by: Michelle Arthurs-Brennan
13th April 2015
If you’re buying a new bike it’s a really good idea to take it for a test ride before you think about handing over your credit card.
Firstly, you need to make sure it fits – one manufacturers “52” can be wildly different to another’s – often they measure from and to different points.
Secondly, geometry makes a difference – you might find even if the stand over height is fine, the design of a bike as it is doesn’t suit your body, in which case you’ll need to look at making alterations or choosing another bike.
Finally – bikes have souls.
Well, spirits at least. When reviewers talk about “smooth rides”, “twitchy handling”, “stiff frames” and “sprightly cornering” it can be tempting to smile and nod, but just look at the price tag and components to determine which is the correct choice.
The components and frame material tell only half the story – you’ll be surprised how different bikes from opposing brands feel. Frame material and geometry make big differences that are better experienced than read about.
Admittedly, most retailers offer a road route or car park for your test ride, so if you’re after a mountain bike, you won’t be able to get a crystal clear view of the way the bike feels unless you can find a trail centre with the right model on demo. However, a test ride will still help you to find the right fit and give you a good idea what sort of beast you’re getting.
Here’s what to consider when you turn up on testing day…
Does the bike tick your boxes?
Before you even order your potential new bike in for a test, you should make sure the componentry and spec will meet your needs.
For example, if you want a bike for weekend rides, commuting, and possibly touring, it needs to be fun to ride, but should also have mounts forpannier racks that you may need. If you plan on attacking gnarly trails, youprobably want to go fully sussed.
Before you fall in love with a bike, write a check list of ‘Must Have’s’ and ‘Nice to Have’s’ – your chosen bike needs to meet all the Must’s and most of the Nice’s before you order it in for a test.
Calling in a bike that doesn’t tick your boxes could result in you falling madly in love with it – which is great, as long as you’re prepared to buy another to meet the needs that it doesn’t!
Get the bike ready for a fair test
You want to make sure you get answers from your test ride – not further questions. Ensure you replicate a ‘normal’ ride to give it a fair chance.
If you ride clipless, take your shoes and pedals, the same goes for padded shorts you might normally wear, as these affect saddle height. If you ride in flats, wear shoes that you would use for a ride.
You should also make sure the tyres are pumped up to an appropriate PSI – even a £7k road bike will feel poor on tyres pumped to 60psi.
Check, before you leave, that the gears and brakes are adjusted correctly – the brakes should feel sharp and the gears should shift smoothly. If the bike has just been built, it’s possible the indexing might not be perfect, or brake cables could be slack – and it’s best to make sure this isn’t the case before judging the bike ‘clunky’ when you get on and ride.
Check the bike fits
Ideally, go to a bike retailer where they promise you will receive help from sales assistants with a knowledge of bike fit.
It is possible to set yourself up before the test, but the experienced eye on a fitter will help ensure you have the saddle position right, and they may also be able to make suggestions as to any tweaks you need to make or even set the bike up so it’s perfect for you there and then.
If you find, for example, you are stretched out, a shorter stem or in-line seat post might be available for you to try the bike as you would ride it, and if you are feeling cramped, a longer stem could be available.
If you find the brake or gear levers are difficult for you to reach, you may be able to adjust the levers themselves, or you’ll be looking at new handlebars. This can be fairly inexpensive, but unless you adore the bike, it is worth considering another bike that fits you comfortably without modifications.
Ideally, the bike should be within reasonable limits so you’ll be able to adjust it over time – if you’ve got the seat post set right on the ‘maximum’ limit, you’ll be in trouble if, after a year or so, you decide you want to pop it up a few mm’s. Even if the bike feels perfect as it is, remember that changes to your flexibility over time can mean you want to make alterations, and little changes like new shorts, shoes or pedals in later years might make bike fit tweaks necessary.
Test the limits
Once you’ve established if the bike meets your needs, and fits – it’s time to really test it.
Different retailers will have different ideas of a test ride – some may just allow you to circle the car park, others will offer you a short circuit, but if you’re really lucky (and trusted) you might get a longer spin.
Think about how you want the bike to perform, and use the terrain you have available to put it through its paces.
If it’s going to be a commuter, ask yourself: does the bike feel comfortable, does the steering feel reliable, and how do the brakes respond to an emergency stop? Start by getting used to how the brakes work, and their responsiveness (this is important!) then test them in a sudden stop. Try lifting it, as well, if you might need to carry it up and down stairs, and make sure you check the mechanism on a folding bike is easy to use.
If you’re after a road bike, you really want to know how it feels on a hill, so if that’s an option, thrash it up the nearest incline. Test how the potential steed feels when you corner quickly, and experiment with it in an all-out sprint.
When buying a mountain bike, the test is a bit more difficult – you probably aren’t going to be allowed to thrash the bike on a local trail. You can establish how you feel about the shifting, the responsiveness of the bike, and how confident you feel with the fit. If you want to truly experience a bike you may have to look for demo fleets at trail centres – a bit of a trek – but a good excuse to ride somewhere new!