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VeloNews rolls out lab testing for bikes

Building on the magazine’s award-winning aero wheel test, VeloNews creates a new, intensive method of bicycle evaluation

Our award-winning aero wheel test, shown here, will be followed up by bike tests of the same caliber in coming issues. and VeloNews the magazine are different animals, with completely separate stories and material. Some magazines and newspapers put all their printed content online. We don’t. We put news and quick reviews on our site, and run our in-depth analysis and comparative product tests in the magazine.

This year, we’ve begun a completely new kind of bicycle testing in the magazine that combines third-party laboratory analysis with long-term ride testing by a group of experts.

Most of you are familiar with the great work our technical editor Nick Legan does online. As a former ProTour mechanic, Nick handily answers all manner of technical and insider questions in his weekly Ask Nick column — but this barely scratches the surface of the in-depth work he’s doing for the magazine.

Nick is spearheading the bicycle testing for the magazine where we examine four bikes of a similar category. For the next issue, each bike has been ridden 30-40 hours, plus measured for various traits by two separate specialty facilities. Which bikes and facilities, you say? Great bikes, and top-notch facilities … which you’ll see soon.

While this four-up exhaustive exam of complete bicycles is new for VeloNews, in-depth tests are nothing new for the magazine. Quick tests on individual products have their place (and that place would be online, we believe), but most bike riders want more information, especially that which compares similar products.

Our test riders aren't informed of the lab results during the test period. Afterwards, it's surprising how well subjective impressions and lab data match up.

Last year we did an award-winning test on aero wheels for the September issue, where we hired the talented folks at the A2 Wind Tunnel in North Carolina and Microbac Labratories to assess six pairs of wheels for stiffness and aerodynamics. Lennard Zinn performed his inertia test on the front and rear wheels to measure how quickly they accelerate. And then we put six riders on every set without knowledge of the lab data. The end result was an insightful eight-page feature, which won Best Technical Article in the annual awards of MIN, a media industry publication. Here’s what MIN had to say about it:

“From subjective experiences to independent lab tests to highly accessible graphs, this piece was an education in aerodynamics that also demonstrated the correlation between measurable results and the human response to different technologies.”

Recently in the magazine, we’ve done similar tests on handlebar and stem combinations, climbing wheels and cranks.

For the bicycle tests, Nick and Caley Fretz serve as the primary ride testers, logging dozens of hours. Nick and Caley are using their own pedals and saddles, but the bikes are otherwise tested as sold. Similarly, the bikes have been tested in the labs as sold. Lennard and I add our two cents, and our art director Mike Reisel coalesces all the data and feedback into easy-to-digest graphics.

In a magazine test on climbing wheels, we ranked six sets by their aerodynamics, inertia, weight and stiffness.

As useful as lab measurements and rider opinion can be, perhaps the most helpful element of these group tests is context. As evidenced by this piece on wheel interia, Lennard can generate plenty of measurements and math. What’s more useful is Lennard simply telling you what it all means — this wheel accelerates faster than that one. Similarly, context makes a rider’s opinion more valuable. Reading that a guy finds a bike to be “too stiff” isn’t too helpful; knowing that he weighs 120 pounds and prefers titanium bikes gives these statements context.

Our bike tests will present plenty of relevant lab measurements, expert opinion and context. We’re excited to roll out the first edition in the April issue, available on newsstands March 1.

In the meantime, you can check out our carbon clincher wheel test in the current issue. For that test, we sent six guys screaming down a steep mountain road to investigate new brake-track resins. Only one rider was left shaken up by the side of the road …