - May 12, 2016, 9:36 a.m.

Thanks Vik,

I totally agree re. journalistic Smurfiness -- I certainly didn't mean to phrase the question in terms of covering something up vs. being upfront and truthful. It doesn't do anyone favours (test writer, publication, readership, brands) to omit critical events or feedback in the long run as it assaults everyone's long term credibility as you note and as I think we are seeing in comments on reviews all over the internet.

How many times have you read, hopefully only in other publications, how much better a next generation product is than the previous and how it solves known issue A), B), and C), only to go back and look at a past review and find none of those issues mentioned?

Regarding the connection between advertising and reviews -- I think Maurice Tierney (Dirt Rag / Bicycle Times) has published the most interesting opinions on the separation of church and state ( ); however, I know from my conversations with Cam that it is a passionate subject of non-debate here at NSMB.com as well. There is no connection between my ability to write down what I experience with a product and NSMB selling advertising and if such a conflict is ever perceived I'd encourage you, or anyone, to bring it to light immediately so I can address it.

Back to the point on the headset bearing. If it's a headset review it obviously gets a mention even if it is a one-in-a-million incident. If I had a bike with mis-machined fork lowers that caused the stanchions to bind in the lower bushings (yes I know its a very specific general example) than that would absolutely bear mentioning as it would have to be taken care of by warranty before the bike could be properly reviewed and as those issues generally occur in production runs it would be a good thing for a rider to check out before they purchased the bike.

My question is, is it worthy to mention issues with a bike that would have been taken care of if it had been built "properly" (i.e. my opinion of "properly" if I was building my own bike) -- headset bearing without grease, axle stuck in frame because of a lack of grease, brakes that fade on the first ride because they needed a bleed out of the box, etc?

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Vikb
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Vik Banerjee  - May 12, 2016, 1:36 p.m.

I appreciate your perspective Drew.

"How many times have you read, hopefully only in other publications, how much better a next generation product is than the previous and how it solves known issue A), B), and C), only to go back and look at a past review and find none of those issues mentioned?"

Good point. This ^^^ has been one of my pet peeves over the years. 🙂

"My question is, is it worthy to mention issues with a bike that would have been taken care of if it had been built properly -- headset bearing without grease, axle stuck in frame because of a lack of grease, brakes that fade on the first ride because they needed a bleed out of the box, etc?"

To the above I'd say it if happens mention it. The company providing the bike is responsible for getting you a bike in a condition worthy to test. If for whatever reason they can't do that it's worth reporting. If they spec unreliable parts or don't QC check the test bike properly before you get it that's a failure. If a company can't get that right when a review is on the line why would we assume they'll get a paying customer's bike right who doesn't have the same voice?

It's reasonable for a customer that buys a bike from a LBS to get it and not have to strip and rebuild it before it works right.

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micah-markson
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Micah Markson  - May 13, 2016, 7:01 a.m.

The answer to this question, IMO, is yes, mention it. Because the vast majority of people are not going to build their bike "properly" so to speak. If a company makes awesome bikes but they all explode on the first ride because they weren't put together properly, and you don't mention it because if it were yours you would have regreased every nook and cranny, that would be a pretty big oversight.

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jt
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JT  - May 12, 2016, 6:47 a.m.

Bearing blowing up is an oddity. Manufacturing is a game of aiming for 100% functionality but accepting 99%. Things can go akimbo in materials, fabricating, and assembly. You know this though, proven by the diligence in disassembling and reassembling a new bike. We do much the same at the shop I moonlight at for all bike builds, from Trek 820's to $10K road bikes, and even that boxed up Pacific someone brings in from Wally World. Time consuming for sure, but we catch most things before they become an issue later on. With that, I'd say make an editor's note about it at the beginning of an article, something you can copy and paste, and then carry on.

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drewm
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DrewM  - May 12, 2016, 8:47 a.m.

Thanks JT.

I've worked at both kinds of shops myself. Do you think it's better to do the full rebuild, as your shop does, or to ride the bike out of the box as most (?) shops would put it together?

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jt
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JT  - May 12, 2016, 10:10 a.m.

I'd keep going the route you are. Let's be realistic about what manufacturers are sending you, dollar wise, in bikes for review. I can't think of a single good reason to not put the wrenches to a $2k+ bike. You don't need to go into super deep details about what you did, but a quick note that upon receiving the bike under went a disassemble/reassemble prior to review. I'm not talking suspension overhauls, but a quick double check on the bleed of the brakes (safety first!) and making sure everything was assembled correctly isn't a terrible thing to do.

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jt
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JT  - May 12, 2016, 10:15 a.m.

The headset failure could have been from over tightening at the factory assembling the bike, chipping a race. Not that anyone would have noticed, even during your reassembly. That one just isn't something anyone would really look for.

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ess-ay
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Ess Ay  - May 12, 2016, 2:14 a.m.

