I've been a little quiet on BikeRadar recently, because behind the scenes I've been beavering away summoning bikes, test riding them, and generally doing lots of organisation for BikeRadar's annual Bike of the Year showdown. This weekend saw the last of two test weekends where a selection of BikeRadar readers had the chance to ride and give their verdicts on the shortlisted women's trail bikes. This can mean only one thing - a verdict is nigh!
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However, if you were expecting me to reveal the verdict here, you'll have to leave disappointed. Soon though, soon.
Women's Trail Bike of the Year
In 2016 we ran our first Women's Road Bike of the Year test, riding a huge range of women's bikes available on the market to whittle them down to the top bikes in three different price points.
Brand new for 2017, and based on the success of last year, we've got Women's Trail Bike of the Year in addition to Women's Road Bike of the Year. BikeRadar is working together with What Mountain Bike on this, so not only will you see the reviews and test results appearing on here, you'll also be able to pick up a copy of the magazine to get the lowdown on the highs, the lows and that all-important verdict.
The criteria for inclusion for bikes in the trail bike of the year test is women's specific bikes with up to 140mm of travel between £2,600/$3,150 and £3,200/$3,880 in price. Perhaps unsurprisingly there aren't anything like as many women's specific bikes within this set of parameters as men's/unisex bikes.
But first comes the testing, and in addition to riding the bikes lots myself, an important part of the process is getting the views of the women these bikes are aimed at. So over the weekend I was joined by five BikeRadar readers who each had the chance to ride and test the shortlisted bikes on a test loop in the Forest of Dean over the course of two days.
While I can't reveal which ones were the favourites, what I can tell you is that there are no duds. All of our testers enjoyed riding all of the bikes, finding them capable, well-specc'd, fun machines, though of course some excelled in certain areas. If you want a closer look at which bikes we were testing, if you head over to the BikeRadar Instagram account and check out the #BOTY hashtag, you'll catch some sneaky glimpses of some of the bikes on test.
The business of testing is of course a serious one, but in my opinion it's almost impossible not to have fun when riding bikes. Mountain biking is a sociable activity, so while there was much discussion of performance, componentry and handling, there was also lots of chat on local ride spots, crash comparisons, new trail recommendations and favourite trail snack discussions.
We were also joined by Charlie the Trail Dog. Since Poppy the Tral Dog retired from BikeRadar, we've been a little a sad. Luckily, Charlie, who is Becca's dog, is an energetic and photogenic bundle of fun.
Testing the bikes
Over the course of two days, each bike was taken for at least one lap of a test circuit by at least three different riders. The test lap featured singletrack climbs with technical features, fireroad climbs, drops, steep chutes, tabletops and berms aplenty, not to mention slick soil and the roots that the Forest of Dean is well known for. We also squeezed in a few detours to the downhill trails.
Roots and routes galore
The BikeRadar UK office is based in the South West of England, and while we might not have the epic mountains of Scotland or Colorado, we do have plenty of great riding on our doorstep. One of our favourite testing spots is the Forest of Dean.
With the exception of big mountains and hour-long descents, it's got everything you need to give a bike a good and thorough test. Technical climbs with switchbacks, cruisy flow-y blues, fast and rough reds, downhill tracks with more steep chutes and more slick rooty sections than you could shake a stick at.
The location is also perfectly set up to be used as a base-camp for a weekend of testing, as in addition to the excellent trail network, it also has a sizeable car park, excellent facilities and the Pedalabikeway centre that has a shop, workshop and cafe producing excellent coffee and tasty locally-produced food. And of course the all-important free Wi-Fi, for Instagramming and the like.
Every time I visit, I'm always hugely impressed at not only the huge number of people who ride there at the weekend (get there early on Saturday and Sunday, as the carpark fills quickly!) but also the diversity of people riding. Groups of guys, groups of women, couples, families, first time riders, hardcore downhillers, cross-country whippets and everything in between.
The popularity of the location isn't just down to the awesome trail network, which is set to expand in 2017 with new features, trail sections and a brand shiny new pumptrack, but also in the range of events and groups based there. Women's cycling group Dame Cycling has a regular Saturday morning social ride, and both Mini Downhill and Mini Enduro events have been hosted there.
There's also the incredibly popular Mini Fodders rides for children that happen every Saturday. There's nothing that warms the cockles of the heart than a big group of little kids heading out on bikes, beaming from ear to ear.
Fortuitously, distribution company Extra UK also happened to be at the Forest of Dean for the weekend. Extra supplies the UK market with shiny goodies from Crank Brothers, Fizik, Topeak, Ergon, Clif Bar and Nuun. Owen, Hannah and Bruno from Extra kept our testers topped up with enough nutrition products to keep them powered up for long days in the saddle, not to mention helping out with some replacement grips when a bar end got lost after a crash. Safety first!
They were also showing off a rather lush tool kit on the stand that I'd seen on BikeRadar previously - the Topeak Prep Station. The version on display was the pro version, and it consists of a self-contained set of trays that pivot around a cetral point giving easy access to the tool. It has wheels and a handle so can be moved around easily like a carry-on suitcase, and a bucket in the lowest compartment. And, of course, all the tools you could ever need.
Realistically, it's got more tools in it than I really need to have on hand for car-park repairs, but that doesn't stop me day-dreaming about having that black box of maintenance delights in the back of the van, each tool nestled into it's own little pre-cut foam bed.
After the riding comes the writing, so now I'm ploughing through sheets of feedback, pages of measurements and components, international pricing and comparing geometry to make that all important decision - which of the bikes we've tested will be crowned Women's Trail Bike of the Year for 2017. Watch this space, there's not long to wait now!