Spending thousands of dollars on a new mountain bike requires a lot of research and thought. After all, that’s a lot of hard earned money to drop. For many of us, our bikes are worth more than our car. You wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive, so why buy a bike without a proper demo ride.
Make sure you try several brands or better yet, go to a festival/demo where multiple brands can be ridden back to back. My personal favorites are Outerbike (Moab, UT) and Sedona Mountain Bike Festival (Sedona, AZ). These are two awesome events in amazing riding destinations that offer nearly all the brands.
I have personally found that some of the bikes that are hyped up as being revolutionary game changers are some of the bikes that are at the BOTTOM of my list of favorite bikes. Demoing a bike and forming your own opinion for YOUR riding style and preferences is far more important than what others say.
The first step is to make sure your bike is setup correctly so you are truly getting a apples to apples comparison of bikes. Most people I see demoing bikes tend to just take a bike how its given to them from the shop or demo event. Maybe I’m a little particular about my setup (OK, a lot particular!) If I’m going to take the time to demo a bike, I want to make sure I’m giving each bike a fair comparison. I am NEVER given a bike set up exactly for my preferences. I usually let air out of the tires, front and rear suspension, adjust rebound, compression, seat height, and brake lever reach and angle.
- Bring a multi tool, tape measure, pedals, pressure gauge, shock pump, mini pump, tube, patch kit and lube
- Take note of your current bike setup, saddle height, brake lever and shifter positioning and tire pressure.
- Don’t compromise your demo and take out a bike that is too big or large just because they didn’t have your size. Be patient.
What to check on the bike:
- Saddle height: Make sure to measure your saddle height on your personal bike and set this using your tape measure on the demo. I measure from center of the bottom bracket to top of the seat.
- Tire pressure: This is dependent on tire type and rim width of course. Bigger tires, or wider rims can run slightly less pressure.
- Adjust brake lever and shifter angle and reach.
- Adjust your rebound and compression damping if you have it.
- Adjust shock pressure: Most companies have a recommended sag, but you should play around with this to get the balance of efficiency to plushness you desire. After you’ve ridden a bit take note of how much travel you’ve used by looking at the O-ring on both. If you haven’t used more that 75%, you may want to let a little out.
With all the changes to geometry, suspension, drivetrain, wheel size and rim width the last few years, the classification of “mountain bikes” have never catered to so many different riding styles and preferences. Try to choose similar models to demo that fit your riding style and preferences with similar components and try them back to back on the same trails. Have fun finding out what gets your fired up about getting out to ride.