What Bike Should I Get?
I get asked this question fairly often – it’s right up there with “Is there enough air in my tires?” I’ll do my best to answer with a minimum of jargon and tech-speak, but there will be a bit here and there. Here are a few things to consider when making your next bike purchase.
Get the Right Bike for Your Trails
The bike shop staff may refer to bikes as being “XC”, “Trail”, “All Mountain” or even “#Enduro”. Note that while these are just marketing terms, they are used widely in the bike business. In the Calgary area, the vast majority of trails are “pedal up, rip down”, so most people buy bikes with 5” – 6” of front/rear travel that can climb well and are decent descenders too. Most “Trail” and “All Mountain” bikes will work great for the riding in Calgary, Kananaskis, Canmore, Banff, Fernie, etc. They can handle a wide range of terrain and conditions without weighing a tonne. Of course, if you are going to be focusing on a specific aspect of mountain biking, like DH, or XC racing, get a bike for that discipline.
A word on hardtails… I really like hardtails [front suspension only] and rigid bikes [no suspension]. They tend to sharpen your skills by making you work harder to be smooth on the bike. With a hardtail or rigid bike, you have to do the work of the missing suspension. That means you have to be very active on the bike – off the seat, in a ready position, arms and legs flexed. It’s definitely more work, so be prepared for that. They also tend to cost less and be lighter than full-suspension bikes, so there’s that.
Don’t Cheap Out
Buy the best bike you can afford. That might sound crazy when you’re starting out, but there’s a method to the madness. Most bike companies differentiate models by changing paintjobs and parts, but not the frame. Assuming the frame is the same between two models of bike from one manufacturer, in the long run it will be cheaper [and easier] to buy the better bike than to buy the cheaper bike and then upgrade the parts later. For example, the 2016 Norco* Sight A7.1 and A7.2 share a frame, rear shock, tires, seat, headset, stem, bar, grips and a few other things. So what makes up ~$1000 in the MSRP of the two bikes? There are some big differences in the cost of the fork [~$600], the brakes [~$100], wheels [~$400] and the drivetrain [$200+] that add up to significantly more than the difference in retail price. Seen in that light, the A7.1 is worth the extra cash, and then some. Also, consider that if you ride the cheaper bike for a summer and then upgrade the parts to put it in the same range as the better bike, you will get very little for your used gear, and likely pay close to full price for the new bits – probably a $2k touch, likely more.
Also, don’t forget to budget a bit extra for any accessories you don’t already have, like helmet, gloves, something to carry water/tools/food in, etc.
Test Ride, Test Ride, Test Ride!
If a shop won’t let you test ride one of their bikes [assuming you supply them with picture ID and/or a credit card], just walk away. If this is your first “real” bike purchase in a while, you need to ride a lot of bikes in order to get an idea of how they feel and what works for you. This means trying a bunch of different makes and models to get an idea of what works for you. Remember that seats are very easy to swap out, so if the one on the bike isn’t comfortable, it’s easy to change. Some shops have a demo program or demo days, so you can borrow a bike for a few hours and take it on actual trails. Get the shop to adjust things until the bike fits you. If they can’t, choose something else. Remember, once you buy it, it’s yours – most shops won’t let you return a bike.
If you have found a bike you totally love, but can’t afford, maybe check around on Kijiji, the Pinkbike Buy/Sell or with your biking buddies for something similar that’s been previously enjoyed. The main downside of buying a used bike is that you don’t know where it’s been. Ask questions about the bike, what types of trails the owner used it on, whether they have the original receipt, and how often the suspension components have been serviced. If you’re not sure what all that means, take somebody with you that does. Small bikes can often be good buys on the used market, primarily because small bikes tend to have smaller, lighter riders. A 60kg rider is going to put less wear and tear on a bike than a 100kg rider. Bike warranties are not usually transferrable, so if something goes wrong after you buy the bike, you’ll likely have to pay out of pocket. Also, buying stolen bikes is bad juju – if the deal is too good to be true, it probably is.
*Note: I mention Norco because they post the suggested retail price for their bikes on their website, and because at least half the shops in Calgary carry Norco. They make good bikes. I own a 2012 Norco Aurum, which I enjoy.