It's not easy to navigate the wide, wide world of bike buying. How do you find the right ride for you? We're here to help. First, we scour the web for the most intriguing models from the most well-respected companies. Then, we narrow the field down to some of the very best bikes and buy them. Finally, we test the tread off them, using a switchout process, to deliver the very best information.
Addressing Component and Adjustment Issues
We buy and test complete bikes, operating under the assumption that manufacturers are building out their frame to showcase its capabilities. At the sub-$2000 price point for our hardtail test, component quality varied widely. The most significant issues were the presence or absence of dropper seatposts and the stock tires. While the former is an expensive upgrade, the latter is not.
Another aspect of the bikes to consider is the adjustable chainstay length on the Santa Cruz Chameleon, Trek Stache, and the Salsa Woodsmoke. The Chameleon arrived in the shortest chainstay setting, the Stache and Woodsmoke in their longest, so that is how we tested them.
Measuring Bike Geometry
Bike geometry gives you an idea of how a bike will perform and how it will fit. Unfortunately, there is no standardized method for measuring geometry across manufacturers. For that reason, we measure all of our test bikes so that we can compare apples to apples. Our methods may differ from those of the manufacturers; our measurements might differ as well. Our tools for measuring bikes include a Park Tool Digital Scale, an Intercomp Digital Angle Gauge, a grease pen, a six-foot beam level, two straightedges (three and six-foot), a tape measure, a laser beam, and a digital protractor goniometer.
Effective Top Tube Length - We locate the center of the seat tube at a level point across from the center of the head tube. We mark the seat tube with a grease pen and confirm it is level with our six-foot beam level. Once we are comfortable the marking is level; we measure the distance with our six-foot straightedge.
Reach - Reach is determined by holding our straight edge from the center of the head tube from the mark mentioned above on the seat post. Once we have confirmed the straight edge is level, we use our laser beam to create a vertical line that bisects the bottom bracket shell upwards to the straight edge. The point on the straight edge where the laser intersects perpendicularly is our reach measurement.
Head Tube Angle - We find the head tube angle by placing our Intercomp digital angle gauge directly on the front of the fork stanchion. We confirm by measuring the fork lower legs as well, being careful to avoid any bumps or ridges in the leg. We double check our measurements with the digital protractor goniometer.
Seat Tube Angle - Whenever possible we like to use our digital angle finder to measure seat tube angles. The problem is that modern frame design often features a good deal of curves and interference in the seat tube. We do the bulk of our seat tube angle measurements with our digital protractor goniometer.
Bottom Bracket Height - We use our three-foot straight edge to measure vertically from the ground to the center of the bottom bracket.
Standover Height - To find our standover height we place the vertical laser beam on the ground 7-inches in front of the bottom bracket. We use our six-foot straightedge to measure the height where the laser clears the top tube. We put the beam 7" in front of the bottom bracket because that is where people stand over a frame.
Chainstay Length - Chainstay length is determined by using the six-foot straightedge to measure the distance between the center of the bottom bracket to the center of the rear axle.
Wheelbase - To find wheelbase we measure from the center of the front axle to the center of the rear axle with our six-foot straightedge.
Weight - Weight is determined simply by using a hanging Park Tool Digital Scale to weigh the bikes without pedals.
Once the bikes are measured and weighed, we set out on the trail and ride for weeks on end. Our team of testers switches between bikes often, sometimes between laps, to get a feel for each one and most importantly how they compare to each other. We ride these bikes up down and all around on test laps that include the full spectrum of riding to see how each model performs in a wide range of terrain, trail types, and conditions. We don't go easy on them either, we push these bikes to their limits to determine their strengths and weakness and identify their key performance characteristics.