I feel that a comparison such as this has been due for quite some time. Both companies have provided me with T&E rifles, and it is only fair to my readers that I give my honest impressions of each product as they relate to one another. If you don’t have a whole lot of time, there is a summary at the bottom.
There are, of course, dozens of AR-15 manufacturers, and for the most part, the majority of them turn out decent, functional rifles. By “functional” I mean that they work, not that they are “functional” for one purpose or another. There are, of course, ammunition and magazine issues, but for the moment, I’ll focus on the weapons themselves.
Unfortunately, the percentage of nonfunctional rifles put out by some manufacturers is unacceptably high. In my opinion, this is anything over 1%. Most manufacturers seem to emphasize cost over quality (despite numerous inaccurate claims to be “mil-spec”), and even if they’ve learned by trial and error how to build a decent AR, they aren’t terribly concerned when problems arise. Generally, with these types, excuses are made, blame is shifted, etc. It all boils down to “This was a cheap AR – what’d you expect?”
Ideally, the failure rate would be statistically insignificant. Rifles put out by companies with an emphasis on quality are much closer to this goal.
What do I mean by quality? Well, building to a standard, for one thing. I like it when a company lays out a plan for a weapon and then fulfills that plan. A necessary part of this is quality control. If the company double checks all the work it has done before the product leaves the door, it is less likely for an end user to have an issue with the weapon.
The process of building an AR-15 may seem simple to those who’ve assembled one from parts, but there’s a ton of knowledge that goes in to physically creating those individual parts- companies with greater knowledge of certain processes are more likely to put out good products.
To put it simply, I can’t think of a negative comment, thought, or drawback relating to Bravo Company products. I can say quite honestly that I have never heard a negative comment about the functionality or quality of BCM products from someone who had a reasonable basis for their opinion. Despite what I feel to be an ambitious and effective print ad campaign, I think BCM still has a way to go in terms of name recognition with the majority of firearm enthusiasts. This may lead to negative comments at the range from someone who knows only ABCD – Armalite, Bushmaster, Colt, and DPMS.
The same is true for Spike’s Tactical. Neither company has been around very long compared to Colt. However, I’m not really interested in having my rifles recognized at the range; I’m interested in having my rifles work when I want them to, and otherwise perform certain necessary tasks as I see fit, such as fit inside a certain area, accept certain accessories, hit targets at distance, remain light for use on backpacking trips, etc.
It would be fair to say, I think, that Spike’s Tactical has enjoyed a fair amount of success recently with the introduction of the LE line of rifles and uppers. For its part, Bravo Company uppers and rifles have also been in high demand for quite some time. This is not because either one has a cool name or a cool logo – it’s because they produce a good product that the average person could reasonably afford.
I’ll cover some similarities as they relate to carbine upper receiver assemblies:
Both have standardized on the 5.56 NATO chamber for reliability purposes.
Both offer uppers with 1/7 twist.
Both utilize M4 feedramps for barrel extensions and receivers. These ramps are machined before heat treating and/or anodizing.
Neither offers bare chrome moly barrels – Spike’s Tactical barrels are either chrome lined or nitrided, and BCM barrels are chrome lined. Nitriding vs. chrome lining is another subject, but both are far superior to bare steel for carbine purposes.
Both offer midlength gas systems, which I prefer for all-around, hard use weapons.
Both use premium barrel steels and both offer hammer forged barrels as an option.
Both use taper pins and parkerize under the front sight base.
Both properly stake their bolt carrier keys and use strong extractor springs. Both use Carpenter 158 steel for their bolts, which are also shot peened. Both use tool steel, which offers exceptional resistance to deforming, for their extractors.
Both have shown a definite interest in gas port diameter and how it affects the functionality and recoil characteristics of the rifle. I will be discussing this more in a later article.
There are other similarities in terms of features, but I will focus on the differences in the interests of time and space.
BCM bolts and barrels are individually proof tested (this is done with a single high pressure round and is called HP testing) before being magnafluxed (also known as MP testing) for surface irregularities. Spike’s Tactical has expressed intent to move to that standard, but is, to my knowledge, currently not proof testing their bolts or barrels. They do individually magnaflux bolts and barrels, however, many knowledgeable individuals have questioned the effectiveness of magnetic particle testing without prior high pressure testing. Edit: I have been informed by a reliable source that all Spike’s Tactical barrels and bolts leaving the shop will be HP/MP tested within three weeks. Testing is to be performed by independent (that is to say, outside) organizations.
