A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Outside’s Bike Test

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Photo: JJAG Media

Last December, 27 testers gathered for the annual Outside Magazine Bike Test, in which we select the rising crop of the coming year’s bikes and ride the bejeezus out of them to determine which are the most promising. It’s how we pick the two Gear of the Year–winning rides and the overall favorite road and mountain bikes that will be announced early next spring in the 2017 Buyer’s Guide.

I initiated the test for Outside in 2005, and I’ve run it nine times since then. This was probably our smoothest, partly because Sedona, Arizona, where we tested for the second consecutive year, might be one of the easiest places in the country to ride. (And partly thanks to the killer support from bike shop Over the Edge Sedona.) The density of high-quality trails and roads allows us to huddle up testers and bikes in an Airbnb and crank out laps all day long. Testers fill out a review form with comments for every bike they ride following each lap.

This year, I showed up a bit early, both to scout some new terrain and get in a few more test loops. I rode the most of anyone: nine days, 309 miles, 28 hours and eight minutes, 30,940 feet of elevation, and a total of 48 bikes. I did more extensive testing on the other bikes we had in the months prior to the event. (And the 11 women’s bikes don’t fit me.)

Officially, however, the bike test is only six days long. Based on my calculations, the following is what the total numbers looked like.

Photo: JJAG Media

Test days: 6

Bikes tested: 71

Photo: JJAG Media

Test riders: 85

Total miles ridden: 19,160

Total feet climbed: 1,922,340

Cumulative hours in the saddle: 1,596

Review forms completed: 306

Photo: JJAG Media

While the riding is impressive, the logistics to make it all happen are almost a bigger deal. There’s choosing and procuring bikes, building them all, getting there (we even had testers from Germany), and coordinating the moving and organizing of 71 bikes. On test days, the work doesn’t stop once the sun sets: there are flats to fix, breakdowns to repair, bikes to shuffle and restack, and liquor to drink. (Thanks to an insane sale on 1.75-liter Maker’s Mark bottles ($37) that first year of test, the event has earned—and continues to live up to—the slightly infamous sobriquet Bourbon Bike.)

Here’s what the test looked like beyond the miles:

Round-trip miles that I drove: 1,002

Maximum bikes fit into a single vehicle: 19 (In Over the Edge’s killer shuttle van, pictured above.)

Photo: JJAG Media
Number of laps ferrying bikes from OTE’s shop to the test house: 3 (Though I also took two trips in my Chevy Colorado.)
Photo: JJAG Media

Replacement tubes required: 17

Dropper seatposts that malfunctioned or failed: 3 (Down by around 600 percent from 2016.)

Wheels broken: 1

Brakes that needed bleeding: 0

Bikes taken out of service for a day due to mechanicals: 5

Bikes rendered inoperable for the entire test: 1 (Despite the valiant daily efforts of our wrench, Kyle, to get it up and running.)

Photo: JJAG Media

Backflips: 1

Images shot to document the event: 4,776

Photo: JJAG Media
Nails painted in Cannondale Coral: 190 (Not counting touch-ups.)
Photo: JJAG Media

Most pizzas consumed on one sitting: 13

Cans of LaCroix and Refreshe sparkling water quaffed: 278

Photo: JJAG Media
Alcohol consumed: 19 bottles of bourbon, two bottles of wine, two bottles of gin, one bottle of Fireball, and several six-packs of beer.
Photo: JJAG Media

Bikes boxed for return in a single day by three mechanics the day after the test: 37 Average hours of sleep I got per night: 5.5

It was a ton of work but also a ton of fun. Though we will eventually narrow the list to a select few bikes to write about, it’s worth noting that, on the whole, bikes continue to get better and better. Nuance and ride quality separate one from another, but, barring a few exceptions, it’s hard to find a bad bike out there these days. That just makes our job of parsing the details and beating the bikes apart more important than ever.

In the name of the numbers, one last stat: the night after the test, thanks to a soothing burble at my creekside suite at L’Auberge de Sedona , I slept an incredible (for me) 11.5 straight hours. Then I got up and rode a four more laps the next day.