How to get the most out of your hour or so on a demo bike
It’s just like riding a bike but here are some things that you may not have thought about.
Follow these 11 handy hints and you’ll not leave the demo day frustrated and full of “what ifs”.
Video: How to set your tyre pressure
Adjust tyre pressures
The demo bike loaner is rightfully afraid of demo riders experiencing a puncture so quite often they pump the tyres up to one million psi (10,000 bar).
This results in a really fast-feeling start to the demo loop but then things quickly deteriorate into a sketchy slidey mess when you get to the fun stuff.
Let some air out before you ride. Ask to borrow a track pump with a gauge if necessary. Reassure the demo bike owner that you’re able to fix a puncture and will be fine.
Take your own stem
This is particularly relevant if you’re test riding a shorter travel or XC-biased bike, as they can (still!) come with whopper stems that screw up the bike handling.
Removing your stem may mean removing it from your existing bike but it’s not a major hassle. It takes about five minutes. It’s well worth it because nothing spoils a test bike more than an unsuitable stem.
Take your own pedals
Demo bike owners may not have spare pedals. Or they loaner pedals they do have may be fairly basic and poor performers (this is especially true with flat pedals). Anyway, it’s always good to use your own as it’ll feel more familiar.
Adjust your bar angle
You never know who was riding the demo bike before you. They may have been too big for the bike and tried to compensate by rolling the bars forward. Not good. Adjust the bars so that they feel like you’re used to. Putting the rising-up sections of the bar vertical is a good starting point.
Adjust your brake position and angle
Demo bikes often come with brake clamps butted right against the grip collar. This is too far out and misplaces the fingering sweet spot, as it were. Bring them in a bit to where you feel you can one-finger brake optimally.
The same goes for the brake lever up-down angle. Chances are the demo bike won’t have brake levers that lie where you’re used to them being. Thirty seconds with an Allen key. Sorted.
Adjust stem height
Demo bikes often come with a big stack of spacers under the stem. It’s unlikely that this is the optimum bar height for you. By all means start the demo ride with all spacers in place but you should experiment with different stem heights.
A good tip is to find somewhere open and flat and do some extreme hairpin turns and feel how your grips dip (or not) as they approach your knees. Feels weird? Change your stem spacer arrangement.
Ride simple stuff first
Tempting as it is to go and immediately hunt out some gnar on a bike that isn’t yours. chances are you’ll just not be able to concentrate on how the bike is feeling and handling. Start on some calmer trails to get your eye in first.
Twiddle with rebound
Your sag should be set you by the demo bike owner but rebound is a dynamic and personal thing. Not all bikes work best with the same amount of rebound. Some perform better overall with minimum rebound, some really prefer to have loads dialled in.
You should definitely try riding the same section of trail with three significantly different rebound settings: minimal, middle and loads.
Try the next size up
A lot of experienced riders are opting ride next-size-up bikes to what they used to do. It’s well worth trying. Standover is very rarely a problem these days – most modern MTBs have loads of standover clearance – and the trade off in stability, handling and all-round comfort can be illuminating.
Don’t be shy about asking for changes
Some demo bike owners can occasionally be a bit on the surly side – especially if it’s raining! But don’t let that put you off trying to achieve a worthwhile go on your dream bike.
Chances are, when you ask intelligent questions or request a certain tweak, the demo bike owner will actually really appreciate your interest. It’s tyre-kickers that they don’t like, not invigorated customers.
Pack for a normal ride
Take your regular riding kit and backpack with you. Although you might yearn to just go for a quick demo blast unencumbered this may lead to trouble. Namely, not being able to adjust or repair anything on the trail.
Definitely remember to take two or three inner tubes out with you. There’s something about riding demo bikes that can bring out the puncture fairies, so be prepared.