As a Consumer, How Do You Choose What to Buy? Vital Review Feedback Requested

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11/18/2015 3:08 PM

While preparing for another year of Vital MTB's Test Sessions - a massive yearly effort where we test nearly 20 of the raddest new trail bikes - it came across my mind that we should ask you, our readers, what it is that you find most helpful when it comes to making your purchasing decisions. Aside from curiosity, that's why you read the reviews in the first place, right? We take product testing very seriously, so your input is highly valued.


"Is my future ride in this garage? Which one is right for me?"

Every time we use a product we aim to figure out its strengths, weaknesses, and who it's best for. We understand that not every bike is a 5-star ride, and we do our best to tell you where it excels and where it could be better.

Ultimately our goal is to provide the best, most relatable reviews possible with the depth you want in an easily digestible format.

Here are some questions to consider:

- Why do you read our reviews?
- When you read a review, what do you want to see? What do you want to know?
- Do you wish we'd compare products directly more often?
- Do you wish we'd quantify things more accurately?
- Do you want to know more about the testers and/or location?
- Do you simply want to know the highlights before digging deeper?
- What don't you care about that we currently discuss?
- Does our review format work for you?

Feedback on anything and everything is welcome, from the format of Test Sessions to our everyday reviews. Thank you for your thoughts! We're excited to learn how we can continue to improve our process.

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11/18/2015 3:35 PM

For me I had to go with best bang for the buck. I knew I had a very limited amount of money to spend on a new bike so I wanted to make sure I was getting a lot out of it. I ended up looking to a direct sales model brand. I only had around $1800 to spend and I went with a Commencal Meta AM hardtail. I got the Race Plus model. I would have rather opted for a full suspension bike but even with a direct sales model a good full suspension was out of my price range. I ended up with the Commencal because I couldn't find any other hardtails with the geometry that could still be a fun all mountain bike that could rip going downhill as well as pedal it up. I got a dropper post, 150mm Pike fork, and good components and brakes for under 2 grand. Yes I could have gone with a cheap full suspension bike priced around 2k but I know I would not be happy with it for too long.

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11/18/2015 3:45 PM

I think direct comparisons would be very helpful, whether it be comparing the bike as a whole or specific components (i.e. "while xxx component has a solid reputation for consistency, we've found xxy to be a better match for this bike's intended use"). Past year's reviews have always been enjoyable. It's helpful to know the location and brief trail descriptions, which you guys already do. When you're able, it's refreshing to read about some boutique brands. One of the most helpful questions for me at least is, "Who's this bike for?"

Looking forward to this round of reviews!

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11/18/2015 3:55 PM

Step 1 - general ride consensus: Does the bike have a decent reputation for how it rides, or is it a complete doozy (like some of the early 29er designs that were generally poor ride quality)?

Step 2 - components for $: Is the bike way overpriced for its spec? Most often, the top-of-the-line spec from any brand is out of the general public's price range - give the lower spec models (good, better, best) more professional insights in terms of value.

Step 3- brand reputation: What am I buying into beside this bike? has the bike been plagued with warranty issues in the past? How has the brand dealt with customers in the past? If I pay a little more for brand $$$ (Santa Cruz, Yeti), what am I gaining vs buying from brand $ (Norco, Giant) and is it worth it?

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11/18/2015 4:02 PM
Edited Date/Time: 5/30/2016 12:13 AM

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11/18/2015 4:33 PM

There are some great ideas that I have seen in the forum so far, The only thing I can add is this: I want to see a "Vital Test Sessions, DH Edition."

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11/18/2015 4:36 PM
Edited Date/Time: 11/18/2015 4:42 PM

I hold onto my bikes for a long time. As in, at least 1 full drivetrain refresh, suspension/fork upgrade, and wheel swap. Maybe two. All of this happens over several years. My last frame was more than 10yo when I finally made the full jump to a totally new bike. So when I go in for reviews I want to know about fitment and durability, warranty support and reputation of the manufacturer to stand by their product, and whether whatever inevitable shortcomings might exist are going to be a problem for me.

