By Seb Kemp
Photos by Vernon Felton
We are currently holed up in Sedona testing a slew of 2014’s freshest and “bestest” whips. We chose Sedona because it’s loaded with good trails. And then there’s the weather to consider. At the risk of sounding like sissies, there’s something to be said for waking up every morning to clear, blue skies and warm weather. For the record, we tried executing the Bible testing process in the Pacific Northwest during October and November of 2010 and 2011 and it led to most of our testers getting trench foot. At the end of the day, however, what brought us to Sedona was the quality and variety of trails.
Sedona’s singletrack is, at one stretch or another….rocky, dusty, tight, flowy, fast, technical, ledgy, loose and hard packed. That variety gave us plenty of opportunity to test bikes and understand their strengths and weaknesses. Sure, your own home trails might differ from Sedona’s and the trails here aren’t completely reflective of every trail condition and obstacle on earth, but the sheer variety of trails here gets us pretty damn close.
ODDLY, IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE BIKE
Each one of our testers will quickly concede that this process of testing bikes is harder than it looks. Writing reviews that accurately articulate each model’s merits and demerits requires more than simply cataloging what you personally felt while riding the bike in question. We have to take into account who we are and where our opinions are coming from.
Take, for instance, my own Tester’s Pick bike from last year’s Bible Of Bike Tests, the 2013 Kona Process DL. The character, specifications and subtle design philosophies of last season’s Process DL just nudged it into the lead over the other bikes on test. That’s why, I asked to hold onto it for a longer test on my home trails. I had really enjoyed riding it on the dry, dusty, rocky and buff trails of Fruita and Grand Junction, but I found that the gloopy, spongy conditions of a British Columbia winter tested my original findings as thoroughly as the bike itself.
The 2013 Process (not to be confused with Kona’s entirely new 2014 Process) was not a light, lithe dancer, especially once a thick layer of muck was applied back on my home trails of British Columbia. The 2013 Process DL was a downhill sled in all-mountain clothing. It was solid, rugged, and loved to be pointed at sharp objects and blunt obstacles, just so it could show off how much it could shrug off blows. It was a brute, less likely to play or twirl and more at home straight lining and crashing through, rather than around, the trail. The stoutly-built frame, thick rubber, and bomber components were all specced so the rider could get the absolute most out of their descents. The problem was that in the depths of a snowy winter it is hard to find the kinds of trails that complemented the character of that bike.
More than anything the old Process proved that you have to pick a bike for where you live, not just because it rolls off the showroom flow with nice components and all the “ideal” numbers on a geometry chart. My experience with last season’s Process reminded that you have to choose a bike based on where you live and which trails you ride. Perhaps that’s common sense, but my time aboard that bike highlighted something else as well: When it comes time to buy a new bike, you should also look inward at who you are and what you want from a bike.
Who are you? How do you like to ride? What are your strengths as a rider and do you want a bike that masks your weaknesses or plays to your strong points? These are important questions to ask yourself, but make sure you are brutally honest and candid with your answers; if you’re not, you’ll wind up buying the wrong bike.
Are you wanting a bike that will make you faster uphill or allow you to unleash your inner beast on the descents? Do you think your lack of fitness could be covered-up by getting a very svelte, pinner XC bike or do you wish to just have a bike that averages out your ride by helping you be more comfortable on technical terrain? Do you find a bike whose advantages complement your own or lifts the part of your ride that you lack?
There are lots of good bikes, but some might not gel with a rider unless that rider steps back and analyzes why it doesn’t suit them. Personally I’m a strong rider, with above-average fitness and solid skills, but when I’m test riding a bike for myself, I’m always askingWhat is this bike good at? and Is that the section of trail on which I want to be better/faster/stronger?
We have more than 30 bikes to test this year and there are remarkably few terrible bikes–bicycle design has come a long way over the past decade. Some bikes climb better than others and if I was looking to maximize my speed uphill, or race or do long epics or just challenge a Strava KOM, then those particular models would be perfect. Other bikes allow me to have more fun.
Which is better? I know the answer, but do you?