Saturday, February 12, 2011

Getting to Know You

As someone who is interested in experiencing a variety of bicycles and sharing my impressions with others, I find myself constantly re-examining the question of how long it takes to get a "proper" impression of a bike. When I test ride a bicycle, the experience is different on so many levels from when I own the bicycle and ride it in on a daily basis. There are discoveries I make about bikes months into owning them.

Also, when I own a bicycle - even if it's one of my "experimental bikes" and I know from the start that I will probably end up selling it eventually, there is something about the personal responsibility of ownership that makes me more comfortable forming impressions of its characteristics.

These are all reasons why I differentiate "bicycle reviews" - which I limit to the bikes I own, from "test ride reports" of the bikes I try. And I also mention how long I'd ridden the bike at the time of the review, so that the reader can factor that in. For instance, riding the Abici for an entire afternoon around the city and riding my friend's Retrovelo for a good portion of our long trip through the countryside, were quite different experiences than riding the Trek Belleville for 10 minutes on the side streets adjacent to the bike shop. And, riding my own Gazelle, Bella Ciao and Pashley were different experiences still, and my impression of these bikes takes hundreds of rides into account.

Ultimately, I feel more comfortable offering an opinion about bikes I have owned, however briefly, than on bikes I have merely test ridden or borrowed. And I am considering what that means in terms of Lovely Bicycle. Should I try to make it a point to own the bikes I feel would be especially interesting to review, and then later sell them, accepting the loss as part of the costs of running this blog? It's a neat idea, but probably not financially feasible. Extended borrowing would be the next thing, but there are all sorts of logistic and conflict-of-interest problems when it comes to that as well.

How long does it take you to get to know a bicycle? Is a test ride enough, or do you have to own it for a couple of months before you really feel familiar with it? When you read reviews and test ride reports, do you pay attention to how long the author has been riding the bike and factor that into your impressions? Finally, what do you think is the optimal time period to wait before writing a review?

26 comments:

  1. "Finally, what do you think is the optimal time period to wait before writing a review?"

    Tough question indeed.......

    IMO a properly set up bicycle will be transparent to the rider once the bicycles controls are learned enough to be "at hand" without thought.

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  2. I am still learning things about bikes I have owned for years. I think you'd really want to test a bike over more than one season in various conditions to write a really serious REVIEW. Kind of like those "long term" tests the automotive magazines conduct.

    Still, even short-term impressions have value as long as people know of the limitations of same.

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  3. I have come to realize it takes long than I would have thought. I have had my bike for about four years now. The first year I rode it daily but for short recreational use. The second and third years I couldn't ride it due to pregnancy problems and not having a set up to tote a baby. Year four I put it into daily practical use.

    It is only in the fourth year that I can say it got a really good test drive so that I really know how it fits. Now, four years after buying it, I can say it does not fit. Once it was in "real" use I quickly realized I had to start adjusting things. Then, a while later, I realized I couldn't adjust it to the point where it would fit for longer distance rides.

    I am not ready to give up and sell it (can't afford a replacement right now) so I am struggling with how to make it better.

    I guess I have to say that time isn't maybe as important as miles logged.

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  4. I agree with Steve A, that you can learn
    about a bike even after years of use,
    although alot of that is the personality of
    that individual bike, rather than that model.

    As for the length of time required to form
    an impression, it depends on you and your
    range of experience with other bikes.
    If you have much experience reviewing many bikes
    then you may be able to form an impression
    more quickly, and compre and contrast it to
    other models.

    I also find that I get to know a bike after I have
    ridden it in many different environments
    and settings; a wet commute home at night,
    longer journeys on a sunny sunday, heavily loaded down a big hill, etc.
    The time this takes can vary as per your
    riding circumstances.

    John I

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  5. "How long does it take you to get to know a bicycle? Is a test ride enough...?"

    For me, test rides were enough.

