Mountain bikes are expensive. Not ski-expensive, where a misguided choice in purchase can be written off as a temporary lapse in judgement that stings, but doesn’t bankrupt. When it comes to a bike purchase, a mistake hits home in the multi-thousand dollar range.
But this presents a dilemma. Skis can be demoed with ease. Any ski shop worth their weight will have every ski they sell mounted up and ready to be put to the test. They’ll even have a complete size run, so you can test the same ski in multiple sizes and leave the shop knowing you’ve absolutely made the right choice.
This is not the case with bike demos.
With bikes, your multi-thousand dollar purchase more often than not requires a roll-of-the-dice and faith in your local bike shop employees. No retailer can have every bike they sell, in every size they carry, available for demo. The overhead would be crippling.
But there are ways around this — ways to throw the dice with more than just luck on your side. With a little round-about demoing, there are ways to draw out what you will (or won’t) like about a bike without ever putting it to the test.
If you’re lucky enough to be interested in a bike that your shop has built-up and ready to ride, then it might be fate. But if the bike that’s right for you isn’t allowed to leave the parking lot, some creative demoing is in order.
Creative Demoing and a Thinly Veiled Sales Pitch
Say, for example (here’s where the shameless pitch begins), you live in Park City, Utah and your buddy has declared that you’re a fool if you’re not riding the Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Expert Carbon 29. The 29 inch wheels let it climb like a true cross-country bike he says. And it will blow you away on the downhill.
But it’s been a while since your last mountain bike purchase, and you’ve been riding 26 inch wheels and 100 mm of travel. 29ers are different, and you’re skeptical. And while you trust your buddy in many ways, his word isn’t quite enough for you to lay down the credit card. You want firsthand experience.
Unfortunately, the only Specialized dealer in Park City (and Jans partner store), White Pine Touring, doesn’t stock this bike in their demo fleet. But, what is available in the demo fleet at Jans (pitch!) is the Santa Cruz Tallboy C.
Different bikes? Absolutely. But not so different that riding the Tallboy is pointless.
Both bikes feature 29 inch wheels. Both are equipped with the latest and greatest Fox CTD Suspension. And since both are designed to find the middle ground between XC and trail bikes, the overall geometry and frame stiffness is pretty close.
If you’re coming off the 26 inch short travel bike mentioned above, then the Tallboy C will feel like an entirely different beast. The similarities between the Tallboy and your old bike would have them lucky to be classified in the same family. The relation ends at their distinction as mountain bikes. And though by no means an exact match to the Stumpjumper 29, the Tallboy could at the very least be classified as the same species.
As long as you keep in mind that all component packages ride differently, and ignore your reaction to shifting, the drivetrain, or the brakes, a lot can be deduced about the Stumpjumper without ever taking it to the trails. And even if it’s still not enough for you to drop the cash on a new bike, at worst you’ll have learned whether this species of bike is something you’re after.
And at the absolute least, you’ll have ridden a carbon Santa Cruz. It’s a tough life buying a new bike.
Nate Tomlinson, Content Writer