Brand X Bashing… A short history

Sadly,  we seem to live in an era where anyone offering a dissenting view in any type of debate — cordial or otherwise — is fair game for being labeled as mean-spirited and their comments dismissed as bashing.

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Definition of BASH

transitive verb
1: to strike violently : hit; also : to injure or damage by striking : smash —often used with in
2: to attack physically or verbally <media bashing> <celebrity bashing>

From Wikipedia:

Bashing is a harsh, gratuitous, prejudicial attack on a person, group or subject. Literally, bashing is a term meaning to hit or assault, but when it is used as a suffix, or in conjunction with a noun indicating the subject being attacked, it is normally used to imply that the act is motivated by [bias or intolerance]. The term is also used metaphorically, to describe verbal or critical assaults. Topics which attract bashing tend to be highly partisan and personally sensitive topics for the bashers, the victims or both. Common areas include religion, nationality, sexuality and politics.

Physical bashing is differentiated from regular assault because it is a motivated assault, which may be considered a hate crime. In relation to non-physical bashing, the term is used to imply that a verbal or critical attack is similarly unacceptable and similarly prejudicial. Use of the term in this manner is an abusive ad hominem action, used to denounce the attack and admonish the attackers by comparing them to perpetrators of physical bashing.

Karen Franklin, in her paper “Psychosocial motivations of hate crimes perpetrators” identifies the following motivations for bashing: socially instilled prejudice or partisan conflict; the perception that the bashing subject is in some way contrary to, or in offense to, an underlying ideology; group or peer influence.

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The Issue: What motivated me to write this was a recent discussion thread at BikeForums where a first time tandem buyer was asking for feedback on a certain brand of tandems.   Early on in the thread, one of our more objective and fair-minded BF brothers made mention of what I’ll simply call “Brand X’s’ use of 1.25” fork steerers and then another valued contributor — who truly does seem to have a hard-on for Brand X — offered up a number of good points, including this one, “As long as you are aware of [Brand X’s] idosyncracies and they dont bother you.”

Frankly, I don’t have a hard time with folks pointing out things like this, particularly since Brand X goes out of its way to explain why their somewhat unique specifications are what make their tandems superior to others, but that also requires owners to source parts from Brand X.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just something shoppers might want to know about.   However, as is often times the case when something is written where anyone offers up comments about Brand X, there will be a follow-up from someone who took umbrage from the remark and this was no exception: from another BF brother: “I am admittedly a big fan of [Brand X]…” and, ” …There are a lot of [Brand X] bashers on this group, mostly complaining about rear spacing, larger headsets, etc.”

It’s funny how “Brand X Bashing” remains the most common description used to this day on forums and elsewhere whenever anyone so much as offers a critique or points out the often times subtle but discrete design and component specification differences used by Brand X, and the commonly cited pros and cons thereof.  What I find interesting is that there has been very little “Brand X Bashing” or “Brand X Owner Bashing” in places like the BikeForums or other forums where tandems are discussed, with one exception: Tandem@Hobbes.

Short History of Brand X Bashing: The first public, on-line ‘bashing’ of Brand X and/or the writings of its owner at Tandem@Hobbes came in the Summer of 1993 just a few months after Tandem@Hobbes came into being and following the publication of Brand X’s 1993 catalog. Those annual catalog-induced critiques became commonplace along with with backlash from early and controversial ‘infomercial’ postings by Brand X, noting that to this day Brand X and its owner has always had a polarizing effect at Tandem@Hobbes. Even though the ‘bashing’ that took place was isolated at Hobbes, the polarization and “bashing” label has followed Brand X discussions to other forums.  Now, let me say that without a doubt there were a few Hobbsians who would let-loose with some serious ad hominem attacks in response to certain Brand X postings that did, in fact, meet the definition of ‘bashing’.  So, having lived through those exchanges, perhaps that’s why I take an exception to technical critiques being labeled as ‘bashing’.

Cause & Effect: In regard to the latter, IMHO there are two key themes that underscore why Brand X, et al, have been subject to both objective and not-so-objective criticism over the years.  The first of these issues is captured nicely in the aforementioned postings at Hobbes that were — for all intents and purposes — the very first public critiques where Brand X’s literature was perceived to be playing loose with facts and testing:

First Contributor:

There are a number of purported facts in [Brand X’s] 1993 catalog about >tandems and tandeming. Since all of these argue for the purchase >of a [Brand X], I have strong doubts, given the author of the catalog.

Second Contributor Responds:

This is ironic; I was just looking at [Brand X’s] literature and I felt kind of suspicious about some of it. I’m sure some of it is because I have an Ibis and their tests made it look bad, but I think at least some of my problems with it are non-emotional. 😉

The main things that bugged me about the [Brand X] testing is that they were just plain wrong about some of their information. I don’t know if they know this or not. They also put a lot of stock in some very qualitative things… I guess I should bring in the damn literature so I can bitch about it coherently. BTW, I do think that [Brand X] does make excellent tandems, and I think it is pretty hard to say that they aren’t the best, overall. Sometimes I just don’t like their attitude.

The second is the one that probably drives the more emotional response, and it involves Brand X’s founder & president and a marble pedestal.  While I and many others hold Brand X’s founder in the highest regard for his life-long pursuit to increase the quality of, and consumer interests in tandems, tandem cycling, touring that coincided and perhaps helped to foster the emergence of “the tandem lifestyle” here in the US back in the late 70’s, there is a dark side to placing yourself on a pedestal and/or allowing yourself to be placed on a pedestal that can cause great people to become pretentious… whether intended or not.  Add in a competitive business model that’s more aggressive than any other in the otherwise collegial tandem industry, and it can get testy in a hurry.

During the height of the Brand X “bashing” at Hobbes in 1996, there were two postings made by two very-well respected members of the Hobbes community that did an excellent job of outlining these very issues in very detailed, and well articulated postings.  One came from an emerging peer of Brand X and another from an enthusiast that you can find at the following links.  Mind you, going to these links could open Pandora’s Box if you don’t already know to whom I’ve been referring as Brand X, so visit at your own peril:

  • The first is a two-part posting from a long-time friend of the net and tandem enthusiast whom I’ve always respected as a highly objective, articulate member of the Hobbes community and cycling community in general. That she and her husband are also one of the strongest tandem teams in the country underscores their commitment and interest in cycling.  In fact, to take the edge off this entry I’ll end it with something else she wrote at Hobbes that remains a classic to this day and that will give readers who have never been a member of the Hobbes list a sense of the personalities that used to frequent the list and shape its invaluable content and entertainment value.  However, relative to Brand X bashing, here are PART 1 of 2 and PART 2 of 2 from November 1996
  • The second is from one of the most well-respected members of the tandem manufacturing community who, at the time this posting was made, was still a relative new-comer to many tandem enthusiasts not located in the Pacific Northwest who had not ridden nor who were familiar with his brand.  I don’t believe he was alone in his view of Brand X, but he was clearly the one who was moved to push back on the 800 pound gorilla in his posting entitled Brand X Authority from October 1996

Hobbes Really Was A Lively Place Back In  The Day: So, what WAS the Tandem@Hobbes listserver posting traffic like when it was ‘THE’ internet outlet for tandem cycling discussions, news and information back in the day?  Here’s what is perhaps one of the funniest things that I’ve ever read at Hobbes, posted by Pamela Blalock back in April of 1997. It speaks for itself.

Lightbulbs For Tandems

If you are on any other email lists, you likely noticed the lightbulb list made it around in record time. It was a pretty funny list, but on our commute home from work, John and I came up with all sorts of ways to make it more applicable to this list, and here is what we came up with….

Q: How many tandem(AT)hobbes email list subscribers does it take to change a light bulb?

A: The math here is left as an exercise to the reader

  • 1 to change the light bulb and to post to the list that the light bulb has been changed
  • 2 to ask how to change a lightbulb on their specific brand of tandem
  • 14 to share similar experiences of changing bulbs and how the light bulb could have been changed differently.
  • 1 to compile all the answers and create a FAQ
  • 1 from SteveC saying he has added this FAQ to his web site
  • 1 to ask why he can’t thread a Campagnolo lightbulb into a Shimano socket
  • 14 to point out the differences in spacing between the two
  • 28 to bash Shimano for chaging the standards yearly
  • 7 to praise Camapagnolo for being well … Campagnolo
  • 1 post to point out that DaVinci Designs make independently variable lightbulbs
  • 9 to say that Seymour Lightbulbs are the best available.
  • 2 1 post each from Peter Jon White and Todd at Tullio’s saying that Quality have Seymour lightbulbs, and your LBS can order from them.
  • 7 to say that Seymour Lightbulbs aren’t very durable
  • 1 from Pamela saying they regularly wear out Seymours
  • 1 from John Bayley saying that waterproof lightbulbs can be mail-ordered from England
  • 3 to say that Seymour Lightbulbs are not compatible with regular sockets, but work great with an L-adapter
  • 2 to say they got their Seymours working just fine with regular sockets
  • 7 to caution about the dangers of letting stokers change light bulbs.
  • 20 to say how they always allow their stoker to change them and never have trouble.
  • 4 to ask about special extender wands for stokids to change lightbulbs
  • 2 to say they’d never trust their stokid to change a lightbulb
  • 3 asking for suggestions to help diagnose the creak from the new lightbulb
  • 1 to say the lightbulb is worn out and buy a new one
  • 1 from Sheldon [Brown] pointing to an article on his website for replacing just the filament
  • 1 post from Wes Prince about using Goretex lightbulb cables on the trail.
  • 3 posts asking if Goretex lightbulb cables are worth the money
  • 2 posts asking where to get them
  • 1 post from Peter Jon White saying that your LBS can order them from Quality
  • 7 to say that this is not a tandem specific discussion and ask that it be moved to a more appropriate list.
  • 1 from Brand X saying that Brand X’s are the only people to use tandem-specific lightbulbs and they are 4.5 times brighter than anyone elses lightbulbs and a followup post detailing the physics behind the tandem specific nature of these bulbs
  • 1 post each from Bruce Frech, Mark Sapiro and Eric Salathe explaining just how Brand X’s physics are incorrect
  • 3 posts from people who don’t care about the physics, but believe their lightbulbs work fine.
  • 9 posts about how brilliant Brand X’s lightbulbs are
  • 9 posts bashing Brand X’s founder for the hell of it
  • 7 posts praising Brand X’s founder for the hell of it
  • 2 posts hoping Brand X’s founder doesn’t leave the list due to the Brand X -bashing
  • 1 from Ken Iisaka about how tandem specific lightbulbs are illegal in Japan, but how several people are getting away with their use.
  • 3 posts to question the tandem specific nature of a lightbulb, saying they use these so-called tandem specific bulbs on their singles
  • 1 from Mark Bulgier telling a previously unknown (to Brand X’s founder) story of how he almost overheated one of those Brand X tandem specific lightbulbs on its first ever outing
  • 1 post from Dwan Shepard inviting everyone over for coffee and offering discounts on older model lightbulbs.
  • 3 posts asking how to attach a trailer to a lightbulb
  • 2 posts asking where to get a kickstand for your lightbulb
  • 4 posts about how Burley makes a great lightbulb for under $2000
  • 5 posts to ask if anyone has tried the new sub $700 lightbulbs offered by Bike Nashbar
  • 3 posts from people who bought lightbulbs from Tandems East or Tandems Ltd
  • 1 post from Steve Smilanick announcing that lightbulbs can now be taken apart and carried in a wallet thanks to revolutionary new couplers, and there are pictures on his web page.
  • 1 post from every lightbulb manufacturer that they have adopted this technology.
  • 1 post from Tom Shaddox with a brightly humourous piece of fiction.
  • 1 post from Pamela suggesting a softride beam would make the bulb less prone to breaking, adding that she and John have broken 300,000 lightbulbs.
  • 1 post from David Winyard suggesting the beam is detrimental to the life of lightbulbs
  • 1 from Big Don about his superlight hyperrillium lightbulb that weighs 1/3 what a normal lightbulb weighs
  • 1 post from Sheldon Brown pointing to an article about French lightbulbs on his web page.
  • 1 post from Larry Black saying that he has hundreds of rare and unobtainable lightbulbs in his barn.
  • 1 post from Len Caplan praising the Park idiot-proof lightbulb installing/removal tool
  • 37 posts debating the pros and cons of 26″ vs. 700C lighbulbs, and a couple more from the 20″ crowd
  • 2 posts asking if Phil Wood is ever going to release their new cassette lightbulb
  • 2 posts suggesting the recumbent lightbulbs are far more comfortable than wedgie lightbulbs
  • 1 post Greg Shepherd about an upcoming review of lighbulbs in Tandem Magazine.
  • 33 to concatenate all posts to date, then quote them including all headers and footers, and then add “Me Too.”

Full Disclosure: I am clearly someone who has been described as a Brand X basher dating back to the 1990’s, as I have publicly taken issue with certain claims, facts and the tenor of Brand X’s marketing hyperbole primarily in my writings at the Tandem@Hobbes listserve. Mind you, I also consider Brand X’s owner a friend and someone for whom who I have immense admiration and respect.  We have spent many hours discussing tandems and he clearly is the world’s biggest tandem enthusiast, bar none.  In some cases, he has taken me to task for mis-reading or mis-understanding what he has written, and it was deserved.  In others, we’ve agreed to disagree and that’s also a valid outcome: after all, I’m a consumer and enthusiast and he’s an entrepreneur and an enthusiast who has to satisfy all of his customer’s needs, protect his interests, and make a fair profit in a very competitive industry with relatively tight margins. It’s that type of diversity that brings about lively debate.  Sadly,  as noted at the outset of this entry, we seem to live in an era where anyone offering a dissenting view in any type of debate — cordial or otherwise — is fair game for being labeled as mean-spirited and their comments dismissed as bashing.

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About TG

I've been around a bit and done a few things, have a couple kids and a few grandkids. I tend to be curmudgeonly, matter-of-fact and not predisposed to self-serving chit-chat. Thankfully, my wife's as nice as can be otherwise we'd have no friends. My interests are somewhat eclectic, but whose aren't?
This entry was posted in Bloggishnish, Editorials & Rants, Whimsical Or Entertaining. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Brand X Bashing… A short history

  1. Brian W says:

    Why not just say what “brand x” is? 🙂 Better for SEO on your blog.

    • TG says:

      Perhaps I buried the lead while providing background on the ubiquitous subject of Brand X bashing?

      “Sadly, we now live in an era where anyone offering a dissenting view in any type of debate — cordial or otherwise — is fair game for being labeled as mean-spirited or basher, etc…”

      I may have to revisit my entry and add that as a thesis before the definitions.

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