For the seventh year running, Bike’s editorial staff and a dedicated crew of core contributors has converged on another of North America’s finest riding destinations to test the upcoming year’s most promising bikes, components and soft goods. This project—known as The Bible of Bike Tests—usually spans much of October and involves more than 15 people to test gear, photograph and film the effort.
This year we’ve based ourselves in the heart of the Kingdom Trails in East Burke, Vermont, where we’ve been able to ride straight out the door to most of our test tracks. The overall effort will result in our annual print and digital Bible of Bike Tests, as well as more than 30 “Roundtable Reels” video reviews that will run on bikemag.com early next year. But while we’re still in the thick of things, here’s a glimpse of how we get ‘er done:
For the better part of a week, UPS and FedEx trucks invaded our test base just outside East Burke, Vermont, dropping off all the bikes, components and soft goods that we’re testing. This year we have 30 bikes to test, and our mechanic, Alex McAndrew, built all of them up. Gear editor Ryan Palmer and senior editor Vernon Felton select the bikes based on what they’re interested in, what we’ve already tested and–most importantly–what we think you, the audience, wants to hear about.
To truly test a bike, proper setup is essential. Our testers—three women and six men—select the bikes they will test according to their size and skill set. After familiarizing themselves with each bike, each tester will set up the bike in accordance with their weight and the manufacturer’s recommendations. Shock pumps are broken out. Air pressures in forks and shocks are measured. Sag is set. Tire pressures are adjusted. Then all of these settings are meticulously recorded on a test sheet for the bike.
The fun begins. Each bike is taken out for back-to-back testing on trails that are ideally suited to the bike’s intended purpose. One tester will set up a bike, take it for a furious rip around our lengthy test courses, record his or her impressions on the test sheet and then pass the bike off to the next tester. At least three testers will put each bike through its paces on the same day. Here gear editor Ryan Palmer gets after it.
The completion of test forms has always been a crucial step in The Bible of Bike Tests process. Immediately after each test lap, each tester will complete a form noting the bike’s setup details, including air pressures in forks, shocks and tires as well as the sag and compression settings for forks and shocks. Impressions of each bike’s ride qualities and suspension performance are recorded along with thoughts about the array of parts on the bike.
While we’ve been testing the cross-country and most of the trail bikes on the main Kingdom Trails network, for the all-mountain bikes we’re loading up the Toyota and heading up to the Q Burke Mountain Bike Park for some steeper, burlier terrain. In between test laps, snacks are devoured and test forms are completed.
Now that the chairlifts in the Q Burke Mountain Bike Park have stopped running for the season, the shuttle truck helps us avoid the tedious fire-road climb to the top of our test tracks. Most of the all-mountain bikes we’ve chosen to test this year are incredibly capable climbers, and we prefer to test them on steep, technical climbs filled with roots. And with the bike park closed for the season, we have the rare opportunity to climb some descending-only trails to really push the bikes’ ascending limits.
To help give our beloved readers/viewers a better feel for how each bike performs on the trail, we film countless hours of riding action for the ‘Roundtable Reels’ videos that we’ll roll out from January to March of 2016. We like to include a mix of climbing and descending action, throwing in a few tight, slow-motion shots on each bike so it’s easy to see how the suspension is working. For the past few years, we’ve used some of the best filmmakers in mountain biking, and this year is no exception, with Rupert Walker and Liam Mullany comprising our all-star “AV Team.” Here Walker gets some climbing footage of “Butcher Paper” columnist Kristin Butcher.
The vast majority of Bike magazine work happens behind the glow of a laptop monitor: editing photos, videos and writing stories for the magazine and website. When the sun goes down, the machines get fired up and photos get critiqued and edited. Here Bike’s photo editor, Anthony Smith, pores over the studio shots of all the bikes in this year’s test to make sure everything is as close to perfect as possible.
At the end of a long day of testing—and before we begin the evening filming of our ‘Roundtable Reels’ bike debates—it’s time for another delicious dinner, loving prepared by our capable and tireless cook, Anna Poutous, and her friend and helper, Shay Leilani. They make the fuel that stokes the testing fire.
And then it’s time for the ‘Roundtable Reels’ discussions to be filmed. We generally try to film three to four discussions each night, and this year we tried a number of different locations. Here our team of women testers takes over the Kingdom Trails’ Tiki Bar for an evening of bike talk.
Housing such a big team of testers, photographers and filmers is no easy task. Which is why the good people of East Burke, Vermont put us up in a mansion this year. The historic manor, dubbed the ‘Burklyn Hall,’ was built in 1908 and has 35 rooms (of course the owner was too smart to allow us access to all of them!)