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  1. #1
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    Do You Test Ride Before Buying?

    I have always wanted to have whatever my purchase may be in my hands prior to buying. Wanting a 27.5+ bike, there aren't always a whole lot of options in store. How many of you buy a bike without ever putting your butt in the saddle? How do you decide it's the bike for you; specs, geometry, etc?
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  2. #2
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    I look at the geometry i already have. What would make this bike better and what numbers am i happy/unhappy with?

    On my DH bike i wanted a smaller size and wanted shorter chainstays.
    Sold a Large 2015 Giant Glory, bought a Large 2016 Gambler.

    On my trailbike, On-One 45650B i wanted a stiffer frame, lower BB, longer reach and abit slacker HA. Bought a BTR Ranger
    BTR also described a problem i was not thinking about before, how much the HA changes through travel on 150mm of suspension. That was something i actually was unhappy with without putting words on it.

    If possible i try to find someone that has the bike i want, and try it out.
    I did this to a Transition Patrol when i was unsure if the much bigger size would fit me.

  3. #3
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    Out of the 5 bikes I've owned in my relatively short 3.5 years in the sport, I have only sat on one of them - before pulling the trigger o_0

    Research, research, research...

    Chances are if 80% of real world reviewers liked it, then there's a good chance I'll like it too.

    PS - all the bikes I've owned have fit me... a little differently perhaps - but they all fitted ;-)

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  4. #4
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    I wish. No one stocks XXL bikes in my area to demo.

  5. #5
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    Done both. Next bike will not be test driven since there's none available.

    The last bike I bought I rode in the parking lot. Now that I have had it for 2 years I have come to understand what I don't like about it. I think the longer you are in the sport the more you understand what you need.

    Also buy the bike that helps your weakness. For instance, I can corner pretty well but struggle on climbs and my terrain does not need a bike with more than 100mm. So I will build a light-weight hardtail to compliment my full suspension bike.

    Don't get caught up in marketing....otherwise you may end up over-biked.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Georgia_Rider View Post
    I think the longer you are in the sport the more you understand what you need.
    Yep. I build my own hardtail and road bike frames, and i find test riding FS bikes to be counterproductive. I'm really testing how well i set up the suspension and cockpit, not the bike itself. A cruise around the parking lot to find any unexpected oddness is all i want.

    My first 5-6 years in the sport a test ride was essential. When i was new 1 ride was all it took. 'Hey, this is better!'


    That said, i didn't realize 27+ sucked until i rode it myself. I didn't have similar experiences to draw conclusions from.
    "Things that are complex are not useful, Things that are useful are simple."
    Mikhail Kalashnikov

  7. #7
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    The last bike I tested before I purchased was in 1997. But even that was just a quick ride around the parking lot. You really don't know until you hit dirt, and even then it may take a few rides as you make adjustments.

    I've had pretty good luck with the bikes I've purchased since then, some purchased as whole bikes, some purchased as frames. One frame I didn't like because the BB was a smidge low and I immediately started getting pedal strikes, but that was the exception. The only other one that didn't work for me was my own fault. I purchased a dirt jump bike to play around a bit, but it just never worked for me. It wouldn't have mattered if I test rode it because it's such a different animal than the XC bikes I normally ride.

    I'm extremely happy with my most recent purchase. Last May I purchased a Framed Marquette Carbon 27.5+ and I loved it from the first ride -- well except for the flat tire, but I quickly converted to tubeless. That's actually the first bike I've purchased that felt so right to me.
    Warning: may contain sarcasm and/or crap made up in an attempt to feel important.

  8. #8
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    Totally agree that a parking lot ride tells you very little (maybe confirms a frame size), but trail demos are also imperfect.

    A buddy and I went to a demo day at a local trail. He took a brand "X" bike out and said the tires were slipping (muddy conditions). He moved to brand "Y" and said it felt good. He tried a brand "Z", but said the saddle was uncomfortable and he was reaching a bit much. He eventually bought a brand "Y".

