Sunday, January 13, 2013

I Believe Caley Fretz

I spend a lot of time on these electronic pages lambasting the state of bicycle "journalism" today. However, Caley Fretz's recent VeloNews piece on objectivity in reviews gave me a lot of chin-scratching, ponder-worthy material, and is definitely worth a read for anyone who writes or reads reviews.

As a blogger (what Fretz would call a "peer-to-peer reviewer"), I spend a lot of navel-gazing time on this topic. And I'll admit, I fall into the trap of feeling superior to those paid hacks (er, "professional reviewers") because I'm out here, doing it, paying to play, testing the stuff in the real world, skipping the press junkets, blowing off the PR hacks, not getting bought by The Man (continue silly little-guy-against-the-machine blather ad infinitum). But am I really immune to the conflicts of interest of a paid reviewer, or am I just a sucker? After all, at least they get paid for their biases.

Case in point: When I was coming up as a young cyclist in my small, two-bike-shop hometown, all the "serious" riders in the area were rolling on Continental tires, with their telltale reddish-brown sidewalls and yellow labels (yes, I come from the pre-blackwall era, and thus am older than dirt). Why? Because Continental was the brand that the "more serious" shop in town carried and pushed to their clientele. I got passed a lot, often at blur-inducing speeds -- but even in the blur, I could make out the distinctive brown sidewalls. As I got serious, I bought Contis of my own, and (oddly enough) I didn't get passed quite as much. Nothing to do with the tires (I was just getting stronger), but I came to associate "hauling ass" with those brown sidewalls. And to this day, there's a part of my brain that thinks I'm faster on Continental tires for no rational reason -- even though Jan Heine has proven me wrong with some pretty fine journalism of his own.

So what does all this hoo-hah mean to you as a reader and me as a reviewer? It means that I'm a fallible human being, not a robot. Everything you read in these pages comes from my (often skewed) perspective. I do my best to explain that perspective, let you know where I'm coming from, what informs my thought processes, and what's important to me as a rider, a mechanic, and a person. Hopefully, that context helps you fit my opinions into what you know about yourself and your preferences. And -- one of the cool things about this whole newfangled social media/Interwebs 2.0 thing we all live in -- you get to talk back in real time. If you think I'm pulling something out my chamois, there's that neat little "Comments" section at the bottom of every post. Get in there and tell me so. You might not convince me, I might not convince you, but hopefully we both come away with a more-rounded view.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

At first, I thought this was some variation of "I believe Floyd". Well, I do believe that reviewers can offer their opinions, but opinions are not the same thing as actual measurements.

Glad that you mentioned Jan H., as he's done a lot to actually quantify some parameters of the bike products that we use. There is still room for debate about how to measure the parameters, but at least he's done something to start the discussion.

As an engineer, I'm used to writing up specifications for a gadget that is needed, designing or buying such a gadget, and then running the tests that show whether the device meets the specification. It may not always be easy to know if you are specifying the right parameters, especially when it involves human perception, but at least you can quantify the stuff that you think is important.

For the average Joe writing a review, the expectations should be lower. Anything more specific than "seemed to work fine" or "broke into a dozen bits after 5 miles" is probably not realistic.

Steve in Peoria