The starting situation is clear and be brought to mind again: According to §4.2 of the product liability law "in the course of his business activities the manufacturer has to give to the consumer the information necessary when putting his product in circulation for the first time in order to enable the consumer to judge the danger going out from the product during its usual or expected lifespan and protect himself against it." A bike dealer assembling a new bike is a manufacturer within the meaning of this law because he influences safety related parts, like brakes for example. The dealer is the last one in the chain from manufacturer to consumer and, the last one has to take the rap for the others.
What is the situation like in the sector? It is impossible to give a complete overview in this article. Therefore, we chose some exemplary owner's manuals to point out what has been done well and what hasn't.
Five owner's manuals were put to the test. The choice is arbitrary, but represents - with all due care not to generalize - different market segments.
A good owner's manual is fun to read. There is only one criterion for success: The consumer understands the manual. Before it can be understood, it must have been read, however, and the reader has to be encouraged to do so. An owner's manual, as factual as it may be, hasn't achieved its purpose if the reader has be forced to read on by threat of punishment.
A good owner's manual uses words the alleged reader can understand. An author terrorizing his manual's reader with technical jargon is like a chest-beating gorilla: he only wants to impress.
A good owner's manual is easy to understand - both, words and pictures. Short sentences, the right order and clear pictures improve the manual a lot.
A good owner's manual is clearly structured. The consumer only reads the manual (if at all) only once form cover to cover. Afterwards, he wants to find the information he is looking for quickly. Anything else is nerve-racking.
There are test programs about the quality of words and pictures with more than 150 people being interviewed. In RadMarkt 11/99 we presented a short program including 33 questions which makes it possible to competently classify the quality of an owner's manual. We also applied this test to check the manuals presented here.
None of the owner's manuals was perfect. The worst mistakes:
- A bleak layout. Layouter are well-paid specialists. And this is for a reason. It is not understandable why owner's manuals for brand-bikes are pieced together at a home computer.
- Long sentences. This habit seems to be impossible to give up. Every author should take a well-known German tabloid with millions of copies sold. In the instructional part, no sentence should exceed 14 words.
- Bad pictures. When it comes to explaining technical details, sketches are principally better than pictures. Example: Riese & Mueller. Bad pictures spoil the per se good text-part.
The result is easy to sum up: Even good manuals have a lot of potential for improvement. All manuals are lacking:
A glossary explaining technical terms summarizingly
A brief instruction bringing to mind maintenance- and adjustment workings
A sum-up of the most important safety tips.
Owner's manuals for bikes are lagging behind the usual industry's standard of technical documentation. None of the owner's manuals tested got more than two-thirds of the scores.
Riese & Mueller
The South-Hessian based suspension expert's owner's manual is good. The pictures do not always match the quality of the words, however. Therefore, this owner's manual is narrowly beaten by the one of BMW.
The visualization of the information given is criticizable. Riese & Mueller mainly uses badly illuminated pictures. Sometimes, the image detail chosen is too big to perceive the important details.
The written part, however, is very well done - apart from some too long sentences. The layout is attractive, also the boxes accentuating danger warnings and tips are a good feature. The service- and maintenance-schedule is great, just like the chart listing torques for bolts.
Also the pictures of the Stevens owner's manual could be larger. As the format of the manual is even smaller, the actually pictures included for making the written part easier to understand, are real search fields.
Otherwise, the owner's manual is great. It has only been on the market for some weeks, but certainly is one of the best available at the moment. The layout whets the appetite for reading. If there had been an index and a glossary, it would have been almost perfect.
(Footnote: Also in the test were owner's manuals of Giant, BMW and VSF-Fahrradmanufaktur. Zedler engineering and consulting did the written part of the owner's manuals of Riese & Mueller and Stevens.)