    The "X" probably had the wrong tires, and the "Z" could have been sorted with a different saddle, and probably a shorter stem.

    I suspect if all 3 bikes were equally setup for my buddy, he could have been fine with any of them - they were all quality (and actually pretty expensive) bikes.

    So unless conditions are equalized, you almost have to ignore some inputs from a demo ride.

  9. #9
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    I do, but just for sizing, in case there are any surprises.
    Before I got my 27.5, I demo'd 4 29ers, but they didn't work for me.

  10. #10
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    I don't test ride. I look at frame geo and study / get feedback on suspension designs. Working closely with a framebuilder on a custom project in '94 taught me plenty about geo attributes. Since then I've bought frames based on their numbers. This works once one knows what one wants and which tweaks do what.
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  11. #11
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    It's very idealistic and usually downright impossible to actually ride the size and spec of the bike you are looking at. If you are going for something very popular, like a Giant/Trek/Specialized, you might have a decent chance of it, but even then if it's the new model or something to that extent, it can simply be a pipe-dream to actually be able to throw a leg over it. And what then? It takes me around a week or so to really dial in the suspension on a new bike, adjust the pressures, the angles, and so on. There are no real short-cuts that I've found, as much of this is very personal and the guide-books or shop-recommendations are only that and the make-or-break can still turn out to be your own fiddling with the bike. About the best you can do is to hit a bit gathering like outerbike to test ride a bunch of different models in a short time period where they are generally trying to put their "best leg forward", but other than that, IME, it's slim pickins and riding a different size or different spec of the same bike might as well be a totally different bike in many cases. It's a good idea in theory to test ride all the bikes, but in practice it falls short IMO. Then you look more at geometry, shock leverage curve, shock anti-squat curve (if you are familiar with these things) and so on. You can get to the point where you can predict the handling and suspension traits fairly well based on this, but yes, you are still taking a chance and something could go wrong. The other way to look at it is that life is too short to not try and ride different bikes!
    "It's only when you stand over it, you know, when you physically stand over the bike, that then you say 'hey, I don't have much stand over height', you know"-T. Ellsworth

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  12. #12
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    One possible issue is that it can take time to adapt to a new bike if it's sufficiently different from what you've had. What you might like best could be different after you've had a chance to adapt to it.
    Do the math.

  13. #13
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    I absolutely recommend trying before you buy. Most of the major brands have demo days, and another option is to find a friend with the bike you want and test drive his. You can learn a lot from a trail ride.

    With my last purchase, I demo'd about 5 bikes on actual trails before pulling the trigger. I'm glad I did because some of them I really did not get on with so well. But I focused on frame issues - one was a big travel 29er that felt difficult to manuver at low speeds, another was a 27.5+ that helped me figure out I didn't like plus tires, and another was a frame that felt too small and "twitchy" for my style.

    That said, it's amazing how much you can change the feel of a bike just by changing saddle position, bar width/sweep, and stem width/height. Tires also make a big difference. So if I had to buy without a demo, and I really had no choice, I would probably do it with the expectation of modifying things to suit my fit.

  14. #14
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    Whenever possible, I make a concerted effort to. Iím 5í4Ē, Iím usually on the cusp of either medium/small or small/XS, depending on the bike (sometimes differs even between manufacturers). For the most part, I have to be able to throw a leg over in a parking lot.

