What to look for on a MTB Demo Ride

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What to look for on a MTB Demo Ride

What to look for on a MTB Demo Ride – why you’re unlikely to totally fall in love and what you can learn

It’s time for a new mountain bike. You want to ensure you nail down the perfect bike – so you’re on a mission to demo them all and pull the trigger on your absolute favorite? Well, more times than not it doesn’t quite shake out that way. Take a quick read to find out more!

Testing a Bike Versus Testing Systems

Modern mountain bikes are fairly complex assemblies with a ton of possible variations that directly effect riding characteristics. When you jump on a demo bike you are in fact testing a few distinct systems to see how the sum of these parts works for you. Knowing this and defining which systems you preferred and which you didn’t will improve your buying experience.

For this write-up we are assuming that you are demo riding trails that you are familiar with in a setting you are comfortable with. i.e. local trails with your two riding buddies versus totally new trails with a twenty person group of strangers. If you’re trying to define a bike it’s important to define the bike – not outside factors that may skew the experience. (for instance I have social anxiety with new groups and wouldn’t be in a clear head to evaluate with stranger’s doing whatever their deal is!)

The most productive demo rides produce questions on systems based on what you loved, hated or were neutral to.


Systems that are easier to evaluate on a test ride include:


Suspension should be looked at balancing design, i.e. DW Link, Switch Infinity, Sine Suspension, and components.

You’re not getting a bike 100% completely dialed in setup on a demo ride. Bike setup takes a few trail rips which is why BikeCo’s after sales team is in contact with our clients a handful of times to get feedback during break in. That’s another story for another day though…

Let’s assume that you have been provided a balanced bike (fore and aft – air spring and rebound settings) within an appropriate range for your ground speed, size and skillset. Pair that with an adequate cockpit setup and that’s good enough to get some quality data back.

Suspension Design

How does the bike enter and exit a corner? Where does the bike prefer your weight? How quickly can you get back on the power out of corner? Is the bike generally efficient when accelerating from mid pace to three quarter power? Remember that these performance factors aren’t etched in stone. Modern MTB suspension components, particularly Fox offerings, have incredible tune ranges which can be used to manipulate traction, dive, ramp, how a bike settles into corners, etc. More on that below.

More sophisticated riders may pickup on the issues common with “also-ran” suspension designs. It is very complex to create a balanced, high performance suspension that is competent in all stages of the stroke. Plush initial travel, supportive mid-stroke and with bottomless feeling at full compression are easy to market but hard to achieve.

Life’s too short to ride crappy suspension – gimmicks, marketing, pro athletes (they can override anything) aside you want something that feels balanced and confident. BikeCo.com offers the Yeti, Ibis, Evil and Alchemy lines for a reason – they work well for an impressive swath of riders.


Demo bikes are pretty good for analyzing sizing considerations. Riders who find themselves between sizes are able get on a bike and really review the details.

Riders who find a size works only with a fringe stem generally eliminate the option. If you can’t make a bike slightly longer or shorter you may have regrets fine tuning performance or if you develop physical issues which require a different riding position.

Riders who find themselves truly between sizes, with acceptable stem variation on both sizes, may use a demo ride to see if they prefer the quicker handling of a shorter wheelbase or the greater speed capacity of a longer bike. It is important to control both front and rear wheel in steeps. Riders demoing longer bikes should evaluate this on familiar terrain.

Due to the potential need to cannibalize a demo bike to keep others on trail riders will often find factory demo bikes, particularly small and mediums, have extremely wide bars. 800mm bars on a size Small is a fringe setup. Period. Testing a smaller chassis with excessive bars the over stretch in your arms may create turning, climbing and general fit issues. Take a few minutes to pedal in a parking lot while moving your hands inboard on the bars to evaluate where you would really end up while feeling the turning personality.


Demo bikes are a good way to feel what you can expect with gear ratio. Riders will need to evaluate the age, setup and condition of the drivetrain to really grasp total performance. Remember demo bikes are typically on trail as much as possible and see a wide variety of users. Unless you get on a fresh build, tuned by a good mechanic you can expect a hiccup here or there. Frankly, a properly tuned SRAM or Shimano setup will shift crisply across the gear range. Take a slow shift with a grain of salt on a bike that might have just had a total hack on it…


Once again we come back to the “if the bike is functioning appropriately” definition. Brakes which are not fluid contaminated (tend to sound like a goose honk when applied at any speed), previously overheated (sound like a squeal, tend to have blackened rotors), or have bubbles in the hydraulic fluid (inconsistent lever feel) provide a pretty accurate demo of their modulation. Modulation is described as how a brake’s power is applied. Less modulation means power comes on quickly with lever throw. More modulation has more “feel” across lever movement in relation to power application. Total power as well as heat capacity can be modified with rotor size, type, brake pad compound, etc. So a brake which feels “underpowered” may have a tune option while a brake that comes on too hard (modulation) tends to be harder to modify.


Systems which are harder to completely understand or dramatically effect a bike’s performance on a demo ride:


As mentioned above modern components have a really wide range of tune-ability. Most riders don’t have enough time on a demo or knowledge about finite suspension controls to fine tune a setup or totally maximize performance. That’s OK. If you liked where the bike wanted you positioned (fore / aft in cornering and descent) the industry leading suspensions from Alchemy, Evil, Ibis and Yeti can be fine tuned within an impressive range of performance.


This seems totally counter intuitive right? Demo 29s to see if you like 29s? Not 100% anymore. The bikes we work with are so dialed in for riding style that jumping on the wrong one may give you more misconceptions than not. If you’re a trail rider an Enduro capacity bike is going to feel sluggish. If you prefer larger Enduro size terrain jumping on a trail bike will feel nervous at speeds you are confident at. Testing wheel size is really about testing wheel size on a chassis you would ride. Don’t judge the entirety from riding the wrong bike just to see the wheel size.


The number one, single most personality changing option on a mountain bike are tires. Here’s the scoop: MOST demo bikes are setup with confident, aggressive for class tires. Sending clients out on a bike that doesn’t want to stick to the ground is a quick way to scare them off the chassis! Downside is a bike gives up a bit of climbing or explosive acceleration with heavier, more aggressive rubber. While evaluating a bikes’ performance riders should take a long look at the tire setup on a demo bike compared to their usual favorites. If you run ultra fast trail tires and find yourself on patterns that would be a home in a super burly Enduro course it’s going to change the ride…

Coming to Conclusions

Demo bikes are helpful for a lot of clients. That said, a quality resource is able to help define your needs fairly quickly with input on the particulars above. Come back from your demo ride with questions, particularly a list of what you liked and disliked. Breaking down your list will help define if the bike simply wasn’t for you, if an improved setup or more personalized pairing will dial you in.

Don’t be shy working with BikeCo’s sales team. Any info you can provide, from technical debriefs to simple noises. It goes “kak, kak” across small bumps cornering will have us work with compression and air springs for plushness for instance. BikeCo offers riders access to both factory and shop demo bikes. Contact our sales team for more details!


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