Testing the truth...

Words by Tym Manley

“The sad truth is that a lot of magazine readers have decided that they really don’t trust bike journos”, writes Steve Worland in the latest issue of Privateer (on sale January 19th), at the start of an article which is so patently honest and straightforward on the arcane subject of magazine bike testing that it’s being tweeted and twittered about from Newcastle to New Orleans.

And I can vouch for much of what he says because Worland was a first seriously committed Test Editor to work with me on Mountain Biking UK, which I founded in 1988, and remains there still having, in my opinion, changed the whole relationship of bike manufacturer and customer over those years.

“We were, and still are, almost evangelical in our quest to oust problem products and encourage improvement,” writes Steve.

And, while it’s true that editors are quite deliberately kept in the dark about much that goes on in their magazines, that rings true to my experience. So why is it that the cynical clever-dick, man-of-the-world opinion around the bike forums holds that bike tests are all fixed to bamboozle and rob the poor cynical c-d M of the W?

Why, given a big selling national magazine, would that ever be true? True there are personal fallings out, raging arguments and deep sulks in the bike business as in any industry, but when it comes to it, the reason professional outfits advertise in a magazine is because the potential customers they hope to influence read it. The only thing a magazine needs is a mass of readers, and the way to get them is to give them what they most want – one of those things being sound unbiased advice on what bike to buy to suit their riding and their wallets.

You can’t con readers, there are too many of them and they read every word, which is more than most in the bike industry ever do.

I’ve also become convinced that professional testers are the way to go (it's a route Steve is going with his new outfit, The Test Collective). Worland reckons to have tested 2000 bikes and counting which gives him a perspective no leisure rider has, no matter how obsessed. The feeling that other forum randomers will give you better advice is surely wishful thinking. What does Worland think about that?

“Well, while I've always had loads of respect for the opinions of other riders,” he writes, “I'm also very aware that if you've already bought a bike you'll try very hard to like it because you've spent good money on it. My experience suggests that while 'peer' reviews can be accurate, they can also be wildly wrong, whereas I’d put money on the best of the magazine bike reviewers getting it about right most of the time.”

That’s fighting talk and it does lead to questions about the effect of free online news and reviews are having on magazines and magazine reviews. As the big paper mags find it harder and harder to sell copies are we going to see a weakening of the logic that honest reviews = big circulation = advertising support?

Certainly, change is in the air and you will find Steve Worland just as honest about his fears for the future as he always has been about the bikes he reviews.

More from Steve Worland: The Test Collective


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