Here is a quick blog that I wrote to address some of the questions I receive regarding the testing of motorcycles here at Enduro360. My intent is to give you a behind the scenes look at what is involved. It is not intended to point out things that are particularly right or wrong, just a look at the way things are. As always, there are things that I should work on improving, as well as things I hope others will improve upon also – Chilly
What We Test
Enduro360 celebrates its third birthday this month. When we started out a couple of years ago, the idea of testing motorcycles was just a hope and dream. The first few articles were reprints of stories I wrote for MotoUSA. Then I wrote a few new things with the bikes I still had from MotoUSA. I think the first real Enduro360 test we did was the 2010 KTM 300xcw.
That first test wasn’t much, just a quick ride and my first attempt at making a video. Since then we have tested many bikes and made a ton of videos. The videos have gotten a little better than my first attempt and I would hope the quality of the bike testing has grown also.
These days we test quite a few bikes. Considering that I do it all myself, it is a real challenge. With such an enthusiastic group of readers, it seems that as we grow, the expectations grow at a pace that is hard to keep up with. I get more and more requests for tests, so I thought I would share a little behind the scenes look at the process.
The Ticking Clock
Testing motorcycles takes time, lots of it. On average, a full bike test takes at least 40 hours to complete. Even a short test is more than a 20 hour on time commitment. Just a quick one day ride story is about 15 hours. There are a lot of steps involved.
One of the biggest challenges for you as a reader is to see the difference between tests from various outlets. Not all of them include lots of ride time. Oh the stories I could tell! Seriously, I read stuff that is absolute crap. But for the average consumer, it might be very hard to determine the value of any given review. I am sure that many simply assume that the bigger the media source, the better the product.
With the exception of KTM, all the small importers only have a very narrow window in the year for testing bikes. While a year is 12 months, many importers are only receiving and shipping bikes within a 6 month window.
It is always a long sad story when we ask for bikes to test. The bikes are late shipping. They won’t have anything available to test until they have fulfilled the outstanding orders. Then they are only interested in testing when they have unsold bikes in the warehouse. Once those are sold out, there is not much sense testing because next year’s bikes will be on the way in a few months, etc.
Once a bike is arranged to test, it has to be scheduled and picked up. The first thing on the agenda is to make sure all the photos and videos are completed. Then I start the process of riding. Once I get a little ride time in, I spend some garage time inspecting and pondering parts. I usually take things apart just to see how they work and go together. That usually requires more photos. I then put together a list of questions and observations for the importer. Then it is off to do some more riding.
The challenge is not just the riding. The initial impressions come very fast. It is the long term impressions that are more important. How does the bike work in different terrain and conditions? What does it need to race? How well do the parts hold up over time? Is it easy to work on? These are all factors that make small contributions to the overall impression.
When all those tasks are completed, I can then start to think about trying to get it all down on the electronic page. I always do what research that I can. For example, if I can get an owner’s manual, I read the entire thing. The manuals always contain some interesting bit of information that I was unaware of. I read everything on the manufacturers website and refer back constantly to make sure I have their facts and figures straight.
From the time I sit down in front of the computer, the average 2,000 word story takes about 8 hours to create. There is 4 hours in the first draft and just about that much more time in rewrites and proofing. There are a couple more hours for editing video and photos and getting it all put together into the format you will read on Enduro360.
So as you can see, even the shortest of tests are very time consuming. But there is one constant that you can rely on; the more time spent, the better the test. As for shortcuts, that is exactly what they are, shortcuts.
All KTM All The Time
Yes, I get that a lot. The insinuation is that we are a little too KTM centric. My answer is Hallelujah! I mean what could be better than having access to all the hottest enduro bikes on the planet? We are all extremely fortunate for that opportunity.
Do we turn away any other testing opportunities? Absolutely not. With the exceptions of KTM, Husaberg and Gas Gas, it is pretty hard for us to get bikes arranged to test. One of the things that continually amazes me, here we are right in the middle of the California motorcycle industry, yet I never get calls from any of the other bike companies, except KTM, to just go ride. How hard is it to say, hey we are going out to the track on Friday, would you like to come out and ride a bike?
