It’s All Too Subjective…

I just read an internet forum post from a fanboy of a particular bike brand. In fact I’ll quote it here:

“…with the [insert bike name here] you will get a more compliant ride, it’s lighter, and when you climb your first hill on it you will never want to stop climbing.”

I’m sorry, what?…

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen similar such euphoria. Exclaimed excitement about how much faster someone has ridden their usual loop or how much easier hills were on their shiny new machine (I’ll refrain from including the same raft of excited exclamation marks those folk used). I hate to say it, but (*hangs head in shame*) I’ve even been guilty of it myself in the past – until I realised the “easily one or two gears faster uphill” was probably the difference between the standard chainset on the old bike and the semi-compact on the new one, and was actually only increased leg speed rather than me covering the terrain any quicker…

The thing is the ‘chalk & cheese’ differences in bikes these days just don’t exist. It’s actually very difficult to buy a ‘bad’ bike now (questionable quality carbon off of eBay aside). Differences between production bikes essentially consist of subtle differences in geometry, subtle differences in handling and the occasional super-stiff frame amongst a market of not-quite-so-stiff ones (whether or not ‘stiff’ is a good or bad thing in itself is too subjective to argue).

And then there’s the build of a bike – by which I mean the kit a bike is put together with. I lost interest in magazine reviews way back in my days as a mountain biker when I came across the realisation that unless they build their test bikes with exactly the same kit and test them in exactly the same way on exactly the same roads (or trails) you just cannot make an honest comparison. Sure, an educated, theorised basis of a comparison can be arrived at, but an actual comparison? No.

A friend of mine always used to ask why I never took bikes for a road test before buying. The answer was a combination of the above: unless I can build the bike up exactly how I would want it, with my saddle, using my wheels, to take it out for a few different rides on the roads I ride all of the time, what’s the point? All a test ride would tell me is whether or not I hate the bike and, as already mentioned, with it being so tricky to buy a bad bike these days, that is unlikely.

As for these folk making wild claims about their new bikes – such differences exist only in the form of a few things:

  1. Marketing Bullshit
  2. New Bike Elation
  3. Post-purchase Self-convincing

Where the fanboys exist, these are backed up by brand snobbery and failure to believe that anything else out there could even come close to their cherished brand of choice. Of course the hilarity here being the same excited exclamations when their own favoured brand launches a new model – the fan boy is suddenly definitely faster on the new model, which was also (clearly) definitely faster than his previous one. Mysteriously, these are the self same people who flatly refuse to believe such claims about other brands. Go figure…

After a few days off of either of my custom bikes my bog standard carbon bike doesn’t actually feel all that much different. The general setup is very similar across all three and the fit is identical, so unless I come home from riding one of them and head straight out on another the nuances between them can be quite tricky to identify. In a blindfold test on separate days (with the same wheels on all three) I could probably tell the Ti one from the steel or carbon, but telling the steel and carbon ones apart would be a harder challenge. I’d get there, don’t get me wrong, it just wouldn’t be as easy as you might think.

Ridden back-to-back I would work it out quite quickly as the nuances would come out immediately – but the only thing making me ride or climb faster on one versus another would be down to two things and two things alone:

  1. The engine (me)
  2. The gearing

…and even then the latter only really determines how quickly the former can ‘turn over’.

Ok so there are other factors at play – the weight differences between the three bikes will play a part; but even then when considering the ‘rider+bike’ package, these weight differences are actually quite small percentages – in fact with the same wheels on each bike those weight differences are probably small enough not to bother factoring in.

So can we quit the overexcited overexaggeration of supposed performance enhancing new purchases please? Really, I do like your shiny new bike and I am very happy for you – but unless you can present me with data to back up your claims, and with every ounce of subjectivity eliminated through component, terrain and power output matching (which I probably won’t read because stuff like that bores me to tears), everything else you’re claiming is all just bollocks.

Returning to the bold, excitable statement I started with, the day I ride a bike that makes me feel like I “never want to stop climbing” is the day I will arrive in Alysium…

Rich [@RichTheRoadie]

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