This means long term reviews, upgrade reviews, and the "concerns" portion of your review are the most important to me when I'm shopping for something (or when I'm reading about what I should be shopping for). I especially want call outs for non-standard or proprietary parts in bike reviews, or "new" standards and whether they're a flash in the pan or the new normal. Any maintenance gotcha's too. And I want to hear about upgrades and updates that will improve my ride in a meaningful way, but don't require me to sell my bike and start again from scratch.

I'm just under 3 years into a long term relationship with a beautiful Intense Tracer 275. This year got a fork/damper upgrade, wide bars/short stem and expecting a 1x11 upgrade for xmas. Next year is maybe new wheels and maybe a new shock, just to keep the old girl looking purdy and riding like new. Some (most) of these parts may even get replaced again before I'm ready to throw down the big money on a whole new ride again.

But don't forget, we all like to drool over the latest new hotness, even when we're not gonna buy it. I guy's gotta dream, right?


Edited to add one point: After I'd mostly decided the Tracer was the bike I wanted I read a review that said the frame was probably overbuilt. That comment sealed the deal for me, but probably did the opposite for someone else. Those sort of observations matter.

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11/18/2015 5:05 PM

Test bikes with standout features (swat door, ohlins shock etc.) want to see if that stuff is actually worth it.

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11/18/2015 6:17 PM

I started to visit this site on a regular basis because there were more frequent reviews of bikes I am interested in. As I started to read more reviews, I realized that reviews posted here are somewhat different than what is displayed on competing sites. The reviews here seem more comprehensive, and give a bit more detail about how each bike or component effects the riding experience. In terms of straight equipment reviews, I think Vital is one of the best in the business. What would bring me back more often is seeing more editorial pieces (think Bike's "The Web Monkey Speaks" or PB's "Good/Bad Month" and "Opinion" pieces. You guys have a great thing going already, and I think the addition of more editorial content could take the Vital experience to the next level.

In my opinion, the most important part of a review is details of riding characteristics beyond phrases like "descends like a tank" or "playful". I like to hear about the personality of the bike, and how the component spec and other details come together to make the final product. I like to see pros and cons to build kits, but the most important part to me is how it is while riding. I want to hear about defining characteristics, both positive and negative. That information is most valuable to me when buying a bike.

Yes, Comparisons are very good, as they can help give a better sense of how an item performs.

Overall, I would like to see more detailed riding impressions about each item, and more editorial pieces. VitalMTB is already an amazing publication, and I hope to see it grow in the coming year!

Also, if possible, I would like to see more reviews about new bikes with huge expectations(Evil Insurgent, etc...) as your current review format would make for a very good "Does it live up to the Hype" type review.

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11/18/2015 6:43 PM

I look for comparisons, shoot-outs, and references to current popular choices. I also like a bit of myth/misconception busting, and like challenges to current "king-of-the-hills" when it comes to a certain category. I like claims/statements to be backed by evidence, and not just opinion, especially not the kind that I need to try and see from your perspective to fully understand.

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11/18/2015 6:59 PM
Edited Date/Time: 11/18/2015 8:36 PM

I like the intros to each rider, their physical stats (weight, fitness, height, inseam), riding styles, biking background, and such. If I find one that has similar beliefs to me, I might just follow them, and would like to know what their personal rankings are for gear & trails, and what kind of bike they would buy with their own hard earned cash. Also would like to note how experienced they are at choosing stuff (ex. memorable/fav past experiences), what past mistakes/regrets they have (inc. breakdowns that resulted in ruined trips), and how deep in detail they might go through in researching a new purchase.

If there's anything controversial, that might be to 1 rider's preferences, but not to another, I'd like for that to be noted, so I could see for myself on my own test, to see if it's something that applies to me or not.

