Monday, August 13, 2007

A semi-serious idea...

I had an astounding idea! In addition to the lucrative marketing potential that CycleDog represents, what with it bringing in tens of dollars every year, I could develop another revenue stream by renting out my expertise as a long-time bicycle commuter. Think about it. The car magazines do long-term testing of various automobiles. I think the motorcycle magazines do something similar. So it's only logical that bicyclists should have access to long-term testing information as well.

I wouldn't want to test high-end racing bikes. I don't have the expertise for that, and besides, racers generally don't intend to keep the same bike on the road for years and years. Commuters, on the other hand, ride them until they're completely worn out, then re-build them and ride them some more. I suspect that commuting and comfort bikes are growing niche markets for the manufacturers, so it may be worthwhile to provide the prospective buyers with information on long term use, maintenance, reliability, and durability.

Bike of Doom is performing destructive testing on a department store bike, something I'd given some thought to attempting. But since my weight is in the Clydesdale category, I'd hesitate to rely on a Bicycle Shaped Object as a daily commuter. I'm averse to those long walks home alongside a broken down, unrideable bike. Been there – done that – don't wanna do it again.

I think it would be a good testing approach - me (or any other year-round commuter) atop a purpose-built commuting bike on Oklahoma's notoriously bad roads. If the bike survived “Ed's vertical crush test”, it would be subjected to various road surfaces, most of them not terribly smooth. It would bake in the summer sun and freeze in the cold of winter. Since my job involves torturing small electronic devices until they puke and die, a job that I've become adept at doing, I'd be especially merciless on bicycle electronics. Heat, cold, dust, rain, and vibration are the road to Hell for electronic devices, and we have all of them in abundance here, sometimes in the same day. Oklahoma is actually an Indian word for this-place-is-only-a-mile-from-the-sun, which seems true today since the outside temperature is about 105F and the heat index is somewhere around 115F.

Now, I'm not going to offer big, splashy ads right alongside the copy for a particular manufacturer's product, not unless that manufacturer wants to spend a boatload of money for ad placement. I'm a whore, just not a cut-rate one. And it's funny, but I seem to recall seeing full page ads for products right next to an article purporting to 'test' that product, but I don't quite recall the name of the bicycling magazine. It'll come to me.

Still, some questions about methodology come up. Should long-term testing be performed as if the tester were an average cyclist, unskilled at bike maintenance and repair, or should regular, thorough maintenance be the norm? The car magazines follow the manufacturer's recommendations, yet when I think of it, there are no recommendations for similar maintenance intervals from bicycle manufacturers. I'm not over-zealous about maintenance, except for drive trains. Most of my bikes get a yearly overhaul at best. I know of people who overhaul hubs, headset, and bottom bracket if the bike gets ridden in the rain. Professional team mechanics do this as a routine, but I doubt it's a good idea for amateurs. So there's a maintenance spectrum that ranges from zero to anal-compulsive. Where should that balance lie for a product test?

I'm open to ideas if any of you want to put them in comments.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm Clydesdale Class, too, which caused me to doubt the sense of testing a department store bike. Testing a more expensive bike, parking it outside, would really be a test of the bike's lock in my city. Long term testing of more expensive bikes also runs into the problem of obsolescence. Next year's models are sometimes completely different bikes. Could you devise tests that you could run in the space of a few months that would predict the durability of a test bike? The Bike of Doom model I'm riding (or testing to destruction as you put it) has been a Canadian Tire entry level bike for quite some time. The previous model was the SC1500 (15 speed), which had virtually the same components on a purple frame. One blogger fondly described it as The Purple Monster.

Are there any bikes out there that don't change from year to year, that offer a proven, reliable, moderately priced ride? Or is the bike industry completely locked into the "model year" consumer mentality of cars and software?

7:29 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

Actually, I think bicycles change less from year to year than cars, provided we exclude cosmetic changes. At a given price point, the frame and component choices are fairly stable, except for variations in product availability. So if there's a shortage of a particular saddle or pedal, the model may have minor changes even within a model year, but the frame and basic component group won't vary much. That's why catalogs say specifications may change without notice.

But you've brought up a valid point - do they change so often as to make long term testing irrelevant? Frankly, I don't know, but it's a good question to toss to the industry guys. I'll work up an email about that tomorrow and ask some of them.

One other thing. I work inside the security perimeter at an airport. Theft isn't unknown, but it's far less likely than it would be in a more public space. If I had to leave my bike on the street or in a parking garage, my bike choice would be far different than it is now. Honestly, there have been times I've been bubble-headed and left my bike unlocked outside the building. If I did that downtown, it wouldn't last an hour.

9:15 PM  
Blogger Fritz said...

Commuters and tourers are the fuddy duddy freds of the bicycling world. We tend to buy practical stuff and hold onto it forever, though many of us also like to experiment with extemporaneous technology (i.e. we like to tinker and bend things to fit).

Maintenance intervals, that's tricky. some of us are religious about caring for our bikes, others (like me) are so lazy we don't oil the chain until it rusts in place.

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it a point of pride to ride with a rusty chain? I can't count how many commuters I've seen peddling along with reasonably good bikes that sound like World War II tank treads. These are not casual commuters, either. These are the diehard, year round, utility commuters. It makes me want to carry some lube and offer to oil their chains. Sorry, a bit off topic...

8:19 AM  
Blogger Ed W said...

I found this fairly quickly. It's a good guide to maintenance:

Like I've said, I've heard of people who overhaul the hubs and bottom bracket when they've ridden in the rain, but that's too much for me. I usually do a quick clean and lube on the chain - clean with WD40 and a rag, then lube with MPHD - every 200 miles. That's every other week in the summer.

10:01 PM  
Blogger SueJ said...

*why* do bicycle commuters ride and maintain and ride and maintain ? Is it a self-perpetuating cycle? If there were good products for commuting, I would buy them. They aren't there.
One problem is the theft thing. There are huge advantages to a bicycle that appears undesirable. However, perhaps there would be a market for a nicer bicycle with good built-in security (hmmm.... and that could be creative - booby trap the seat so that if you don't enter the right four-digit code a little ink capsule explodes in two minutes? )
This is too much fun - belongs on my blog :)

12:24 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

Sue...I think the bike manufacturers are beginning to see a market for purpose-built commuter bikes like this one from KHS:

Note that it's already equipped with a rear wheel lock and most of the amenities we need for commuting. I think it's a great idea, but I'm not sure the upright position would be the best for Oklahoma's stiff winter winds.

5:15 PM  

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