Mixers and hand cremes, jam and chocolate, shampoo, financial investments, washing machines: The German foundation for product testing is a kind of convenience store for product tests. And German consumers like to pick from the shelf what the Berlin consumer organization rewards "very good" or "good". The ad-free magazine communicates independency, in the case of a foundation many people think of charity or at least less profit seeking.
And: whereas many magazines outdo each other in product tests with superlatives, Stiftung Warentest is courageous and again and again punishes products with the verdict "inadequate". In doing so they embrace the possibility of causing economic difficulties to the manufacturer with such a verdict. Sounds trustworthy so far.
Four years ago StiWa tested pedelecs on a rather large scale for the first time. They achieved remarkable results: Test winner was a rather unknown brand. The model was equipped with a good motor and reliable brakes, the riding behaviour being however extremely susceptible to wobbling. However, as in the case of earlier bicycle tests the manufacturers swallowed their frustration about incomprehensible tests in view of StiWa’s power.
Two years later the testers rated 9 of 16 pedelecs as "inadequate". The reasons for the big number of devaluated products: Frame and handlebar breakages on hardly appropriate test stands, brake failure as well as too high radiation levels of the electric drives which were even likely to disturbe digital police and ambulance radio. The cycle industry protested as vehemently as never before. The crux of the matter: The German product testers do not make their test criteria and results transparent, so that one could comprehend the realisation of the final verdict. One representative of the manufacturers who wishes to remain anonymous reports that every manufacturer who wanted to examine breakages occurred on their bicycles had to buy this test bicycle from StiWa and to sign a declaration at the same time that they would not make the test result public or doubt it in court.
Details? Sometimes unclear
By analysing the strikingly reconciling pedelec tests of 2014 in the detail questions follow immediately. Why do the ranges of identical motors with nearly identical bicycle weight and tyres of different bicycle models vary to such an extent? Why does the failure of a specific component on one bicycle model result in devaluation, whereas an identical component on another pedelec does not. Why do identical frames which had failed the year before remain sound? And: Why are two pedelec models identical in design and of the same manufacturer which only differ in terms of décor and name lettering rated differently in the same test? StiWa’s fundamental working method sounds neutral and plausible, but at least when it comes to the pedelec issue there is one enormous snag: In the chain from the test laboratory to the ready article there seems to be hardly anyone who handles the pedelec issue over a longer period of time professionally and in its entity and who is able to bring the results with technical know-how into question. In addition, the suspicion arises that there must be clear losers in each StiWa test; and that the editorial department is inclined to treat the issue headline grabbing – whereas they are occasionally on the wrong track.
It is out of the question: Many StiWa tests can simply not be performed by other testers, E-BIKE included. However, many StiWa tests clearly disregard the needs of the pedelec users as well as the conditions of the daily e-bike use. Therefore, many "good" marks of StiWa are clear overvaluations and many "inadequate" marks simply unjustified. Especially in the latest StiWa tests experiences which were made by us in the editorial department as well as by our readers were partly put upside down. So, what is to be done? Our advice: In principle, the way to a good pedelec leads over the reputable specialist trade to a brand-name product. Orient yourself by the articles and tests in E-BIKE and make a long test ride with your favourite in a specialist shop.
Author: Dirk Zedler