Bike reviews in some magazines are little more than promotional copy for a list of randomly selected models. That’s not the case at Outside. To choose the bikes we review, we conduct one of the most comprehensive and grueling bike test programs of any publication on the market.
It starts in September at Interbike, where a group of editors spend the week winnowing through the cascade of new bikes on offer to pick the most interesting and newsworthy looking models. Once we’ve curated a list we’re happy with—normally about 30 road bikes, 30 mountain bikes, and 10 or so utility bikes—we put out the requests, and the bikes start pouring in. Throughout the fall, a small group of editors and racers in Santa Fe spend extensive time on as many bikes as possible, making notes and forming our preliminary opinions.
The meat of the tests are in early January, beginning today. After loading up a 26-foot Penske with over 60 bikes and carting them to Tucson, we spend a full week riding them hard. Three days are devoted to road bikes and three to mountain bikes, with a floater day for tie-breakers and anything that was missed or forgotten.
Each day sees a different course, usually an hour-long loop ride, and is devoted to a specific category of bikes, trail bikes one day or endurance road another. All day, 15 to 20 riders set up bikes, take laps, fill out review forms, and then repeat. We aim for six laps per day with as many riders on each bike as possible.
At the end of it all, we tabulate the scores, take into account the forms and feedback from earlier in the fall, and then come up with the list of bikes that will see publication. Results are based on the broadest spectrum of riders possible—from hardcore racers to normal, recreational riders—and are independent of any advertising concerns or constraints. The fact is, none of us here in Tucson has any idea what companies advertise or don’t. So at the end of the week, we ride away feeling confident that we have chosen the very best bikes on the market to spotlight in the magazine.
Stay tuned for dispatches from Tucson this week, including galleries of some of the new bikes, early feedback, and a few reflections on some of the most interesting new bikes for 2014.