Maybe you’ve been a mountain biker for years, or maybe this is your first new bike purchase ever. The most important thing is that, at the end of the first season, you don’t have buyer’s remorse in regards to your new investment.
The world of mountain bike tech has changed significantly in the past few years, and continues to change at a pace that is hard to keep up with. Wheel sizes keep bouncing around between 27.5” and 29”, and the only thing that’s agreed on is 26” is dead. Dropper posts have become the norm, and it’s nearly impossible to find a 3x drivetrain anymore. In fact most bikes these days don’t even have the option of a front derailleur with the primary choice being a 1x system up front. If you haven’t upgraded your bike in the past 5 years, it’s likely you’ll find some big surprises and changes in the market.
Try Every Bike You Can
So, what is the best way to purchase a new bike? The easy answer is to ride a bunch of them. This can be difficult if your local bike shop only carries a couple specific brands, or if they charge for every demo you take out. It’s even more difficult if your budget is a bit smaller or you’re looking to purchase a bike from a direct-to-consumer brand like Fezzari, YT Industries, or Guerrilla Gravity.
To answer the needs of consumers the bike industry has responded with the increased number of bike demos at major events, but if you’re looking for the best-of-the-best you can’t go wrong with a dedicated bike demo like Outerbike. For the price of admission you’ll be able to demo all the bikes on your wishlist in a weekend instead of spending months and a similar amount of money demoing them through shops.
With Fall and Spring demos in Moab, and, for the first time ever, a summer demo in Mt. Crested Butte, this event is the creme-de-la-creme of bike demo events. With trailhead access right out of the venue to a variety of trails at each event you can maximize your time on a cross-section of bikes. Once you’ve found your fairy princess bike it’s pretty likely you can order one up that weekend from one of the 12 bike shops in the Gunnison Valley.
If a big bike demo like Summer Outerbike is on your radar here is a cheater’s guide to getting the most out your demo time. We’ve included a few trails at Evolution Bike Park that can help you dial everything in.
What to Bring
Some people like to try their current bike back-to-back with the new models. We don’t think that’s really necessary. Bike tech is changing so quickly that you’re almost guaranteed to fall in love with a new model if you come to Outerbike. In fact, we fully embrace the saying “don’t cheat on your bike until you’re ready to buy a new one.”
But, there are some things you will want to bring with you. Bring your bike shoes and whatever pedals you like to ride. Bring your helmet. Bring your kit. You may want to bring a backpack as well, especially if you normally ride with one. Depending on how much you weigh, the extra 10-20 lbs. in your pack can actually make a noticeable difference in how the suspension feels on some bikes.
Suspension and Fit
The setup for suspension and fit comes from the bike reps that work at the booth. They’ll usually ask you a few questions, have you hop on the bike and bounce, and then dial everything in. On your ride you’ll want to hit some technical sections and rock gardens at different speeds to see how smooth everything is. Remember, a lot of demo bikes have similar suspension setups, the real thing to test here is the difference in how the linkage and shock angle ride to you. A trail like Avery or Happy Hour to Upper Loop are great trails with some technical rock gardens to test these features out.
Since it’s fairly easy to customize once you’ve committed this shouldn’t be a deciding factor in your purchase. It is worthwhile to test out how experienced riders, aka the reps, set up demo bikes differently.
Where is the dropper post lever? How wide are the bars? What grips are on the ride and how are cables and brake lines routed? These questions and more should be asked as you’re out riding the trails. Don’t be afraid to ask the techs to make some adjustments on that stuff, too. Folks with smaller hands my find that brake levers aren’t in a good spot and need to change those up.
These days it’s a question of what 1x setup you want, and the answer lies with your riding style. With these simpler front rings the rear cassettes have increasingly more gears to choose from, and the rear derailleur is what you really want to test. Is shifting crisp? These bikes go out on multiple runs and may not get a full tune every night so see how things have changed on your preferred drivetrain between Friday and Sunday. Using an uphill trail like Up and Away or Columbine to a downhill flow trail like Downtime is a great way to run the drivetrain across all the available gears.
Tires and Wheels
This is probably the thing that people spend the most time debating when buying a new bike. Both 29” and 27.5” have their upsides and setbacks. You also have the option of mid-fat, also called plus-sized, tires to add to the mix. If you’re not sure, sample a variety of bikes throughout the range and focus solely on tire size and width for the first day. From there you can devise a strategy that incorporates that tire and wheel size into the rest of your demo time.
Your riding style will dictate how much uphill you want to throw into the mix while you demo. Technical rock gardens can be found on two-way trails like Meander and Westside if that’s something you feel needs a test.
The most important thing at a bike demo like Outerbike is to walk away knowing what bike feels best for you. The geometry, weight, ride quality and so forth all factor into this. Don’t spend too much time worrying about certain componentry that doesn’t feel right. Bikes are pretty customizable and dialing that part in can come during the build on your new ride.