My two cents: nope. Failures caused by assembly are not bike failures, they're sloppy work by whoever put the bike together. Manufacturers have no control over these things, and these days parts are so good that failures are bad luck more than anything. As a reader, I want to know how the bike performs at it's best. I want a bike review, not an assembly review. Now, if only reviewers could find a way to make comparisons to other bikes some of us have ridden to give more context to "lively, climbs like a goat," and all the other hackneyed phrases… Bike reviewers work hard to figure out the nuances of a bike, that knowledge should be shared and not buried in manufacturer-friendly marketing copy (hint eds).

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - May 12, 2016, 8:12 a.m.

Thanks, Ess Ay. We do do that - I think you'll find we do it at least as much as any other pub out there. And we will keep doing it.

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drewm
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DrewM  - May 12, 2016, 8:45 a.m.

"The headset spun silently like Elvis Stojko at ninja school"

Thanks Ess Ay!

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zigak
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ZigaK  - May 12, 2016, 10:05 a.m.

The headset spun like Nancy Kerrigan after the thing.

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drewm
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DrewM  - May 12, 2016, 10:18 a.m.

With the vapid noiselessnes of a deep space vaccum the hubs turned endlessly without resistance, their individual ball bearings like tiny uninhabitable planets orbiting an unremarkable sun*
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.
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*for the length of our test.

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Jerry-Rig
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Jerry Willows  - May 12, 2016, 8:46 a.m.

Every bike review should have a link to so you can see the actual suspension kinematics of the bike instead of marketing jumbo. This will add to rider impression. This is just as important (some would argue more) as geometry. I'm really surprised no one is doing this.

This user has good basic info on suspension kinematics:

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cam@nsmb.com
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Cam McRae  - May 12, 2016, 9:54 a.m.

First all all Jerry, you apparently love graphs.

Secondly, who is going to verify that his numbers or his interpretation of them is correct? If you put 5 engineers in a room to discuss his conclusions do you really think they'd agree? And that's assuming he's done all his calculations correctly. Have you checked them? Beyond that he's putting these findings together without ever having ridden the bikes in question. Maybe we should use spreadsheets to evaluate bikes instead of trails?

I'm not surprised no one is doing this.

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Jerry-Rig
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Jerry Willows  - May 12, 2016, 1:44 p.m.

Yes… I do love graphs and geek out to suspension stuff. I'm just advocating the use of his graphs just like a geometry chart. I completely agree about his conclusions and maybe I should have been more clear in my original statement. I think it's just added useful information to the reviewers subjective feedback. Just my opinion man but I do like the two person review.

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nat-brown
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Nat Brown  - May 13, 2016, 9:59 a.m.

In principle I think you're right, and having a link to a resource like this lets people choose for themselves. People could make choices based on faith in the subjective feel of a reviewer, and/or make quantitative comparisons between models can do that by comparing the graphs. None of the sites you link to really seem compelling to me though, including the bikechecker.com page cited by linkagedesign as the data source. The precision indicated on the bikechecker site seems very low to me as a guy who does data analysis for a living. If comparing bikes when the precision values are 2 out of 5 stars, whatever that means, I don't think there's much to hang your hat on.

Anyway, I think if someone was to do this right, it could gain some traction. To do that, I think accurate pivot points are requisite (from companies?), shock tunes, and some data design and communication skill would be needed to make things digestible to people who aren't inspired by data itself, which is most people. Some good educational material on key principles would be good too, and while I couldn't get sound on some of those youtube vids, he didn't seem like he had a good first principles level understanding of some things either.

How satisfying do you find these sites? Do you think I'm just being too anal by picking these flaws?

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Jerry-Rig
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Jerry Willows  - May 13, 2016, 11:04 a.m.

Good points Nat. As long as the measurements are accurate, I think the information is as useful as geo numbers. Does anyone actually measure/compare the geo numbers stated from manufacturer?

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nat-brown
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Nat Brown  - May 13, 2016, 12:06 p.m.

I agree. Do you mean does anyone make empirical measurements of geo and compare to those stated by the manufacturer? I doubt it. I think making those empirical measurements on a built up bike especially but also a frame, as a 3d object, are prone to too much error given the mm accuracy of those values from the manufacturer. I saw a pic on another site indicating a HTA meaurement using a phone resting on a fork stanchion. I think that's a superficially reasonable thing to do for one's own purposes (as are any frame measurements), but to indicate these as some sort of resource for public consumption there should be more rigour. In the case of the HTA measurement, was the bike sitting on level ground? Was it even flat ground? It could easily be 1 degree from horizontal, and I'd say 1 degree is a significant error on a stated HTA. I might be fairly lonely being concerned about such things though…

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nat-brown
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Nat Brown  - May 13, 2016, 12:32 p.m.

