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An odd thing always happens to us just a couple days into staging The Beta Tests: It starts to feel normal. We start to feel at home. We learn exactly how long it takes to drive to the trails or to the grocery store. We learn what all the light switches do in our rental house, and where you can lean your bike without leaving tire marks on the walls. Beta’s editors, who have been doing this sort of thing for several years, quickly find a flow.
The filmers and photographers are making coffee at about 4:30, wheels up at 5, shooting at 5:30 to catch the unmistakable morning golden light until the sun finishes rising, thereby losing their interest. That’s when it’s time to go back to the house, bank their footage and hope that the bike testers have left them some bacon.
By then, those testers are halfway through their first lap, soon to sit down with a cold La Croix and a working pen (both scarce and valuable objects at The Beta Tests) to put their impressions down on paper before heading out for another lap.
The A/V crew readies for a sunset filming session, the testers finish their last laps, dinner is reheated or eaten cold while that night’s bikes are debated and we either reach a consensus or agree to disagree. The A/V crew wraps, more footage is banked, more leftovers are consumed and, if there’s time, we film some conversations about bikes.
Despite all that well-oiled chaos, the overwhelming majority of the time spent at The Beta Tests is spent on the trail. Even though we’re carefully searching for a bike’s nuances like we’re critiquing a piece of fine art, we’re still riding. Same as we do at home. Same as you do.
But of course, we were riding in none other than Bellingham, Washington. There are few places like this on the planet. The trail network is vast and the trails themselves are magnificent. There is a mix of perfectly sculpted jump trails, head-scratching tech, and everything in between. And although advocacy is never easy, there is a combination of eager users and open-minded land managers. The volume and variety of legal trails here makes it a perfect place to test bikes.
Unfortunately, this is not a perfect year to test bikes. Due primarily to shortages in components, bikes have never been this hard to come by. In fact, instead of choosing a category to determine which six bikes we’d be testing, we chose the bikes that were available to us. And even so, when we start releasing our reviews tomorrow, it’s likely that some of them will not be in open stock from their respective brands. If our assessment of one of them speaks to you, you might be either calling around to dealers hoping to get lucky, or simply waiting in line. But the thing is, everyone is in the same boat. A lot of us are delaying a new bike purchase because we can’t get what we want. But that doesn’t mean we stop dreaming about what we want. There’s time to weigh the options. And as events begin to trickle into the calendar, there may even be time to take a bike out for a demo lap. Think of this interruption in availability as an excuse to gather more info about a given bike. See what testers are saying. Each of the Beta Test videos has three of them.
The other reason we’re still putting on The Beta Tests is because, someday, the availability crisis will go away, but it will be a while before the bikes we tested in Bellingham do. We, as an industry, have finally started figuring it out. Riders aren’t being faced as frequently with drastic updates to geometry or changes in standards. It goes without saying that bikes are better than ever. That’s been true every year since the penny farthing went out of style. But you’re not crazy for wondering if bikes are as good as they’re ever going to get.
So, be patient. If the money you would have spent on having a social life for the past year is burning a hole in your pocket, you may need to get creative to find the bike you want. Look at different price points or consider building it from the frame up. But all that extra effort is more reason to make an informed decision. Or, on the other hand, if you can wait, go ahead and wait. When you’re ready to make a decision, we’ll still be here. Welcome to The Beta Tests.