Bespoken Word – I’m an analytical addict and Comparing Bike Data is my CBD

Cant Quit Pants
(Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Concentrating on equipment not the experience might seem like the perfect way to ruin a ride for most people. After all, some folks have a wonderful time on their bike still running the suspension settings and tire pressures it had when it was pulled out of a box in the shop. Many don’t even notice if the suspension has stiffened up from a lack of servicing or tires have lost air over time. I know successful racers and people who ride hundreds of miles a week who don’t really know or care what might happen if they clicked the blue or red dial one way or the other.

I’ve always been a gear geek though, fussing, fettling and researching the finer details of whatever I’m working on just out of curiosity. For as long as I can remember riding I was tweaking anything possible to improve performance. Saving up pocket money for fabled ‘Red S’ grease to feed my habit of stripping down and rebuilding bearings and shifters. Being blown away at how much better Aztec brake pads were than my Raleigh Raincheck originals. Gutted when my ‘Puncture Guard’ Panaracer tires repeatedly flatted on the bridleway down from Tan Hill pub on a touring trip long before anyone talked about pinch punctures.

It’s not just bike details I’ve always thought about way more than most people either. I’ve always been hyper-critical about myself – often with toxically corrosive consequences. But even badly designed tangs or awkward weighting on a fork will properly trigger me and I pathologically hate flimsy, pressed tin teaspoons. As a kid, I ignored fiction and hoovered up the data from encyclopedias of planes, tanks and other military hardware to populate endless pages of comparative, calibrated wargame listings. Theoretically, this was to inform the micro battles that used to get played out across green cloth valleys and lichen woods on the dining table. Now I realize it was probably the process of deep dive researching muzzle velocities and armor angles then translating that into modified dice scores that I really loved. You want a peak geek confession? I even used to mix my own various khaki inks to match the appropriate uniforms or paintwork of the numbers and notes I was carefully filling these listings with.

Pile of test bikes

Back-to-back testing is my absolute favorite type of ride (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Digging into bike data

What’s funny – but often eye-rollingly frustrating for those around me – is that I’m not holistically fussy or OCD overall. I’ll often fixate on a particular aspect to a fanatical degree while being feral about everything else. I might be hyper-analyzing a fork on a bike where the shifting is utterly shafted or the dropper has needed bleeding for months. Prepping for hours so I can take three different wheels to ride in a single session then forgetting my helmet. Squawking about ‘correct’ dishwasher stacking like some fascist white goods supremacist, while ignoring the fact I’ve not showered in days because I’ve been too busy riding and writing. My desperation to 'crack on with the next thing’ is generally at the expense of a tidy environment both physically and mentally too.

Thankfully I’ve somehow managed to weaponize this characteristic into every phase of my ‘career’. Archaeology was a perfect blend of pick axe and shovel violence while simultaneously analyzing every slight shift in soil color or composition in forensic detail. I trained as a physiotherapist because I was fascinated by how manipulating frayed muscles and tight fascia in the right order with the right pressure could manifest a miracle cure in broken bodies. When I worked in a bike shop at college, I used to take service or repair bikes for a blast around the block partially to check I’d done the job right, but primarily feed my thirst for comparison and contextual evaluation. I can still vividly remember the visceral jolt of velocity when I pointed the first Specialized M2 race hardtail up the road and pressed the pedals. How many times we ‘had’ to ride that GT RST-1 down the park steps to be sure it was working OK, or convincing a customer they should buy a Dawes Edge XTR just so we could get a look at the latest, greatest Shimano groupset. Even when I worked in a bike parts warehouse, I’d pick every order in the most efficient way to get the job done as fast as possible. Not because I was massively invested in whether a bike shop did or didn’t get their Cateye lights ordered that day, but because I just seem to be hardwired to be both rabidly relentless and process pedantic wherever possible.