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  6. Tough question. Some bikes seem so sweet or so foul on the first ride that you make up your mind right there. Meanwhile fairly plastic details like the angle or fore-aft adjustment of a saddle or tire pressure can throw off impressions to an unfair degree.

    I have found that real love always takes time, and it often grows from poor soil, so to speak. It's the same with music and food: that which you love instantly is often that which you cannot love long. Difficult, challenging, "acquired tastes" are famously the most tenacious.

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  7. When I read bike reviews, I do like to know how long the reviewer has ridden the bike and under what circumstances / uses. A ride in the country demands a much different set of qualities than a large grocery run. It's also good to take the experience level of the reviewer into consideration, though it is impossible to follow everyone that reviews bikes.

    Personally, it can take my a lot longer than a test ride to know if a bike works for me. I've sold more than one bike that seemed like a good fit for my circumstances, but didn't work out after a few months. At this point, I'll add a shameless plug for my Riv Hillborne. Over the long haul, it has been more enjoyable / usable across a variety of riding circumstances and is by far the bike I choose to ride most.

    I appreciate reading your reviews and hearing about your improvement projects and hope you plan to continue with these in the future. Although I agree that it might be financially unsustainable to by, review and sell, it would be fun (for you) and allow you plenty of time to form a good opinion. And as you mention, owning the bike would be less like to cause conflict of a interest than borrowing one. I would find it difficult to give a less than kind review to a bike on loan from a paying sponsor.

    Regarding how long one should wait before writing a review, I have no opinion.

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  8. It took me ten years to learn what I should have known before I bought it.. why the bike I rode for 10 years was so awful. At the time I didn't have a clue. Shopping to buy a bicycle is far more complex than buying a new computer, because there's the subjective 'feel' of the bicycle to factor in. Computers are difficult enough to choose, where the problem is choosing from 20 shades of performance grey, with no clear black and white. But computers can be defined with cold facts. The bicycle includes the elusive element of subjectivity... including how it looks.

    Then factor in trying to buy a bicycle on ebay, and researching technical details from a dutch bicycle web site. That's where it all really becomes complex.

    And still l haven't developed any real trust for my LBS. I no doubt need to find a new one. The last place clearly was just trying to sell me whatever they had on hand... and they're the ones I bought the awful bike from in the first place. (even though they supposedly have a very good reputation in town).

    Both of the bicycle shops I've looked at recently are very off-putting from my perspective. They get antsy when the customer even touches the bike. One place has the bikes hanging up from the ceiling! How's anyone supposed to test ride those? Even when they do bother to bring the bike down from the ceiling, then a 10 minute ride is enough to make a decision for a bike you might keep for 20 years?

    Also there is the fact that there are 1,000 appealing bikes to be found online... but only 3 available models at the LBS. What's a buyer to do? Buy the one that's the same maker, but a different model and make do?

    I owned my last bicycle for 15 years. I'm not much of a bicycle trader... so my search for the right bike continues as my quest for Moby Dick. I know it's out there somewhere. Just today I was ready to buy a half price Gazelle... but then I read a disparaging comment about it on a bike forum... so I didn't click 'buy'. I haven't found a single Gazelle anywhere in Seattle... so if that's my Moby Dick, I guess I'm gonna have to land it online. Maybe I just enjoy the search... maybe I don't even want to commit to a new bike but just keep searching.

    Ideally a bike store would have a system like Costco does with cameras... you could have them for six months to exchange. But that's unlikely to ever happen. Or it'd be cool for bicycle groups to sponsor test ride events, where you could go to a controlled place and just see what a bike feels like to ride... no obligation.

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  9. todd - That's what I thought at first when I got my first two bikes (a Pashley and a vintage Motobecane mixte) and wasn't 100% pleased with them, but the feeling only grew over time and especially as I tried other bikes.

    John Nez - where did you find a half price Gazelle?.. While I don't know of any test ride events, I do know that some bike shops will allow customers to take the bikes for extended test rides (an entire afternoon, or even a day). But the thing is that almost no one takes advantage of that, as the customer feels awkward about then not buying it.

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  10. " It's also good to take the experience level of the reviewer into consideration"

    Oh, definitely! When I go back and re-read some of my earlier reviews and reports, they seem pretty empty in retrospect - both because I did not have the language to express some of the things I can express now, and because I had no point of comparison.

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  11. Great topic. I like to read a review from someone who has put some miles on the bike in general. Although thoughts from a reviewer I know and trust just from a quick ride are desirable as well. I do know that most buyers of expensive telescopes all say they are excellent at first. No one wants to say, "Hey, I just blew 5 grand on a worthless piece of junk!". Contact those people after a year and it is amazing how many have sold their "excellent" telescope. So, a trusted reviewer and/or friend is ideal.
    I will say, without hesitation, your reviews and advice have been invaluable to me!!

    P.S. Anyone looking for a great deal on a nearly new Workcycles Secret Service (smallest size they offer) bicycle?

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  12. Having read a number of your reviews, I believe you have accumulated quite a bit of bike knowledge and can justify your opinions and observations. I believe that Alan at Ecovelo often receives "loaner" bikes, which allows him to do an extended test and put a bike through its paces, so to speak. Perhaps you could make similar arrangements with manufacturers/retailers, with the caveat that you'll be honest with your assessment.
    I rarely go to a movie without checking Metacritic first.

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  13. Whatever amount of time you rode Seymour Blueskies before writing that review is the right amount of time. I came away from reading that piece with a very clear impression of the bike's character. I appreciate how you are upfront about your own biases and shortcomings so I can weigh your impressions accordingly. It's also really neat that you have a stable of bikes dialed in for you, each well suited for its particular purpose, to use as benchmarks.

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  14. MT cyclist - The few times there have been possibilities of loaner arrangements, they have either not worked out, or I was uncomfortable with the terms. It's also important that I am actively interested in the bicycle - Otherwise, what would motivate me to ride it as frequently as my own bikes? I would not want to ride just any bike around for a month, even if it were free - which automatically means that the bikes I'd accept for loan would be likely to get reviewed positively.

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  15. I think the amount of time you need to decide whether or not a bike is right for you--or simply a good bike--depends on how broad a frame of reference you have. In that sense, I can understand why Velouria felt as she did about her Pashley and Motobecane mixte.

    On the other hand, having a broader frame of reference allows you to learn more about a bike, and allows you to learn for longer periods of times. That, I believe, is a reason why Steve continues to learn about his bikes. And, as we evolve in the kinds of riders we become,we find different things in the same bike as we spend more time with it.

    The funny thing is that as I became a "quick study" with bikes (I can tell immediately that some bikes simply aren't for me.) , I was able to develop a longer learning relationship with a bike, as Steve has.

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  16. An opinion about a bike isn't necessarily important, unless it jibes with where the cyclist is in its riding development. It has to directly mirror how a cyclist rides and what's done with the bike.

    To name a name, Alan's views on bikes don't hold much water with me. Why? He tends to commute on the flat trails in Sacramento. Fine, but my riding, what I carry and what I wear is more varied.

    Of course I have opinions about bikes; they don't really change, but my relationship with them changes as my fitness level changes, my physiology changes, my vision and brain change. I know enough to be in the right ballpark; the rest is me figuring it out, expert opinions notwithstanding.

    Best time to write a review? Anytime. Anyone who's read you blog knows it's just a slice of time in a continual experience of bike learning.

    Jim

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  17. Jim - Alan's terrain and routes are very different from where I live as well, but what I like about his reviews is how technically detailed they are. I tend to get caught up in the sensation and emotion of the "experience" of the bike and under-report the technical stuff. As a result, I sometimes go read his reviews even of bikes that I've already ridden myself. In general, I think that's the good thing about having multiple reviews of the same bike online - different aspects of the same ride documented.

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  18. This is an interesting topic to me. I'm continually amazed at how my definition of comfortable or even of what works for me changes over time.

