A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Outside’s Bike Test
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 Thunder Mountain Bikes (formerly 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.
Test days: 6
Bikes tested: 71
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
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 Thunder Mountain’s killer shuttle van, pictured above.)
Number of laps ferrying bikes from OTE’s shop to the test house: 3 (Though I also took two trips in my Chevy Colorado.)
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.)
Images shot to document the event: 4,776
Nails painted in Cannondale Coral: 190 (Not counting touch-ups.)
Most pizzas consumed on one sitting: 13
Cans of LaCroix and Refreshe sparkling water quaffed: 278
Alcohol consumed: 19 bottles of bourbon, two bottles of wine, two bottles of gin, one bottle of Fireball, and several six-packs of beer.