    Also sometimes something looks great on paper but isnít comfortable on the dirt.
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  15. #15
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    I try and at least ride something very similar. I'm research things a lot, and was sure that I was going to love 27.5. If you gave me 6k 8 months ago and said I could have any bike I wanted.... it probably would have been a Bronson, or something similar...
    But then I went out and rode a Bronson, and really didn't like it a whole lot.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by kpdemello View Post

    That said, it's amazing how much you can change the feel of a bike just by changing saddle position, bar width/sweep, and stem width/height. Tires also make a big difference. So if I had to buy without a demo, and I really had no choice, I would probably do it with the expectation of modifying things to suit my fit.
    To that extent, I think we are far more adaptable than we usually give ourselves credit for, and we tend to get "hung up" on geometry factors sometimes without realizing how all of it interacts and how we are making small issues much bigger than they need to be. It takes a little time to tweak the ride though and sometimes further tweaks bring up further issues, so it's never all that cut and dry. The longer you do this though, the easier it becomes to get what you want, because you know what you want.
    "It's only when you stand over it, you know, when you physically stand over the bike, that then you say 'hey, I don't have much stand over height', you know"-T. Ellsworth

    You're turning black metallic.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by kpdemello View Post
    ...

    That said, it's amazing how much you can change the feel of a bike just by changing saddle position, bar width/sweep, and stem width/height. Tires also make a big difference. So if I had to buy without a demo, and I really had no choice, I would probably do it with the expectation of modifying things to suit my fit.
    I'm amazed that anyone accepts a stock saddle. The odds of it perfectly matching one's sit bones is remote. That's the first thing I swap out with one I like, and saddle should be completely ignored during a demo.

  18. #18
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    I'm not quite in this guys territory in terms of size, but still surprising how many XLs you just don't see or shops don't stock. I have owned 8 bikes, have not seen any of them before I purchased, just try to read as many reviews and rider thoughts as I can and then look at the geo to see how it is compared to what I have and what I maybe am looking for in terms of a change to geo. With each new bike I have learned and expanded my understanding and knowledge of geo and what I like, so now I really know exactly what I like and can almost 100% be sure of if I'll like a bike I get.

    FYI, out of the 8 bikes, there's only 2 that I sold, of those I don't regret selling one, the other I don't really because I replaced it with the updated model, but it was still an awesome bike that had sentimental value because of how much it inspired me, that other, flexy, mis-aligned thing, couldn't get rid of it fast enough and will never own that brand again.

    Quote Originally Posted by jeremy3220 View Post
    I wish. No one stocks XXL bikes in my area to demo.
    One day your life will flash before your eyes, will it be worth watching??

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by phlegm View Post
    I'm amazed that anyone accepts a stock saddle. The odds of it perfectly matching one's sit bones is remote. That's the first thing I swap out with one I like, and saddle should be completely ignored during a demo.
    I've had good luck with stock saddles but that might just be ignorance on my part. I've only found one out of my last 5-6 saddles to be truly objectionable, and that one was an old lightweight kevlar deal that was built more with weight in mind than comfort. Maybe that makes me weird, I dunno.

  20. #20
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    I appreciate all the feedback. I'm still new in trying to figure out a lot of the geometry and how it relates to what terrain, but getting there. I'll probably start really shopping more toward the end of the season when sales start to hit, so I've got some time for homework. I wanted to start getting some ideas and educate now so I don't end up buying one that I don't like.
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  21. #21
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    If that's the case, then I'd say any opportunity you get when you see someone with a bike, is to strike up a conversation and find out why they chose it and how they like it and if possible get a quick spin out on it.

    Quote Originally Posted by drdave81 View Post
    I appreciate all the feedback. I'm still new in trying to figure out a lot of the geometry and how it relates to what terrain, but getting there. I'll probably start really shopping more toward the end of the season when sales start to hit, so I've got some time for homework. I wanted to start getting some ideas and educate now so I don't end up buying one that I don't like.
    One day your life will flash before your eyes, will it be worth watching??

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by kpdemello View Post
    I've had good luck with stock saddles but that might just be ignorance on my part. I've only found one out of my last 5-6 saddles to be truly objectionable, and that one was an old lightweight kevlar deal that was built more with weight in mind than comfort. Maybe that makes me weird, I dunno.
    Not weird, maybe lucky, or just more tolerant that I am.