There should be agreement on the quantitative aspects, and my guess is that this stuff would not cut it. It doesn't seem serious to me. Passionate though.

If accurate graphs for different bikes were available, I think it would be a decent start to rationally understanding the implications of design to the rider. I can see a big role for engineers, but it's really down to how designs are interpreted by different types of riders. Riding a bike is an interesting design problem as I see it because it's the interaction between a machine and an active human that forms the functional unit. Engineers should be able to effectively apply the physics and mechanics to the bike, but how well do they really understand the load capacities of riders' arms, legs and their dynamic ranges of extension and compression? My guess is that we're in the place we are now through empirical trial and error with little consideration for those things. It's not the quickest route from point A to point B, but it does work. On the other hand, it does seem that there has been some rational application of using drive train forces to counter changes to the centre of mass during acceleration. The marketing suggests so at least.

Maybe I'm wrong there. You interact with designers periodically I imagine and they talk about aspects they considered in design. Do they factor in the human component?

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Dirk
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Dirk  - May 13, 2016, 1:51 p.m.

You're (hopefully) going to be happy with the upcoming Devinci Spartan review. I've done some of this analysis in past reviews, but I've never gone so far as to include the graphs. I've approached discussing the overall leverage ratio and how that plays out in the riding (or how I think it did). I might try to go a bit further with the Spartan.

There's two problems. I've generally based this information on my own measurements, plotted in Autocad, plugged into a spreadsheet, spitting out my own leverage ratio graphs. It's incredibly difficult to get accurate measurements when you're juggling various bicycle components and a tape measure/calipers. There is always some kind of error in your measurements. And it is tedious, shitty work to complete.

Next, there are a lot of people that just don't care about this or won't understand it or think they understand it but don't. It can backfire pretty quickly if you try to go too deep.

And let's not even start talking about how much better Plus tires make the leverage ratio on each bike. Right? Paper thin sidewalls increase the liveliness quotient and the unsprung behaviouralness by at least 300%.

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Jerry-Rig
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Jerry Willows  - May 13, 2016, 2:07 p.m.

I look forward to your review Dirk… It would be easier to plug the measurements into the software and then it does everything for you. I'm curious how your graphs will compare to

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Dirk
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Dirk  - May 13, 2016, 2:52 p.m.

Oh for sure…I just don't own the software and I started my Autocad models a long, long time ago. I am working on tracking down a copy.

All of the bikes I have modelled check out with the Spanish blog. I haven't bothered with the in depth anti-squat stuff because that would take forever, but the leverage curves are similar. Except I invert mine, so that a rising rate rises.

I'm a little sad that you didn't bite.

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t.odd  - May 13, 2016, 2:56 p.m.

put me in the "just don't care" category….start talking about leverage ratios and graphs and watch most peoples eye glaze over. I'm definitely in the more qualitative category when it comes to reviewing things, anyone can read charts of numbers, most people have zero idea of what it means and just want to know how it feels on the trails.

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Jerry-Rig
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Jerry Willows  - May 13, 2016, 4:20 p.m.

how it feels on trails is pretty subjective but I can understand where you are coming from.

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t.odd  - May 13, 2016, 4:44 p.m.

it is, but it's the thing most lay-people relate too, and don't get me wrong, if there's some glaring trait that makes the bike feel odd, it's worth delving into the finer points, but for the average person it just really is more info than they know what to do with.

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Jerry-Rig
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Jerry Willows  - May 13, 2016, 5:03 p.m.

I think the same could be said with the geo chart.

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drewm
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DrewM  - May 13, 2016, 8:37 p.m.

The problem with comparing static geo numbers is sag.

Some bikes (Intense for example) like to be run at ~30% sag. Nice mid-stroke pocket right there. Mmmmm…

Some bikes (Specialized in general for example) are happier around ~25% sag or even less depending on how you run your fork and how hard you are going to push the bike.

I know of at least one guy riding his Giant Reign with a coil shock at less that 20% sag in the rear.

If the only rule of suspension setup (and it's a rule) is that the rear suspension needs to be softer and slower (i.e. the fork needs to be run faster and firmer) then the actual sagged numbers from bike to bike and rider to rider can be all over the map.

I'm riding a bike right now where the rear suspension has really nice mid- stroke support at around 30% sag but the air pressure (and how it sits into that sag point) differs greatly depending on whether I'm running the stock Pike (~25% sag / very light initial damper support from Charger) or the X-Fusion I've been testing (~20% sag / lots of initial damper support from Roughcut).

Anyways, the point is that much like looking at rates/curves without considering what shock you are running -- or in many cases the tune of the shock that is being run -- is pretty cursory the same way that buying a bike based on a geo chart is…

I think the real question is what % of people read bike reviews for entertainment and what % of people read bike reviews because they need to know the sagged headangle to make up their mind on what luxury toy they want to buy. I'm guessing its mainly the former?

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