Outside’s annual bike test is a massive endeavor. It takes a truckload of bikes, a team of capable testers, and support from many brands to pull off. This year we took to the roads and trails of northwest Arkansas, where our roster of 28 cyclists put 40 of the latest and most innovative road, mountain, gravel, and electric bikes through the wringer to determine the best of each respective breed. We couldn’t do that job without a supporting cast of top-notch gear from our partner brands. These were our favorite products.
The week may have started with a torrential downpour and flash flooding, but our testers still needed to stay hydrated on the road and trails. CamelBak stepped up to quench everyone’s thirst. Our team gravitated toward the Chase vest ($ 100), the Podium Flow hip pack ($ 45), and the low-riding Mule LR hydration pack ($ 150), depending on the type of riding we were doing at the time.
This brand’s casual approach to technical cycling clothing is perfect for hard rides followed by drinks at a bar, burritos at a taqueria, or swapping post-ride stories at the local bike shop (when these activities are once again appropriate—our test was in October, well before the pandemic). This pretty much sums up our time on the trails. Club Ride’s Rambler Wool Henley shirt ($ 70) and women’s Savy shorts ($ 70) kept our reviewers riding in style. We also want to shout out the surprisingly versatile Goldrush pant ($ 100)—a pair of action slacks that proved ideal for gravity riding and general wear.
As you might expect with 28 testers, we spent a lot of time fiddling with bikes, setting saddle heights, adjusting brake and shift levers, and tuning derailleurs. Cycling-tool brand Feedback Sports helped with the nuts and bolts of this operation—as in turning, tightening, and torquing them to their proper specifications. Feedback’s Team Edition tool kits ($ 250) and mobile repair stands ($ 225) made setup and trailside repairs a breeze.
No bike test would be complete without proper protection. Each of the helmets that Giro supplied featured MIPS (multidirectional impact protection system), intended to reduce the amount of energy transferred to a cyclist’s brain during a crash. (Luckily, nobody took testing to that level this year.) The Montaro ($ 160) and Tyrant ($ 170) were the favorites among our mountain crew. Our road and gravel riders enjoyed the well-ventilated Seyen ($ 120) and Synthe ($ 240).
Hestra was a new name to many of our riders. Best known for its ski gloves, this Swedish company recently expanded into the cycling market. Although the fall weather we experienced was generally mild, the Long Sr. ($ 45) and Veloknit ($ 55) gloves were welcome protection on chilly mornings.
While CamelBak kept us hydrated during our rides, New Belgium’s beers kept us invigorated as we shared our bike impressions back at the trailhead. Mural Agua Fresca was incredibly refreshing, and we couldn’t restock Voodoo Ranger IPAs and Fat Tires fast enough.
We didn’t want any of our testers to end up injured, but we had to have their back in the case of an accident. So we worked with Spot to offer supplemental insurance for everyone. The plan included 24/7 coverage that was good for three months and covered $ 20,000 of out-of-pocket medical expenses. Thankfully, none of our team needed it, but I like to think we rode a bit harder and sent jumps a bit farther with that reassurance.
With a large test crew and multiple ride locations, well-planned logistics were critical to ensuring that everyone got where they needed to be. In addition to shuttling bodies and bikes, we had to give our riders a way to carry their gear. Topo Designs rose to the occasion by providing us with its Mountain duffels ($ 149). With a 40-liter capacity, each bag was able to swallow the essentials needed for a day on the roads and trails.
Warm beer is nobody’s friend. Yeti supplied us with “refreshment protection” in the form of one of its legendarily tough coolers. The Tundra Haul ($ 400) reliably served up chilled beverages day after day.