Bike Testing 101
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The Penske, loaded with 56 bikes, en route to the 2012 testing grounds.
Ever wonder how we decide what bikes to cover in the magazine? The short answer: We ride the bejeezus out of a lot of bicycles. And we’re riding this week.
Finding the best bikes of the upcoming season begins eight months before the magazine reviews hit the stands. In early September, we dash around Interbike, the annual bicycle expo that takes over Las Vegas’s Sands Convention Center, fondling prototypes, wading through the sales pitches, and making note of the most promising looking bikes and accessories. Throughout the fall we distill the list and begin requesting samples, and our local bike shop, The Broken Spoke, builds them up as they trickle in. Meanwhile, I do my best to log a couple of hours on each test bike by New Years.
Because some manufacturers don’t get rideable samples until the beginning of the calendar year—case in point: we received seven bikes in the last two days—the testing begins in earnest in early January. 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. till 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 days bikes and lots of tubes to patch (it's Tucson after all).
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 2012. Check back here for pictures, initial impressions, and tales of the desert shenanigans. And if you have questions about the tests, by all means send them along.