    I have found myself coming to really enjoy bikes that I thought weren't working and that I would certainly sell. At the same time, bikes I thought I had dialed in perfectly over time became less comfortable or thrilling.

    I'm not sure how much of this has to do with maturing as a rider, deciding to stop over-thinking each bike and relax a bit, and just passing fancies.

    The phenomenon continues, however. Not long ago, I was trying to achieve a more upright position on all of my bikes -- raising and angling bars, etc. Then, I discovered I was actually more comfortable in a less than bolt-upright position and adjusted everything two or three degrees more aggressive. Now, I'm tweaking things ever so slightly back toward upright...

    Given these vacillations, I'd be unlikely to put too much stock in any analysis I made of a bike I hadn't owned for an extended period of time.

    You, of course, are nothing if not thorough and cautious in your opinions. I'd trust your take almost before my own.

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  19. It's been so many years since I actually shopped for a bike and spent real money that I've settled into an approach that assumes I'm going to have to spend a bunch of time getting to know whatever interesting bike lands in my lap(as these things do), then modifying it and changing things as I can.

    I know that I'm going to have to put up with "flaws" and weird things till I can understand them and figure out a solution that makes a bike work or prove itself to be "somebody elses bike". Some of them stay here in the fleet, some get sold or traded and a bunch just get given away. It helps that I have piles of bike stuff already, friends that have bike shops and a basement full of metalworking and fabrication tools, BUT, the attitude that it's going to take a while and that there will be few easy and fast solutions helps me stay open minded,patient and engaged with the process. If you aren't picky about things being new or trendy, messing around with bikes(or motorcycles, boats, planes or whatever)can be remarkably cheap. Like me.

    Spindizzy

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  20. Spindizzy - Accumulating a bunch of components and parts definitely makes messing around with bikes less costly. Now that we have a stockpile of handlebars, stems, seatposts, brakesets and even wheelsets acquired via various trades, it's a completely different ball game. I am very sensitive to positioning and handlebar shape on roadbikes, so I know in advance that I will have to replace a bunch of stuff on it just to give it a fair chance.

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  21. While I agree you really can't give a well rounded review of a bicycle until an extended period of owning it, I still really enjoy your test ride reviews and I wish you'd perhaps do more of them. You have an incredibly advantageous position of living in a mecca for bicycles and you can expose those in much more limited areas, like myself, to so much. Can a test ride give a true impression of the ride quality of a bike? No. But it can tell a lot. Comfort of geometry, handling, stability, I'm sure you know the drill. While it would be cool if you could own every bike, I think we all understand that's not really feasible.
    With that said, thought about giving a Public or Linus mixte a test ride sometime? ;D

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  22. It seems to me that half the population of Holland must be in the bicycle making business, given the amazing assortment of bicycles they produce:

    ttp://www.bemibikes.nl/herenfietsen/herenfietsen-cat-140.htm

    Probably a two week trip to Amsterdam would be the ideal way to find a really interesting dutch bicycle.

    The bike I found at half price was on ebay.

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  23. Kate - I probably will not be reviewing a Public bike due to some circumstances that I worry may prevent me from being fair despite my best intentions. But here are some reviews from Suburban Bike Mama and from My Hyggelig. I will see if I can find a Linus once the snow clears up.

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  24. I think it takes me a good long weekend to get used to a bike. Having said that though, I would to ride it in different locations, including within traffic, away from traffic, and in and out of different weather conditions. So, it may take a month for that to happen! I do think that it lends credibility if the author if that author has used the product that they are reviewing.

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  25. What a great post! I have owned maybe ten bikes, and I love them all so much that it's hard to make an objective judgment about them. I wish that like you I had the opportunity to ride more of them.

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  26. You can't know a bike until you've had it long enough to make a few scratches, cause some rust, ride 1000km, and have the front and rear wheels off to fix punctures. Superficial reviews are fine, for superficial market comparisons, and for drawing attention to design features (eg., a retro-velo fork crown), that people might not have otherwise noticed.

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