Life as a Test Rider - Feature Review - Dirt Rider Magazine

Hello, my name is Kris Keefer and I'm a test rider for DIRT RIDER magazine.People always say, "You have the best job in the world," and in some respects I do, but I'm not sure that the average rider truly sees the whole picture. I decided to write a story that would take Dirt Rider readers through a day of testing with the magazine.We usually like to start early in the day to make sure we get good morning light for photos. We arrive at the track no later than 8:00 a.m., if we are allowed a choice. Remember that most tracks in the area are at least 100 miles away. Unfortunately, it seems like we rarely go to the two that are right near my house!Once we arrive at the test location, we talk to the manufacturer about changes to the bike and what special set-up (if any) is involved for the new model while rushing around pasting on numbers, backgrounds and Dirt Rider fender stickers. The photographer (who is most of the time pulling double duty as photographer/test rider for the day ) takes still photos of the new bike while I get dressed.I get orders on which gear I will be wearing for the day. Sometimes I get to wear the Acerbis gear that I am sponsored by. If I do get to wear my gear it has to be new or very close to being new. Since I don't get paid to be a photo model or test rider, it is nice to wear my sponsors' gear and keep them happy. Did I mention that 90-percent of the photos are taken in brand new, un-broken-in boots that may or may not be the correct size?I then get onto the track and ride around it a couple of laps to see where it would be good to shoot photos. We always shoot at a variety of locations, so I have to look pretty hard. Also, they tell me, "Don't get the bike dirty while you're out there on that freshly watered track." Yeah, right! Keeping a bike clean on a soft and muddy track is a feat in itself. Often the photographer has to get a certain shot or angle of the bike during the action. Especially if the bike is all-new or radically different, the image just can't be all me and none of the bike - the photo must show the machine as well. So I will usually hit that line or spot around 25-35 times.There's no turning laps, just the same turn, jump or whatever over and over again. I try to make sure my riding position is correct, and if we are doing corners I try to drag the handlebar in the dirt without falling over. That is my specialty! Sometimes it doesn't work out that way, though. Next we move on to a jump or a foot plant (where you let the bike pivot around your foot throwing a lot of dirt around - usually on a small uphill - which is really hard to do).By the time the photos are handled it is often close to 11:00 AM. I ride the bike back up to the manufacturer's rep and he looks it over and fills the tank, lubes the chain and often needs to tighten spokes. Dirt Rider usually has at least three riders for a one-bike test to get a variation of skill levels and body types for the best information for their readers.Since I already have time on the bike, I go on to the track and ride five or six laps hitting the same lines every time to make sure I am getting proper feedback. I try to pick the roughest parts of the track to get a good evaluation. These sessions are not about the fastest lap times or impressing the crowd (since there usually isn't one), but about testing and giving the reader a good opinion on what I think.I then get off the track and tell the mechanics what I would like to change on the bike. This routine could repeat several times before I feel confident giving my final opinion. When I am finished with the bike, I hand it to another test rider and he takes it out for his evaluation.I need to stay at the track so I can go out later after the track is rougher, so I use the time to write a few paragraphs on each specific area of the bike. I hand in my opinions right then or e-mail them to Ken Faught or Karel Kramer that same night. None of the test riders share information until after the final rider is done with at least the initial ride. Then we talk about what we felt the bike did -- good or bad.By the time I am finished around 3:30 PM, I am pretty tired. Sometimes after testing I get on my own bike and do a couple of motos for myself. So it can be a long day, especially in the summer when it is 100 degrees in SoCal.I am very thankful for the job I have. Many people would like to take my place, so you would think that test riders like me are a dime a dozen. That's why I take pride in testing. I want to keep being invited to test, and the best way to do that is to make sure I get the feedback the editors need, so the reader gets everything they want to know out of the test.So, yes, this is a fun job but it's hard work too. We just don't get to ride and play all day. There is thinking involved, physical activity and usually fighting rush hour traffic on the way home! So I hope you find the bike you are looking for, and we all hope our tests have helped your decision on what machine you may be riding in the future. --Kris Keefer 5'11"/170 lb./Pro