You wouldn’t marry someone just because a friend recommended the match. Neither would you say “I do” just because someone said “I was made for you”... right? You’d want to meet your future partner, get to know them, go on a few dates. So why should picking a mountain bike out for yourself be any different?
When a girl finds her perfect two-wheeled match, it’s pure magic. Trails open up to you, obstacles become fun features, and you feel like a golden goddess on a mountain bike. But to find that match, you need to date—or as known in the bike world, you need to demo the bike.
Here, four industry pros take the time to give you their best advice on how to find love:
Tip #1: Know thyself…
Before you even start researching bikes and demo opportunities, think about which aspects of riding you currently enjoy the most, what you struggle with, and where you hope to progress to in the near to mid-distance future.
Michae Musick of the Santa Cruz Factory Demo program explains, “Think about what part of your ride you want your future bike to accentuate or improve on—do you feel at home on the descents but need some help getting up the climbs? Test out some short travel bikes on the kinds of climbs that challenge you. Need some confidence and support on the descents, but don't mind pedaling? Demo a bike with a little more travel and take it down the trails that thrill and chill you.”
Defining your strengths, weaknesses and goals will help you assess whether or not the bike you demo meets your needs. But, at the same time...
Tip #2: ...be open-minded
Another great way to find a bike to demo is to have a chat with someone whose knowledge and experience you trust. This could be like a builder or mechanic at your favorite bike shop.
Casey Devonshire, former Shop Builder at Spokesman Cycles and now Ibis Cycles’ resident Builder and Demo Expert, recommends chatting with the person in charge of demo bikes and providing them with information on your riding style and preference. “Give the bike demo-er a bit of ride style info and let them choose a bike for you. Be open-minded and you may just find yourself being whisked off your feet and falling in love with something you would never have chosen for yourself.”
And once you’ve got a demo bike picked out…
Tip #3: It’s okay to be particular. Really particular.
Everyone’s body and riding style is different, and that’s why modern mountain bikes are so adjustable and tunable. To give yourself an ideal experience and the bike a real chance to shine, Trail Head Cyclery’s head honcho, Lars Thomsen, advises arriving for your demo at least 30 minutes to an hour early (especially during peak summer months) to give yourself and your mechanic lots of time to get the bike as close to perfect for you as possible.
Lars walks us through the ideal demo bike set up procedure:
1. Suspension – Take the extra time to be sure spring rate and rebound of both front and rear suspension are dialed before leaving the shop. Keep in mind that if your riding weight is under 150lbs, there is a good chance that the suspension will be more challenging to tune correctly.
2. Tire Pressure – Pay attention to the tire pressures as this will greatly influence the ride for better or worse. There is not a magic pressure for everybody, so this needs to be discussed with the tech, given the tires on the bike and how/where you plan to ride.
3. Controls & Saddle – Getting set up on the correct size is usually on point, but dialing in the details like saddle position, bar/stem position and even where the controls are really play a role. Most shops are ok with you making adjustments to the saddle, brake levers, shifter and dropper lever.
NOTE: Current trends are for very wide bars and many of you will not appreciate your grips forcing you into a sumo wrestler pose. Don’t be shy to ask for a narrower bar or even just moving the controls and grips inward if another bar is not an option.
Roxy's Demo Checlist
Ibis Cycles' Designer, Roxy Lo, takes us through the steps to turning demo pro in no time:
Before the demo day:
- Check that the weather is good for a bike ride, and that it hasn’t rained heavily the day before.
- Get your body weight + pack + shoes + clothes to help your demo expert set your bike up properly. Be honest about your weight!
During the demo set-up:
- Is your bike making funny sounds? Let your demo expert know if something doesn’t sound or feel like it should.
- Are all your controls (brakes, levers, etc) in a comfortable position for you? Ask for adjustments until everything feels natural.
- Are you happy with your seat height?
- If any of the controls seem unfamiliar, ask your demo expert to show you how it works.
- Don’t leave the shop until you’re happy!
After your demo:
- Did you like your ride? Write down your settings, components and impressions of your ride.
- Treat the bike with respect and let the shop / mechanic know if you’ve crashed, had issues with components, heard anything strange.
- Tell your shop how you felt on your ride and thank them for setting you up!
Image Credit: Elisa Cicinelli Photography
Tip #4: Set a baseline
For a fair and accurate comparison between your current ride and all the bikes you demo, you need to control as many variables as possible.
Michae recommends bringing along “the gear you are most used to and comfortable with”, and this includes pedals, shoes, saddle and even chamois. These are all your ‘contact points’ with your bike so the more familiar these parts are to you, the more honest your experience will be.
Your choice of trail matters a lot too. “It’s usually easiest to demo on the trails you are most familiar with,” advises Casey. “Nothing [distracts you] like a new blind turn or unexpected drop while trying to find your sweet spot on a bike.”
And if you really want to be a demo pro, take notes on your suspension settings, components and even where the controls are. “Keep in mind, you will likely be comparing more than one bike, so the more details that are consistent among all the bikes your demo the better,” advises Lars.
Tip #5: Consider a second or third date
Very, very few couples go from a first date to “Just Married”, and the same applies to picking out your next bike.
“Keep in mind that suspension set up and bike fit are a journey and your demo bike probably won't feel 100% perfect,” says Michae. “The demo expert can get you to a great starting point on the bike shop floor, but it's up to you to pay attention to what feels good on the trail.”
After each demo, Roxy encourages recording “your settings and components [and] leaving the demo expert with your impressions of the ride and fitment.” This will help you build a relationship with your demo expert, and will help him/her get the bike closer to what you need with each successive demo, or even find you another bike that could serve your needs better.
Ready to go on some bike dates? Here are some useful links:
Trail Head Cyclery holds regular Dirt Demo days. The next one is May 4-6, 2018. It's just $40 for a day pass to test bikes from Ibis Cycles, Specialized, Yeti Cycles and Transition Bikes. More info here. Can’t make the Dirt Demo weekend? Check out their great deal on 24h demos here.
Good luck and may you find your two-wheeled true love!
Special announcement from Lars Thomsen:
Love your LBS!
If you demo-ed a bike at a local bike shop, please buy your bike from a local bike shop. Demo bikes are not “free” or “on loan” to us—shops put up a huge investment into bringing those bikes in for you, and pay for the man-hours to keep those rigs riding well (not to mention setting them up for you on the day of your demo). Unfortunately, the revenue from demos often isn’t enough to cover the purchase and running cost of a demo fleet, and shops rely on the sale of bikes to keep the demo service available. Plus, most shops are willing to put your demo dollars towards a final bike purchase so please, do support your local bike shop.
Note from Girls Rock: Most of our monthly rides are sponsored in large part by local bike shops. Please show them your love and appreciation!