I’m looking for a new bike. In Part 1 of this series, I looked back at the last couple of mountain bikes I’ve owned, and in Part 2 took a gander at current industry trends. Now, let’s look at research and test rides…
Knowledge is power. In this case, the power to get the most out of your test ride. You don’t need to go full nerd with a spreadsheet, but do enough research that you are comparing apples to apples. It will help a lot if you know what kind of bike you want to ride. In Calgary and Kananaskis, most trails require some climbing and descending, and there are usually rocks and roots along the way. That said, it’s not the North Shore, nor is it the East Coast or Moab. What works for most people around here is a bike with around 130mm of travel, +/- 20mm. In marketing-speak, that’s “Trail” and “All-Mountain” bikes.
Mo’ Money, Mo’ Bike
Now that you have an idea of the travel you want, look at your budget. I always suggest spending as much as you can possibly afford on a bike. Hear me out on this. Every extra $500 you spend on a bike typically gets you less weight and/or better performance. This is especially true at the lower end, where going from $2000 to $2500 [yup, that’s the low end] is the difference between a hardtail and full-suspension, and extra dollars translates directly into extra performance. As you get into more expensive bikes, that $500 won’t make as huge a difference. Now, don’t go overboard and skip a mortgage/car/rent payment or something like that to get the newest new bike. Be realistic about your budget. If you have $2500 or less, maybe look for a used bike.
They See Me Test-Ridin’…
There are a few different ways to test ride a new bike:
Borrow your buddy’s bike. Downsides are that if you break it you bought it, it’s set up for your buddy [“Rebound damping? What’s that for?”], and unless they’re a serial bike-flipper it probably won’t be current tech. The upside is that you can probably trade bikes back and forth over the course of a ride, so that you can easily compare it to your existing bike.
Rent a bike. This is great if you pay the “all perils” fee, which allows for as much dry-shifting, gas to flat and dorp to falt as you can manage in a day [within reason]. If it’s early in the season, this approach can help you decide between different models of very pricey bikes that you otherwise might not have access to. If it’s late in the season, your rental might be some clapped-out piece of junk with more rattles than a nest of diamondbacks.
Demo day! This is my favourite, as there are usually many bikes to try, and ideally different models from each brand available. Your time on each bike will be limited, and you may have to sign up in advance to book a particular bike in a specific time slot. Also, things can be rushed, and it’s hard to dial in tire pressure and suspension settings on a 45-minute loop. Still, if you’re near a familiar trail, it’s easier to do direct comparisons from one bike to another.
Parking lot test ride. This is my least favourite way to test ride a bike, but it’s what most of us end up doing. You step into the LBS, and want to throw a leg over a few different bikes. Most shops will tell you to “take a spin around the parking lot”, with an expectation that you’ll be back in 10 minutes or less. Beyond the most basic aspects of bike fit and feel [“…seat’s too low, feels flexy…”], it’s really hard to understand how a full-suspension mountain bike will function based on the parking lot test. The two key aspects of climbing and descending are almost impossible to get a feel for. Try to simulate trail conditions a little – find a back alley with some gravel in it to practice turns, ride up onto curbs to see how the rear suspension handles square-edged hits, etc.
Get Out of Bounds
When you are out testing bikes, try a few that are outside your price or travel range. It could be that you really like long-travel #enduro bikes, and are willing to deal with reduced climbing acumen in favour of monster trucking on the descents. Maybe you’ll find out you hate carbon fiber. Maybe you really like rigid singlespeeds. Whatever the case, you won’t know until you try something different.
At the end of the research and test-ride process, you should have an idea of what bike[s] you like best. Take note of what worked and what didn’t, so that you can identify trends. It could be that you have a preference for one type of suspension over another, or maybe it’s all about the shifting. Regardless, you’ll have a much better idea of what kind of bike will work for you. Then, when you see “the one”, you can jump on it.
In the next post I’ll look at some of my recent test rides in detail, and see what Eurobike revealed about 2017 bikes.