As a cyclist it’s best not to dwell on the huge amount of kit you’ll need to buy over the years; bike(s), clothing, tyres, replacement components, lights, grease, fluffy saddle covers (what…just me?). For the amount of money you haemorrhage, it’s tempting to feel like you might as well just glue all your money to the back of an excited dog and watch it run off into the distance (Just to be clear, I’m not advocating glueing things to animals, I’m just making a point).
Once you’re immersed in this middle class consumerist paradise it’s easy to gravitate toward that section of the mainstream cycling media dedicated to promoting and reviewing this stuff; after all, if this is where all your disposable cash is going you might as well attempt to spend your money wisely.
The problem is that everything gets reviewed…in great detail…as if to try and convince you that the choice you make when deciding what to fritter away your hard earned cash on could have serious implications for your future happiness.
Of course, if I’m buying a new bike I want to mull it over and consider all the angles; I want to have a chat with the shop, read a few online reviews to see what others think, and maybe even have a test ride before committing myself. However, if I’m buying an inner tube or some new gear cabling, I’m really not bothered what it’s made of, how much it weighs or whether it’s what the pro’s use…how much is it? does it work?
If the time comes when I find myself leafing through the latest cycling magazines reading reviews of drinks bottles or bar tape, I’ll be sure to sit down and have a word with myself.
I’ve noticed that lots of magazines have taken to stylising reviews to make the very act of reviewing part of the story. These pieces start by describing with glee some great consignment of kit arriving at their offices, and then go on to mull over the process of reviewing the stuff. The actual review itself – is it any good? – seems to be only part of the story.
Now, call me a miserable mean spirited sod (alright…not all at once!), but I’ve taken it as read that this stuff arrives at some office somewhere, and all sorts of hilarity ensues as they sort the wheat from the chaff. I’m not sure I want to hear about all that. Apart from anything it serves to remind me that this is the sort of jolly that some people do for a living…and tragically I’m not one of them.
But in this world of online retail it’s the customer reviews that really confound me. We’ve all seen them – you come across a couple of reviews of the same item, at the same price, but get two opinions of such polar opposition that they serve no purpose except to demonstrate that, at the very least, two people care enough about this product to write in and give you their thoughts.
To make an informed decision about which of these two views I should trust, I would have to meet up with the reviewers and spend a bit of time getting to know them; maybe take them out for a ride or a pint, or invite them round for dinner. Only then, once I’ve got a feel for what makes them tick could I be expected to decide whether to trust their opinions on bib-shorts, waterproofs or winter gloves.
To be honest…I’m a busy person, and all that is not really practical. So, in practice, this is what usually happens when I buy some shiny new piece of cycling kit:
I know what I want to buy, I check the price, and I’m poised to make my purchase…before doubts creep in. The website suggests some alternative I might want to consider, which I click, and enter a spiral of indecision and self doubt. I read the reviews, check other web pages, talk to people, and end up with more options to consider.
I have now completely over-thought the process and reduced it to pot-luck, and so I either stay strong, listen to my gut, and buy the thing I knew I wanted (which is the correct decision and makes me happy), or I panic-buy one of the alternatives (which leaves me with a feeling of mild disappointment).
So many reviews written by so many different people just leads to…too much information. For the sake of consistency, perhaps we need to choose just one person to do all the reviewing.
And so, if we’re agreed on this, can I take this opportunity to selflessly put myself forward for the job?