Words by Brice Minnigh
Photos by Keith Carlsen
For the past six years, Bike’s core editorial staff and a hardy crew of freelance mountain bike fanatics have converged at some of North America’s finest riding destinations to test the upcoming year’s most promising bikes, components and soft goods. This extended test—known as The Bible of Bike Tests—usually spans most of October and involves more than 15 people to test gear and photograph/film the effort.
Our Bible of Bike Tests is unlike any other. Most so-called ‘buyer’s guides’ are pay-to-play affairs that entail nothing more than the copying-and-pasting of meaningless marketing drivel onto the printed page and calling it a day. Such ‘buyer’s guides’ are not honest, and they do little to help readers make informed decisions on which bikes and parts they should spend their hard-earned money on.
Bike’s Bible of Bike Tests is different. We truly test all of the bikes, components and soft goods, and then we debate the merits and pitfalls of each product before delivering you the results in our print magazine, our digital iMag, and through reviews and ‘Roundtable Reels’ videos on bikemag.com.
Here’s a step-by-step look at this year’s process:
1. Our gear editor, Ryan Palmer, came up with a ‘long list’ of 2015 bikes spanning cross-country, trail and all-mountain categories (including eight women’s models), and presented them to our staff for feedback. In the end, we settled on 34 bikes which we felt best represented the broad offering that will be available next year. Sometimes readers will call us out for not including a bike they think is important, so we hasten to add that seemingly glaring omissions are often the result of a given bike company not being able to get a production model to us in time for the test.
2. Over a week-long period, UPS and FedEx trucks invade our test base—this year in Bend, Oregon—to drop off all the bikes, forks, wheels, brakes, drivetrains, dropper posts, helmets, shoes, jerseys, shorts, gloves and jackets for testing.
3. Hundreds of boxes are opened and our mechanic, Jon Hansen from Bend's Pine Mountain Sports, builds up all 34 bikes as closely to the parts spec with which the bikes will be sold when they hit the market.
4. Our testers—three women and six men—select the bikes they will test according to their size and skill set. After familiarizing themselves with each bike, each tester will set up the bike in accordance with their weight and the manufacturer’s recommendations. Shock pumps are broken out. Air pressures in forks and shocks are measured. Sag is set. Tire pressures are adjusted. Then all of these settings are meticulously recorded on a test sheet for the bike.
5. The fun begins. Each bike is taken out for back-to-back testing on trails that are ideally suited to the bike’s intended purpose. One tester will set up a bike, take it for a furious rip around our lengthy test courses, record his or her impressions on the test sheet and then pass the bike off to the next tester. At least three testers will put each bike through its paces on the same trail, on the same day.
6. The completion of test forms has always been a crucial step in The Bible of Bike Tests process. Immediately after each test lap, each tester will complete a form noting the bike’s setup details, including air pressures in forks, shocks and tires as well as the sag and compression settings for forks and shocks. Impressions of each bike’s ride qualities and suspension performance are recorded along with thoughts about the array of parts on the bike.
7. Upon returning to home base and showering with a beer or two, each tester does independent research on the bikes he/she tested, adding details on geometry, available parts specs and pricing levels in preparation for our nightly ‘Roundtable Reels’ debates. Each tester approaches this research with a purposeful ignorance.
8. Video cameras and lights are set up, and the ‘Roundtable Reels’ on-camera debates begin. Bikes are praised and criticized. Other testers viewpoints are considered and then brazenly rebutted. Coffee and refreshing beverages are consumed to keep the testers awake and lively. Sometimes the debates get heated and certain testers need to be restrained.
9. Once all the testing is done and the snow has begun to fall in Central Oregon, the bikes are cleaned, boxed up and returned to the manufacturers and all of the testers head home. Back at Bike’s sunny Southern California headquarters, the edit team gets busy putting together the print issue and editing almost 40 videos that will be rolled out during the first three months of 2015. All of the bike reviews are intended to be a reflection of all of the testers’ opinions on each bike.