How We Choose The Bikes We Review

The boss, Bill Strickland, sent me a letter – a real letter in the mail, even – from a Bicycling reader who had great questions and comments on our bike tests. I want to answer them here because these are questions that many of you may be asking yourself as well.

I’m going to preface this by saying that I have no secrets. There’s nothing about my cycling gear tests – or BicyclingIt’s… it’s opaque or hidden, or that I wouldn’t share with you. There is no one behind the curtains. No cabal, no conspiracies. Sometimes there are details I can’t legally talk about due to non-disclosure agreements, but once those expire I’m happy to talk about them too. Like many things, the whole process is probably much simpler – and frankly rather mundane – than you might imagine. As always, if you have any questions, concerns, comments, or curiosities, just email me ([email protected]) and I’ll do my best to clarify.

Here’s what letter writer Todd asked [condensed for clarity]:

Why is the magazine doing a review on a bike for $12,000? I think the average reader wouldn’t buy the bike, and if they buy the lower version of the reviewed model, they might be disappointed with its inherent characteristics – weight, components and handling. The recent article on Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 was informative. I understand it was created for gravel racers, but who could afford this bike if they didn’t have sponsorship or weren’t independently wealthy? I understand that the SL and ALR versions are the next levels. So what about the SL and ALR models? Do you have any data on these? Did I miss it in a previous issue?

There are two basic types of bike reviews.

The Checkpoint article referenced by Todd is what I call a kickoff review. When we review a new bike that has just hit the market, I usually can’t decide which model the brand sends me for review. The brand’s marketing team gets an allocation of bikes that’s usually separate from the bikes entering the sales channel, and they have to choose sizes and builds – long before launch – based on what’s available to them and the story they are trying to create around the bike. These bikes aren’t even available for purchase yet, so we only have access to what the company can send.

I’d say over 87.5% of the time brands send out a premium example with the most tech to review. This is because most brands want to be seen as leaders in performance and technology. Another reason companies usually send high-end builds for review: When a bike has a high-end drivetrain, high-end brakes, and, in the case of mountain bikes, high-end suspension, there’s generally has fewer negative issues for the reviewer to raise, which might distract from their new bike.

If I want to test a mid- to low-end model, I have to make that request, and I’ll get the bike well after launch. But there are no guarantees; sometimes the bike is simply sold out and not available. Recently, this has been a particular problem given supply chain issues, shipping delays and oversold inventory.

Sometimes a brand won’t send me a bike for other reasons. I once asked for a bike under $500 from one of the big brands and they said no. The reason? “We want to be seen as a performance brand, and a $500 bike is not the image we want to project.” By the way, this bike is extremely popular and at the time of the request was one of the most searched bikes on Google.

Frankly, it’s a lot easier for us to service a high-end bike than a low-end one. Brands are happy to send us $10,000 bikes with surprisingly few questions. But trying to get a $750 bike from the same brands can be a pain. While it’s exclusively a low-end model, most of the time bike brands don’t tell us about it before it’s launched or even ask if we want one for review. Often, the only way to find out about a new low-end bike launch is to notice it on a brand’s website or see one in a bike shop. We regularly scour bike brand websites for this reason. We want to review the bikes you care about, not the bikes brands want to push. Getting these bikes is sometimes harder than it should be, but it’s a fight we’re happy to fight because we know we’re working for you, not the bike brands.

I learned that a surprising number of people buy bikes like this Argonaut over $15,000.

Trevor Raab

Another thing that sometimes influences the bikes we get from brands for review: backstage deals. A bicycle brand may have an agreement with a component brand, an agreement of which we are not aware. For example, Santa Cruz and SRAM could have an agreement that all Santa Cruz media bikes come out with RockShox suspension and SRAM drivetrain and brakes. Or sometimes component brands and bike brands have collaborated on a part, technology, or feature that may influence what gets sent to the media. The list can go on.

The other type of review deals with an existing model. Basically, we choose, say, a Trek Domane (to use an example of a popular current model that comes in many variations) that meets a prerequisite for a story we’re working on. We know, based on analysis, surveys and sales information, which categories of bikes our members buy and at what price. We know how typical Bicycling reader plans to spend on his next bike. We also know the trends in which readers are currently more or less interested. Other reasons we might choose a bike for review that have nothing to do with price. Maybe it has a unique feature, technology, or something else that makes it an interesting and informative story.

I may also receive an email from a member asking me to do a review of a specific bike. Really, if there’s a bike you want me to review, email me that request ([email protected]) and we’ll see if we can make it happen.

go specialized
I love reviewing great $1000 bikes like this Specialized Go.


What can complicate getting to grips with that specific Domane we are looking for for an existing model review is that the brand marketing team may not have the particular model/size we are looking for in their bike allowance (which is often separate from the brand’s sale stock), and therefore must request the bike from the sale stock. Often, and especially in recent years, there are few or no extra bikes sitting in warehouses that they can send to us. When I was putting together a buying guide last year, I made a list of 30 bikes – three different sizes of 10 different models – for one of the big brands and asked if they had any to send . They had one of 30.

To answer something Todd brought up in his letter, some people actually buy $12,000 bikes. Lots of people really. I’ve been to Bicycling for 25 years and I am always surprised how many people are buying very expensive bikes that are way out of my financial reach. Enough to run a large number of shops and custom brands. There is also the used market to consider. Today’s new $12,000 bike will be used on The Pro’s Closet for a lot less in a few years. People read our reviews of older bikes when buying used bikes. And some riders just like to read about cool new bikes even if they don’t intend to buy one. Often the technologies we ride and review on expensive bikes are quickly rolled back to cheaper bikes, giving readers a taste of what’s to come.

None of this is an excuse for me or anyone else Bicycling, ignore or skip the cheapest bikes. We consider it our responsibility to test bikes at all price points. We consider low-end bikes more important than high-end bikes. It’s harder to make a good low-end bike, but the people who buy them deserve a good experience just as much as the person who buys a high-end bike. We’re usually not surprised when a $12,000 bike is amazing, but we’re delighted when a $650 bike is amazing. Also, a low-end bike is often someone’s introduction to our sport. If the bike sucks, they’ll probably think the bike sucks and give up. We want all new cyclists to become cyclists for life. A good bike, regardless of price, plays a big role in achieving this goal.

We review bikes at all price points, but sometimes, and especially right now, the cheaper bikes are harder to come by. When we review expensive bikes, it’s because we know some of our readers will buy them, and many more are just interested in learning more because of their passion for riding and because a much of the technology influences or will influence bicycles. at all levels.

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