But that leads into my next point. Why do we not have more variety of bikes to test? First off we can cross off all the Japanese brands. They have quit playing in the enduro market. Among all the Asian players, there has only been one significant new model to talk about in many years.
We made a few attempts to get a Yamaha WR450 and got no response. The model has turned out to be another halfhearted venture anyway, so my desire to track one down has fizzled. I have always been a WR fan, they are fun bikes to ride. But let’s be realistic, the latest version is practically a parts bin bike. It is not a race bike and it doesn’t have a license plate. So it is a little hard to get worked up about it when there are plenty of other really exciting bikes to ride.
As for the handful of other European brands, they are all faced with their own challenges, mostly money. Honestly, most of them do not really want their bikes “tested”, they just want someone to say something nice. Many of these brands have found media outlets that they can count on for soft approach reviews and who won’t abuse their bikes too much.
In that light, we are often at the bottom of the pile as a choice to give a test bike to. For the smaller companies, the test bikes they have are probably already scheduled to be sold to some dealer and they need to keep them as clean as possible to protect the sale value. What we want is to ride them hard and see what happens. Most of our bikes look properly ridden when we are done with them. Our 350exc has over 100 hours and counting.
That brings us back around to talking about KTM. The bikes we test are just a tiny cog in the great big orange machine. Whether I scratch the plastic or blow the whole thing up, no one much cares, as long as it is all in the line of duty. It is just one part of a big overall media program with a budget to cover such eventualities. With that carte blanc, we ride the crap out of them. It is the best situation a tester could hope for.
The Shoot Out
We also get lots of request for shoot outs. In general, it is not something I am going to do. I do not have the time and resources to do it properly. We will make any attempt to compare similar models when they are available, but it won’t be the kind of big shoot out you see in the magazines.
Personally I consider shootouts to be the lowest form of bike testing. It is mostly just for show. It is a bit like herding cats. It takes bikes, mechanics and riders to make it all happen. Getting all that together is a monumental task and it can easily end up half assed. You end up with so many variables involved that it is difficult to produce credible results.
I saw the results of one shoot out a while back. They slammed a bike pretty hard for a particular suspension characteristic. It seemed odd to me because I did not notice the same characteristic in that model. I later learned, quite by accident, that someone had apparently confused the fork clickers; thinking the compression adjuster was on the top instead of the bottom. Thus, the fork rebound had been completed closed in an attempt to stiffen the fork. No wonder it rode like crap.
I have been a test rider at a few shoot outs and watched the work first hand. Some of the Cycle World tests I participated in years ago were very good, but they took many months to arrange and most of a month to produce.
Why Enduro360 is Unique
In the online world, we are just about the only US player who regularly tests enduro bikes. It seems many of the big sites that previously had original enduro content have moved away from it. Advertising dollars have a significant influence on the content choices. Somebody has to pay for that space, if it isn’t supported by enduro importers, then different content gets those pages. Pop quiz, who else, besides Enduro360, tests enduro bikes but doesn’t have any OEM advertising? Hint- this question is not entirely rhetorical, there is at least one correct answer.
I guess I am blessed not to have any money, so this part doesn’t affect me much. You don’t see any OEM’s advertising on Enduro360, so they have no influence over me. But red ink is a different subject that we will talk about some other time.
The Course Ahead
We will keep plodding along and making more progress as we grow. I love riding and testing bikes. Fortunately the reviews we post perform very well. We have strong Google search recognition, so readers come from all over the world get to see the content. The tests are also very evergreen; they continue to perform well for a long time, often for up to a year. The YouTube videos help tremendously with that.
That is a very fortunate thing for us. The reviews play on and on, long after they have been bumped from the homepage. In the long run, all the time and effort pays off. So we will just keep riding and writing. In time, I am sure we will start to see greater support from the brands that currently shrug us off.