We’d only just recovered from last year’s Bike of the Year (BOTY) test when the behemoth that is the 2010 test hove into view.
With some slight changes to the test outline for this year's test it was set to be the most comprehensive ever undertaken by What Mountain Bike.
For this year we decided that instead of lumping all sorts of different genres of bike together and trying to select one, perfect bike, it was more useful to select the most popular genre according to
We polled you, our readers, we consulted the major brands on sales numbers and the feedback was unanimous. The most popular selling and most desired bikes right now in the UK are 120mm travel trail bikes.
With that data in our hot hands we needed to gather the 25 best models available in the
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Rather not so simple
First of all there are way more than 25 models of 120mm trail bikes on sale for 2010 in the UK. Since 2009 there are new brands like Ghost, Rose and Moda among others to consider.
To select 25 we first narrowed the price bracket for candidates to a minimum price point of £1800 and a maximum ceiling of £2300. Why? Because this is the price range that you our readers had told us you were most interested in.
But before the 25 could be selected we had to separate wheat from chaff. Lots of long rides and hours of office discussion ensued, and eventually we made a group agreement on the bikes we thought should make the final 25 shortlist for WMB Bike of the Year. Interestingly some brands simply don’t have a 120mm travel bike in the price bracket, seeming to miss it out completely.
The other complicating factor was more of a philosophical nature. Yes, it’s easy to be dogmatic and stick rigidly to a 120mm travel definition of a full suspension trail bike. But in truth, UK riders ride a variety of travel bikes – from 100mm through to 140mm – all along the flanks and around the fronds of the UK’s hills and mountains. To say that 120mm travel is a trail bike and a shorter travel bike is a cross country bike would somewhat miss the point.
With this in mind – and also the increasing swing from long travel bikes back to shorter, more generally UK-friendly bikes we’re seeing – we kept the definition of a trail bike suitably loose to include both 100mm and 140mm bikes alongside 120mm. Within this mix there'd certainly be the best weapons of choice for a variety of riders – not just one hypothetical biker.
The bikes were gathered, work shopped and prepped. Now all we needed was a location. OK, a location and ten of our most trusted test riders. A location, ten of our most trusted test riders and a week of unbroken sunshine. Make that a location, ten of our most trusted test riders and a week of unbroken sunshine, three transit vans, a complete 20 bed bunkhouse and two WMB lens gods. Add in a fresh delivery of optimism and a side helping of humour and the recipe for the 2010 BOTY cake was set. Now all we had to do was bake it in the test furnace of North Wales’s finest trails and see what bike rose to the top.
The great and the merely good
Anyone who's ever herded cats will know that controlling and directing a group of highly distractible free spirits to be in one place at the same time and pay attention to the task at hand is, as any ancient Egyptian will attest, like putting the capping stone on a pyramid, next to impossible. That is unless your name is Matt ‘Skindog' Skinner, your WMB Editor at large. Matt successfully balanced his need to cosset, pamper and powder puff fragile egos while sticking with military precision to his hand scribbled schedule.
"You're all special – especially you Kesteven" he'd say. "Now shut up and get in the sodding van."
Managerial carrot and stick in perfect harmony.
And so it was that, on Monday morning, exactly on time, the great and the good of What Mountain Bike's inner circle of bike testers piled out of various transit vans in two locations in Snowdonia. We gathered at a cold and windswept lake near Plas y Brenin to set up an opener shot. Resident Welshie Matt Cole was designated videographer and he launched headlong into a remake of Ben Hur, capturing the action and occasional inaction of a massive location bike test in all its glory.
We split into two groups for a few reasons, firstly we all needed to be familiar with all the bikes, so we made sure those who needed more saddle time on particular models got it. We had photographers in tow, they had been on location already for a week to scope out some interesting shots and while this first day was all about riding, they were looking (as photogs always do) to get some 'as it happens pictures' along the way.
Snowdonia for those who don't know is a long way from anywhere. Situated in North Wales it is one of the most beautiful mountain locations in the UK, it's also home to Snowdon (the tallest peak in Wales) and it was the slopes of Snowdon that would form the centrepiece of our test. Of course we also made use of the local trail centre at Coed y Brenin and the trails at Maccy. These bikes are versatile creatures and it was only right to feel them a varied diet of different trails to see which coped best with the rough and which preferred the smooth.
The weather gods were literally shining on us and wall to wall sunshine and the best visibility on Snowdon for thirty years (to quote a local hill walker) meant everything was looking great and everyone was smiling. If you've never been to Snowdonia, we highly recommend you go. It is breathtakingly beautiful, incredibly rugged and a paradise for mountain bikers who can choose challenges aplenty, weather it be epic XC loops or cardio overload climbs or white knuckle descents.
Just heed the voluntary bike ban that runs through the summer.
Not hilly but flat
We began puncturing tyres early on in the week and that pretty much set the tone for the rest of our visit. Some who shall remain nameless (Shaggy Will and Owen the long term intern) must have shares in the inner tube factories as they were both flatting as fast as they could fit new tubes. Mostly the punctures were from pinches gained from hitting the innumerable square edged rocks at speed. Note to visitors to this area: Use tyres with thicker sidewalls and use plenty of air.
Returning at the end of a long day of riding we gathered in the pub over the road from the bunk house (who planned this trip?) and set about discussing the action of the day; the relative merits of spring rates, head angles and Welsh bar maids.
We wish you could have been a fly on the wall – just to witness the seriousness with which the team were taking the task of sounding out each others ride experiences on the BOTY bikes. You’d have been the proudest readers. We were so busy talking we barely drank any beer and almost forgot to order dinner. Almost.
On the pubs menu you could order sides of chips or rice, or, what was described as ‘half and half’, being, we assumed, half a portion of chips and half of rice.
We’re looking into the exact north Wales definition of ‘half a portion’ as we all received two portions, one of chips and one of rice, both crammed on to already overflowing plates…still, no complaints from hungry BOTY test riders. Burp.
The crap and the crap nots
One by one the bikes were whittled down.
"This one's crap all over" and "That one goes down but won't climb" were the sort of anodyne comments which had to be painstakingly recorded, checked and verified. When agreed, the unlucky bikes could be put to one side. Slowly, painfully slowly, we began to reduce 30 to 20. We got stuck around 16 where we reached an impasse between the 'like' and the 'like nots'. There was a frosty few minutes where donkey hooves were dug in, but it didn't last. In the end we did all agree and the right bikes were laid aside to make for the final 10.
Actually, the final 11. There was still a question mark over one Johnny come lately model with a great reputation as a trail slasher and we needed to know if it should get in. Which it did after a late night caning around Coed y Brenin from Guy "Y'know, just to be sure."
Ladies and Gentlemen, you have a winner
The final 10 were washed, waxed and wheeled out to the trails and given one last lashing to within an inch of their dropouts to determine the overall winner The photogs got their shots, Matt Cole got his video (in among lots of BAFTA quality larking about) and, as the sun set in another cloudless Welsh sky we had ourselves a winner. A worthy 120mm trail bike. A bike which combines old school charm with some new skool tech tricks, a bike that does a lot with minimum effort. The verdict was unanimous, it had to be our 2010 Bike of the Year, and you can read it in the current issue of What Mountain Bike.