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Behind the Scenes: How 'Outside' Reviews Bikes

Survey the road bike spreadSurveying the road bike spread at Gates Pass.

Reviewed. I’m always amazed how different magazines and blogs interpret that word. Some publications call in a product, use it a time or two, and then print their opinions—which yields a pretty cursory and fleeting impression. Others scan the Web for ideas and reviews and dress up some background knowledge and trips to media launches as critical advice. And then there are the “buyer’s guides,” which pose as gear critiques even though they are often nothing more than product listings and prices.

At Outside, we're demanding about our reviews, especially when it comes to bikes. Our bike reviews are the result of a months-long undertaking that involves some 100 bikes, dozens of testers, and thousands of miles of riding.

Consideration on the bikes that you see in our reviews in the Summer Buyer’s Guide and May print edition actually begins eight months before the magazines hit the stands at Interbike, the industry trade show where we scour the floor for the most interesting- and innovative-looking rides. In the weeks following the show, we begin contacting manufacturers for their products, and the bikes begin pouring in to our local bike shop, The Broken Spoke Santa Fe, which unboxes and builds them up. Meanwhile, I—along with a host of editors and testers—do my best to log a couple of hours on each test bike by New Year's.

A truck full of bikes26 feet of Penske, loaded with 2013 bikes.

Testing begins in earnest in early January—this week. After humping all the bikes to Tucson (56 of them in a Penske this year, and a handful are still on the way), we assemble a dozen testers a day and spend a week riding in circles. Each day is devoted to a different genre (XC Race, for instance, or aero road), and from 8 a.m. 'til 3 p.m. we ride hour-long test loops, stopping between each lap to record our thoughts and trade bikes. At night there’s bourbon-fueled discussion of the bikes we rode that day and lots of tubes to patch.

By the end of week, we amass around 300 review forms, which become the basis for choosing the bikes that make the magazine. The top mountain and road picks become our Gear of the Year winners. And then comes the least enviable part of the process: boxing up all the beat-up bikes and shipping them back.

Over the next week we’ll be zinging around the cactus-lined trails and rough back roads around Tucson to pick our favorite bikes of 2013. Check back here for pictures, initial impressions, and tales of the desert shenanigans. And if you have questions about the tests, send them along.

—Aaron Gulley



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