    Guess my point is that new riders should try to ignore fit-based items that can all be adjusted later.

  23. #23
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    Last 3 bikes I purchased through Internet without trying. 2 of the 3 are best fitting bikes I have owned.

    I go by purpose, geometry and frame details, suspension type and strengths/weaknesses of said suspension, and a lot of reviews--not just Bible of Bikes but get on MTBR forums and read what users are saying about frame, ask questions if needed.

    Personally, I am not buying a plus sized or fat tire bike without first trying on the trail as I want to see for myself how that rides and how easy it is to overcome the tire weight. Now, if I can get a decent plus/fat bike at walmart or costco for $500 then I don't care about how it rides before buying. If I hate it I'll sell it and only be out a couple hundred.


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  24. #24
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    I'm already riding a plus bike and really like it so that takes care of that part of the test riding lol. Mine is just a lower end bike and not worth upgrading some of the components, or lack of parts (stupid "boost" 141mm rear hub). So I figure I'll just ride the hell out of this one and save up for something much better.
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  25. #25
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    The 10-12 bikes I have owned over the last 8 years....I demoíed none of them. I threw a leg over none of them.

    Then again, none other were complete bikes....all were frame builds.

    All met or exceeded my expectations.
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  26. #26
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    I actually think this is a huge problem. Everyone wants me to support my LBS, but they don't hardly ever have inventory. If the bike is not in stock anywhere, how am I going to ever learn about your product?

    I know the bike market is in transition right now, but the bike companies have no idea how hard they make it for me to impulse buy a several thousand dollar item by not having one on the floor.

  27. #27
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    i demo a ton of bikes every year... probs would not buy something i have not ridden as there has always been something i have ridden that i like. if i didnt demo..? i guess i might if i new it would fit proper

  28. #28
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    Mountain bike festivals are rad. You should plan to go to one of those.

  29. #29
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    Iím close to buying my first bike and I might do it without testing, which definitely is scary.

  30. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by jgiannis View Post
    Iím close to buying my first bike and I might do it without testing, which definitely is scary.
    I'm comfortable doing it now but I've probably bought close to 30 mountain bikes in the past 30 years. No way I'd recommend it on a first bike. Not without understanding frame fit, geometry variables and nuances of steering, not to mention the different feel of available wheel diameters and even tire widths. Personally I recommend anyone ride their prospective first bike before purchasing it, even if one has to spend more to do so. Unless the bike comes with a generous return policy. Even then I recommend riding lots of bikes prior to purchase if possible.
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  31. #31
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    If it's a medium with a 16.5 to 18.5 inch seat tube, it fits me.

    These days, geometry is part of the package. It's worth trying something new instead of insisting on rigid criteria for geo and fit.

    I bought my orbea occam totally blind. Never so much as saw an orbea on the trails, much less rode one. It was a medium/17", and I went for it. It's different than anything I've owned and I love it!

  32. #32
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    I've never ridden a bike before I bought it.

  33. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sparticus View Post
    I'm comfortable doing it now but I've probably bought close to 30 mountain bikes in the past 30 years. No way I'd recommend it on a first bike. Not without understanding frame fit, geometry variables and nuances of steering, not to mention the different feel of available wheel diameters and even tire widths. Personally I recommend anyone ride their prospective first bike before purchasing it, even if one has to spend more to do so. Unless the bike comes with a generous return policy. Even then I recommend riding lots of bikes prior to purchase if possible.
    =sParty
    I agree. There's a huge variance in reach, stack and wheelbase between the different brands for a given height recommendation. My wife is a bit under 5'7", she fits well on some medium bikes while others are way too long. She also ended with a more XC oriented bike than I expected.

    So you at least have to have some general idea of what will work for you before buying without a test ride. You don't have to demo the exact model but you should experience the difference between an XC bike and an enduro bike before you plop down a few grand on a 170mm bike and find out 'oh shit, this is not fun on mellow singletrack'.

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