To clarify on my last post, say if the SB5c earned Editor's Choice from most media outlets the last year, that should be the standard that many other bikes should be compared to. Same for office favorites, like Stan's Flow EX, Maxxis High Roller IIs, Shimano brakes, KS Lev post, or whatever. The whys and hows are more impactful to me than the whats, whens, and whos, with the latter group tending to be merely header/footer filler.

Also agree with much of what PeteB suggested, especially what he said about verifying the hype and expanding vocab to be more accurately visualized, making new terms and fleshing out their definitions if you have to.

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11/18/2015 8:41 PM

I think your product reviews are done extremely well and better than almost all other sites.

- Why do you read our reviews?
To see how a product really performs and learn things the brand's marketing dept doesn't talk about. For example, just because a bike has 150mm of travel doesn't mean it descends well.

- When you read a review, what do you want to see? What do you want to know?
I'd like to see a star rating for each category:
suspension
climbing
descending
cornering
value
intangibles / impression


- Do you wish we'd compare products directly more often?/
Sure, but rating a product is more important. Your five star rating process is excellent.

- Do you wish we'd quantify things more accurately?
No

- Do you want to know more about the testers and/or location?
NIce to know about the testers, but you can tell if they have a clue by reading the review.

- Do you simply want to know the highlights before digging deeper?
Yeah

- What don't you care about that we currently discuss?
How components perform unless there was a problem or something exceptional.

- Does our review format work for you?
Yeah.

Don't forget to keep it fun, but always be true to your readers and put them first. Also, the junket reviews are pretty worthless since you're basically being paid to write something nice. Keep doing the reviews on your terms.

Thanks!

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11/19/2015 12:24 AM

You guys should model your review format after Matt McDuff's Review Bazooka. That guy knows how to do reviews.

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11/19/2015 1:58 AM

Well, this is gonna sound boring but, I like Vital's reviews in their current format.

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11/19/2015 5:09 AM

My biggest thing, and it's not just you guys- I understand you can only test what you're given- is that the bikes reviewed are always the carbon top flite spec. I can't afford that!

How does the aluminum version of a given bike (in the case that they exist) or the "more affordable" version, which is far more accessible to the public, stack up against the sponsorship/doctor level bike?

I've always wished we'd see some reviews for bikes in the 1000-1500 range. Maybe even some under 1k. Maybe a " top 2/3 best value in these three price ranges: sub 1k, 1-1.5k, and 1.5-1.75k" type situation. I don't know. Just spit balling here.

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11/19/2015 6:11 AM

As long as trail bikes "descend like a DH bike" I think you're good. Haha

Since most of the bikes you guys test in the test sessions are in a similar range of use and have different specs, could you guys do a tire review? May be something you could do concurrently with testing the overall bike. What combos worked best, wear, rolling speed, grip, etc.

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11/19/2015 7:40 AM

First...

I choose a bike based on measurements from a current bike I own. It helps me with understanding and comparing the geometry of other bikes I'm interested in.

Second...

I look at price and warranty as another indicator; this especially helped when I was looking at Carbon fiber bikes.

Third...

Component comparison if I decided to get a fully built bike.

Fourth...

User feedback and tests... This includes negatives as well as positives. I've seen a lot of reviews that hail all the positives but not all the time the negatives. Maybe there afraid to talk crap about their sponsor??? I don't know, but I would appreciate honest feedback.

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11/19/2015 7:44 AM

One thing that most reviews across the industry leave out is what makes a bike feel good or bad. For instance, a reviewer might say that a bike is confidence inspiring downhill. What does that even mean? I'd like to hear something more concrete like "This bike plows through roots and rocks really well, but isn't for the type of rider who likes to pump their way down the trail" or "This bike isn't as plush as some in the first part of travel, but boosts off jumps really well."

I'd also like to see a full comparison system. I'd like to see all bikes from all categories compared against each other in a multitude of different categories. For example: Climbing Efficiency, Climbing Traction, Climbing Handling, Suspension performance on big hits, Suspension plushness, jumping performance, downhill steeps, cornering handling, livelyness, cornering grip, performance on flow trails, performance on rough DH trails, performance on easy flat terrain, braking performance, etc. This would be the only way to break through all the preconceptions about travel numbers and wheel size and actually give people quantifiable information on what bike suits them best. I'd recommend rating the 2016 bikes from 0-16 in each category this year. Then, in 2017, up the scale to 0-17 to allow room for improvement.