Close up view of a Yeti rear shock

Reviewing shock footage works as an infallible VAR referee (unlike the football version) for the sensations I can feel but can’t see while riding (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

And of course, my analytical affliction has been perfect for how I’ve spent the past quarter century or more. Spanning a timeframe from when disc brakes were an exotic upgrade, full-suspension meant an inch or two of rubbery randomness, and even suspension forks as standard were rare. To the current world of wireless gears, carbon frames and tubeless tires in multiple wheel sizes. Where micro-changes in oil flows are presented in global online meetings, more graphs are included in bike tests than the FTSE index and kinematic doesn’t mean German movies.

At the risk of sounding like a spoiled brat, it can still be a curse. I hate to think how much ride time I’ve wasted rooting through piles of clothes to find a particular jacket just to see how it works in some particular conditions. Swapping potential hours of simple, carefree singletrack bliss for hours swapping tires, sealant or juggling PSI to see what difference it makes. I can’t deny there have been some dark days this winter that have got me digging deep for enthusiasm. When every waterproof sock and boot I have is still drying and every ride means an hour of clean-up time. I’ve ridden with a lingering illness, gray-faced exhaustion, and even a broken leg–  when resting would have been much smarter. Chewed my fingers to get enough sensation back to swap stem bolts so I could swap handlebars on £1,000 hardtails on a sleet-lashed hill, in case that’s the difference I can feel. It’s a basic fact of the job that you have to ride the crap bikes more than the good ones too. Because due diligence, respect and reputation are dependent on checking every possible fix before you add executioner to the judge and jury descriptor. 

Cockpit close up with hidden parts

Unreleased products can make composing photos awkward at times (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

But then I wouldn’t be getting any ‘bikes as work’ time at all if I’d taken my formative spreadsheet stirrings into tax accounting. I doubt I’d have met so many excellent people, ridden in such incredible places or got to chat endlessly about bike tech in a way that would get me shut down in seconds in most social situations either.

Plus while comparison might be the thief of joy for many, it’s an intrinsic part of my character. Riding the same lap five times back to back with different shock settings could be seen as a waste of flying to Canada for a bike launch, but to me, it’s the whole point of being there. Getting invested in how the bike dynamics did or didn’t change with every increasingly contexted twist and turn of that trail. Reviewing shock footage as a VAR referee for the sensations I can feel but can’t see while riding. Comparing notes between runs or calling up other testers I know are riding the same gear. Sniffing each other's butts like dogs to gauge what we’re thinking without totally giving the game away. Modifying their feedback with what you know about their riding style and personal preferences in the same way my experience with every component on the rest of the bike is part of the overarching algorithm.

Media photographers in mountain bike kit

A meeting of Bike Analysts Anonymous at a secret Canadian location last week  (Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Dream job or nightmare?

As a self-diagnosed analytical addict, I think I’d genuinely miss a legitimate excuse for plugging in an extra volume spacer before a ride. Then sticking another in my pocket along with the appropriate top cap wrench and a shock pump so I can adjust mid-ride and WhatsApp. Or wearing odd shoes or gloves for direct comparison with another odd pair in the van or even my back pockets on a long ride so I can double up on the data capture. And while I try not to take the GoPro or be overtly testing stuff on ‘social’ rides, you can be sure as hell all the analytical apps I’ve got in my head are running overtime in the background on every meter of the trail. 

I chatted to Alan Muldoon from our colleagues at MBR in Canada about how we’d almost certainly get sick of riding the same trails over and over at home if we weren’t on a different bike or at least a different setup every time. In other words, while the admin, logistics and faff time of testing means this ‘dream job’ proves a nightmare for some, I might not even be biking at all now without the neurodivergent aspect of our dirt time. I can think of a lot of photographers, creatives and of course bike designers who are in that category as well. 

Or to put it another way, riding might be Ritalin for many, but Comparing Bike Data is my CBD.

Guy Kesteven

Guy has been working on Bike Perfect since launch in 2019. He started writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.

Current rides: Cervelo ZFS-5, Specialized Chisel, custom Nicolai enduro tandem, Landescape/Swallow custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg