You'll have probably noticed that of recent bikes we've tested, nearly all have been managing to get a 4.5 stars rating.
While this is great news because it means bikes are getting better, it obviously means we've got to move the goalposts here. The score rating is a poor substitute for reading the entire test which - we hope - will make it quite clear where the bike wins and where it loses, and it's suitability for different riders. However we know a lot of people rely on the stars as a ready reckoner.
But with everything getting a 4.5 / 5 it's not that useful, so we're going to get a whole lot tougher on what we expect and what the ratings mean.
Anything below 2.5 stars has got some work to do before we'd recommend it as the bike to come home with.
3 stars is the score we'll give to bikes that make up the numbers. Nothing much wrong with them, but nothing inspiring either. It'll also be the score we'll be giving to 90% great but 10% awful bikes which need more than a minor upgrade to restore their glory.
3.5 stars will now mean a perfectly respectable, no nonsense vehicle or one that maybe really shines in some areas but drags in others.
If a bike walks off with 4 stars, then it can consider itself very priviledged indeed, and the manufacturer can slap themselves firmly on the back. Extremely capable bikes we wouldn't have any hesitation in recommending to a buyer get the 4 star treatment and we'll make clear the small aspects that stop it scoring higher in the text.
Anything that does well enough to get 4.5 stars is truly a superlative ride. Something that really stands head and shoulders above the rest through performance, innovation or probably both. Basically the kind of bike we'll keep on the test fleet for our own "long term" pleasure for as long as they let us, and then wave a tearful goodbye when it goes (but not without a fight).
So who gets that perfect 5?
The answer is a very rare breed indeed. A bike that we genuinely can't think of a way to improve, and that we'd be happy to roll round on for the rest of our days. In all probability this means something stunningly expensive and handcrafted, which you will have to save long and hard for or just dream about - but isn't that the way it should be?
Before you ask we'll be altering all the scores we've already put up on recent bike tests to reflect this new hardline regime, but here's a quick run down.
Gary Fisher Sugar - down to 4 stars on account of that mud clearance.
Trek Fuel - down to 4 stars because it's still great, but it's not as long travel happy as some of the competition and isn't superlight to compensate.
Kona Explosif - Drops value because of newly introduced prices (blame that pound V dollar thing) but keeps us grinning very happily and holds onto it's rare 4.5 stars rating for high speed singletrack frenzy.
Trek STP - We still haven't sent this one back and it was the bike of choice for both this weekend's outings so there's no doubt the featherweight flexible friend keeps it's 4.5 stars jersey.
Let us know what you think by mail or if you still don't think we're being tough enough, let's talk this through like civilised folk on the forum.