This article (http://www.dirtmerchantbikes.com/special-events/2015/7/19/pacific-northwest-summer-2015-xc-tire-comparison-test) shows an example of an excellent way to look at all the data with their spider web chart.

Also, I'd like comparisons to benchmarks from previous years as well so that I can tell if the new 2016 bikes are really any better than the 2013 that I'm still rocking. Is it worth upgrading, or should I wait until the next round of product updates for something better.

When reviewing bikes, I'm also not that concerned with build kits. Most bikes come with a range of different build kits available on the same frame. It gets repetitive when there's a paragraph on the pike fork in nearly every bike review. Just make the bike review about the bike, and review parts separately. Only mention parts if it's something unique, or if that particular application transcends the performance of the general review.

I don't care to know much about reviewers other than to know their skill level and whether they come from an XC or DH background in order to give me a better idea of bias.

With regards to location, just do one article at the beginning telling me about how cool the place is, and then never mention it again in the reviews other than perhaps a link to the original article. If you're reviewing in the desert, however, mention anything you think may not apply in other conditions such as the pacific north west.

Also, spend less time talking about the bike design/engineering. Please do go in depth if there's some cool new technology, but don't waste time writing about how a particular manufacturer has a more durable carbon manufacturing process or how the new DW link configuration is 2% more efficient. Mention it in passing and then go onto the ride review. The proof is in the pudding.

I'm particularly interested in hearing about things that failed, didn't have the greatest performance, or didn't meet expectations.

Don't talk about cable routing or fork bumpers or anything like that. Write an opinion article, then mention those things briefly in the review with a link to the opinion article. Obviously, you should mention anything that defys your opinion.

I should mention that I prefer text to video. When at work, watching videos makes it too obvious that I'm not on task.

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11/19/2015 9:05 AM

that dirtmerchant review looks pretty awesome. Scientifically based in part, with plenty of admittedly subjective thoughts thrown in. The graphical representation of their findings was excellent, too. I wish there were more reviews out there that looked like this!

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11/19/2015 9:20 AM

The best thing that we can do as consumers looking for a new ride or component is compare it to what we have. I know the geo of my bike and the best way for me to compare a new ride is to see a proper, accurate, no BS geo chart. Discussing any querks such as a steep seat angle effecting top tube length but not reach would be beneficial for those that aren't so hot on geo. Whether it's made from plastic, ally; how much travel it has; etc - if it's not the right shape/ size then it might as well be made of lead because I'm not even considering it. Geo and sizing is the most important thing you could include and discuss. Everything else is secondary. From a good geometry comparison I know how the bike will handle and ride, so banging on and on about how it descends is a waste of time for me. Even for novice riders I'd argue most reviews could be more to the point. Having said all this, I never buy a full bike off the peg. Always self builds. So the spec list is only of interest to guage how my own components will affect the ride. I don't care that the wheels are heavy (for e.g), but I care how much they weigh for comparisons sake, as above.

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11/19/2015 9:28 AM

Personally, I take every media review with a pinch of salt, you guys have industry contacts and friends who its in your best interest not to piss off with a bad review. Im not knocking you guys or making out that everythings a conspiracy its just human nature not to bight the hand that feeds, for example i dont expect to see a bad review of some troy lee shorts when im sat looking at an ad banner for them.

The same can be said for just about every member review on the internet, its rare to find a guy whos just dropped 5000 on a nomad say "nah, its not the best bike in the world".

So to answer the question, i buy what looks prettiest, gets good reviews from the places i trust (vital,NSMB,Dirt), has good reports from the few people i know in the industry ("dont get that man, theyve had a tonne back on warranty") and most important of all looks prettiest.

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11/19/2015 9:53 AM

responsiblepirate wrote:

Personally, I take every media review with a pinch of salt, you guys have industry contacts and friends who its in your best interest not to piss off with a bad review. Im not knocking you guys or making out that everythings a conspiracy its just human nature not to bight the hand that feeds, for example i dont expect to see a bad review of some troy lee shorts when im sat looking at an ad banner for them.

The same can be said for just about every member review on the internet, its rare to find a guy whos just dropped 5000 on a nomad say "nah, its not the best bike in the world".

So to answer the question, i buy what looks prettiest, gets good reviews from the places i trust (vital,NSMB,Dirt), has good reports from the few people i know in the industry ("dont get that man, theyve had a tonne back on warranty") and most important of all looks prettiest.

More transparence.

If the testers work or are connected with certain brands it should be know.

Knowing what the tester currently rides, and if he got a deal on it.

We want legitimacy. Not just I scratch your back you scratch mine.... I got a free bike.

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11/19/2015 10:04 AM

You asked, so here is my 2 cents
- Why do you read our reviews?When a review I'm interested in catches my eye.
- When you read a review, what do you want to see? What do you want to know? Reviews are opinions, I like that. I would like solid opinions e.g. would the reviewer buy it. Is it better or worse than XYZ. One thing that should always be included as an objective measure is the weight. What the reviewer would change in the way of parts or modifications.
- Do you wish we'd compare products directly more often? Yes
- Do you wish we'd quantify things more accurately? It's an opinion, hard to quantify. Just be honest. Call out crap when it's crap and give stuff you love the big ups.
- Do you want to know more about the testers and/or location? Very relevant
- Do you simply want to know the highlights before digging deeper? I can always flip to the summary. Keep the intro relevant and the people who are interested will be engaged.
- What don't you care about that we currently discuss? Cover more price points than the typical high end gear, Keep the marketing narrative out of the review.
- Does our review format work for you?Mostly, keep it up, looking forward to the shootout. Maybe start to experiment with some video review content, it is 2015!

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11/19/2015 10:37 AM
Edited Date/Time: 11/19/2015 10:38 AM

Vital reviews are definitely among the best out there. I appreciate the background info on testers and locations (I decided on a roadtrip locale based on your choice of SLO for the Test Sessions last year, and it was rad) as it provides context to the reviews.

As far as using reviews to inform purchase decisions, obviously lots of people buy complete bikes, and many others swap frames or build up their bikes from the frame up. It would be great to address both these contingents -- most reviews (not just yours) are focused on the overall, complete bike, and are heavily colored by component specs that many readers may not find relevant if they intend to setup the bike different. Your Test Sessions in particular provide the unique opportunity to ride bikes back-to-back and really get a feel for how they differ from each other, since we already know they're all going to be pretty dang good.

First, provide a baseline review of the complete build that the manufacturer sends for review, but then standardize key components of the build (suspension, cockpit, tires) so that you can evaluate and compare the handling of the frame itself against other bikes in the same category, or across categories. I care most about the frame geometry and the frame's inherent suspension characteristics: how the antisquat and leverage curve translate to pedaling and suspension performance on trail, etc. Rear shocks with bike-specific tunes present a challenge, but it would be easy to fit a standardized bar/stem, fork and tires to each bike to make for a more relevant comparison of the frames themselves.

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11/19/2015 6:35 PM

VitalMtb is my favorite to read reviews because they seem to be honest and thorough. I am very big into research before pretty much every purchase I make and the format they are written here is very nice and straight forward.

I would say some more direct comparisons would be nice. For example couple of forks ridden on the same bike and same trails would be nice and a write up comparing and contrasting their differences.

One of my favorite things is how users can add their own reviews so us mortals can compare to what the pros think of the same products. I believe that if you keep up what you are doing, you will be doing great!

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11/19/2015 7:13 PM

Maybe have a generic parts kit that you bolt on to each frame to better compare the actual frame and suspension characteristics from model to model. It would give me a better idea of why this bike is better than that bike.

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