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UX and Magazine reviews

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Back in the 1980’s when I started cycling, one of the magazines I looked forward to receiving the most was Bicycle Guide.  BG magazine had a very grassroots focus and many articles were about the more artisanal side of the cycling world with interviews of framebuilders and reviews of handbuilt bicycles and componentry.  When you drag a copy off the bookshelves these days, the copy and feel seems quite parochial, but in a way it also has an accessability and a ‘realness’ to it that seems to have been swept aside for the slickness and commercialism of the modern media.

Today one of the stalwarts of the custom bicycle industry, Bruce Gordon, shared a link to an article in BG magazine where two identical bikes were built up – one frame was constructed with Columbus SL tubing, whereas another was constructed with Tange Prestige.  Aside from the tubing changes, the bikes were identical.

http://www.bgcycles.com/frame-tubing-selection.html

Here’s a summary of the differences in materials between the two bicycle frames :

“Of course, the skinnier tubes will reduce the weight a bit. Gordon said that on the finished frames, the weight difference was an insignificant 5oz (about 148g) – one third of a water bottle. Our Tange frame had the same wall thickness as the Columbus SL frame in the seat tube (0.9/0.6mm) and fork blades (0.9mm), and skinnier walls everywhere else. The Columbus down tube was 0.9/0.6/0.9mm, Tange’s was 0.8/0.5/0.8mm (that was Gordon’s request: most Tange Prestige frames are 0.1mm thinner than that). The Columbus top tube was 0.9/0.6/0.9mm: Prestige 0.7/0.4/0.7mm. Chainstays and seatstays were 0.7mm for Columbus and 0.6mm for Prestige.”

Now, the interesting thing from a UX perspective, is that this test was a completely subjective ‘seat-of-the-pants’ review by a couple of reviewers.  There were no accelerometers, no measuring devices, it was all based on feel.

“Once when I went on a side by side with Imre Barsy, our former industry editor who now works at Specialized, he took all of 100 yards to notice the differences and voice his preferences for the pink bike.”

“Barsy’s preference was due to the single most striking difference between the bikes: the pink once seemed to transfer fewer vibrations to the rider. The minute vibrations that result when you roll over a slightly rough asphalt road are a source of fatigue and bother. They were much , much lighter on the pink bike.”

“Indeed, I preferred the pink bike too. In addition to feeling smoother over minor pavement roughness, it had a lighter “feel” to it.”

Ironically perhaps with the bicycle industries’ ever continuing obsession with light weight, the pink painted bike was the heavier one made from Columbus SL.

It’s vary rare that you see these types of reviews done these days, and yet I would argue that these are the types of reviews people would want to read, because they’re ‘touchy-feely’ and experience based rather than a rehashed press release.  This is where the advantages of the ‘Netspert’ or blogger come into play, where companies and their marketing departments get all the benefits of exposure minus the pesky issue of having to buy advertising.  Pick the right Netspert to promote your product, and you don’t have to even worry about a poor review.  The irony of all this is that consumers get the review experience they want, at the expense of subjectivity and transparency.  In the current environment, the ideas of ‘news’ and ‘editorial’ are becoming increasingly blurred.

Of course the issue with actual comparisons is that generally someone is the loser, and invariably there will be pressure from advertisers.  One of the growing-pains of internet forums and ‘news’ services, is that there is a grey area where websites get to a certain size and sphere of influence that they come under more pressure to act more like a mainstream news service and less like ‘one guy sitting in front of the computer with a big collection of stuff’ and his mates.

Back in 2006, cyclingnews.com attempted to run a similar comparison test to the 1987 Bicycle Guide test outlined above, except this time attempting to do a comparison between a 29″ wheeled mountain bike and an ‘identical’ 26″ one.  Although the we will never know what transpired between the editor James Huang and those with a vested interest in each prospective wheel-size format, suffice to say it wasn’t good because the test disappeared magically from the cyclingnews.com website and nothing was heard about it again.  Thanks to the Wayback Machine however, it can still be found here:

http://web.archive.org/web/20070128160347/http://www.cyclingnews.com/tech.php?id=tech/2006/features/29invs26inpt2

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