BCM offers optional IonBonded bolt carrier groups, and Spike’s offers optional FailZero/nickel boron plated bolt carrier groups. Relating to lower receivers, both use top quality lower parts, with Spike’s offering nickel boron plated fire control groups. I do not know the specifics of the Spike’s Tactical receiver extension tube beyond the fact that it is mil-spec in diameter (I intend to find out and report back), but I do know that the BCM receiver extension tube is of the highest quality in terms of materials and method of fabrication.
It is, of course, hard for me to verify certain things without the assistance of an advanced testing laboratory or evidence of chain of custody for individual parts. So far, I have not been misled by either company, so if they say that they do something a certain way, I will accept that as truthful information until I am shown otherwise. There are also probably other differences that I have not been made aware of, or have not asked about. For example, I do not know what number on the Rockwell scale the barrel extensions have been surface hardened to, for either company.
There are other differences in the way the companies operate – for example, Spike’s Tactical seems to offer more in the way of factory customization and also offers AWB compliant weapons for those living in states that still have AWB provisions. BCM offers an exceptional variety of upper configurations, including many that Spike’s Tactical currently does not offer – such as the splendid 14.5″ midlength. However, BCM does not assemble, for example, folding front sight/gas blocks on BCM branded uppers, or fixed stocks on complete lower receivers for AWB states.
If you’re like me and place function over form, you won’t really care about minor cosmetic details. Krylon will fill in a lot of scratches. However, if you value aesthetics, you might prefer Spike’s Tactical. BCM has not expressed an interest in cosmetic appearance such as matching the anodizing of uppers and lowers, while Spike’s Tactical has at least expressed interest – second to the overall quality of the part in question. I should note that if you are unhappy with the appearance of a BCM product, you will not be denied a return for that reason. I will say that some find appearance to be an indication of quality. I have been guilty of this in the past.
One additional factor is the logo – not important to me, but some are apparently turned off by the spider logo utilized by Spike’s Tactical. I find this to be a very odd reason to not purchase a weapon, but to each their own. I don’t like spiders, but I don’t mind the logo.
Contacting BCM by phone is difficult due to the volume of business they’ve been doing since the election, though you’ll normally receive an email response to a question in a few minutes (during business hours), and you can always place an order online. Contacting Spike’s Tactical by phone is fairly easy (during business hours), so if you like talking to someone when you order a part or have a query, you might feel more comfortable with the latter company. Should you have a technical issue or problem with one of their products, both companies will do whatever they can to fix the problem in a very rapid manner.
A complete Spike’s Tactical midlength upper is approximately $115 cheaper, given the current coupon code, than a complete BCM midlength upper – excluding the buffer included with the ST product. This may will not change when HP/MP testing procedures are implemented by Spike’s Tactical, and/or when the coupon code is no longer valid. I like to tell people that the importance of a rifle’s price will not seem nearly as relevant a year or two down the road, when far more money has been spent on ammunition.
BCM has undoubtedly established itself as one of the highest quality manufacturers of AR-15 rifles for hard use. I am unaware of any fact-based reason to think otherwise. BCM products are more expensive than Spike’s Tactical products, but still represent a tremendous value compared to, say, a complete Colt carbine.
Spike’s Tactical offers a very high quality product at a price normally reserved for much lower quality products. I don’t know how they’re doing it – and yes, I’ve asked. They’re working very hard to establish themselves as a quality brand, and they’re doing a good job of it.
At the current time, I would recommend BCM for those who place quality above all other factors, or are seeking a specific configuration, and Spike’s for those who are limited by budget, but still want a high quality weapon. This is not to say that Spike’s Tactical does not put out a high quality product; only that they have not yet implemented all the testing procedures utilized by BCM, and that certain buyers might find this to be a deal breaker.
I have personally owned a considerable number of each company’s products, and have fired plenty of ammunition through said products. I have had exactly one malfunction with each, and those malfunctions can be attributed to other factors – a faulty Cammenga magazine with the Spike’s Tactical CHF upper, and faulty ammunition with a BCM midlength that I used to own. Neither malfunction would cause me to question the reliability of the weapon. Both involved external factors that I would introduce on the square range only – substandard magazines and ammunition.