“But I’m not planning on buying a full suspension bike, I can’t afford one, I don’t want to waste the shop’s time, and besides…I know that I’ll struggle to keep up with a group of guys on a demo ride”
We’d had this type of conversation more than once over the last few years, but finally this week (after confirming with the bike shop that a: yes it was more than ok to go on a Demo Day even though you weren’t planning on buying and b: being slow uphill is absolutely fine) I went out riding on my first Demo Day.
The way we buy bikes has changed massively over the years.
The first bike I bought for myself was a Marin Bobcat Trail (lovingly named Bob). It was men’s bike in a small size (there were no women’s specific mountain bikes around in those days). It had rigid forks and I rode it in a car park for about 5 minutes before purchasing. To be honest, I loved that bike even though it was always just a little bit too big for me. When I finally decided to upgrade it, I couldn’t bring myself to let it go and it now sits on my turbo trainer for the winter months.
Upgrading Bob came about because manufacturers had started to produce a good range of women’s specific mountain bikes and I decided that front suspension was going to revolutionise my riding. I looked at pictures of various bikes, but to be honest reading up on the geometry and components of each bike was like a whole foreign language in advanced physics and something which I had absolutely zero interest in learning. I knew what I wanted my bike to do and how I wanted to feel (comfortable and in control) but anything else was way over my head. I found that speaking to bike shop staff was the best way to find out more about each bike and I checked out as many options as I could over a year or two before narrowing it down to a couple of options.
When a bike shop down the road had a Kona Kula Lisa on sale, it didn’t take me long to swipe the credit card and take my beautiful new bike home. It was no cheap purchase and the sum total of my riding experience on the bike before purchasing was the standard 5-10 minutes in a small car park.
I was looking forward to my first ride out on the Kona and ended up feeling totally gutted when I struggled to control it on the technical trails of Dalby Forest. I persevered, thinking that my skill level was just poor, or maybe the rebound setting on the suspension was wrong, or that front suspension was something which took some getting used to. After some more aborted attempts on different trails, someone from the bike shop at Llandegla Trail Centre listened to the problems I was having and gave me options to tweak things around.
It helped, but despite ongoing tweaks over the years I never really gelled with the Kona. On paper, it was a great bike but I always felt like I was fighting against it.
I talked about the problems with the Kona and my husband helped me translate them into bike geometry to come up with options for a new bike. However, I knew that changing my bike was going to be another expensive purchase and I refused to buy again on the basis of 5 minutes in a car park.
Enter the Demo Day!
The bike I really wanted to test out was the Orange Diva and it just so happened that the Dales Bike Centre were holding an Orange Demo Day. Putting aside my fears of group riding on demo’s, I booked myself to ride a Diva, in my size. To cut a very long story short, the new Diva’s weren’t available in the UK at the time, but Orange Bikes were good enough to send one up to the Dales Bike Centre at the first opportunity and I got to take one out on a test ride with just my husband for company.
I spent a few hours riding the Diva on trails which I’d ridden previously on the Kona and I can honestly say that having done that, I would never buy a new mountain bike again without taking it out and testing it properly. Riding the bike you want to purchase (in the right size) is essential. In my experience, bike shops often can’t afford to hold stock of bikes in sizes which are not the highest sellers and as a 5’2″ woman, that has often meant my size is not even available to look at. I completely understand why and, in turn, they usually appreciate my frustration – it’s just how it is with such an expensive stock item.
Back to the demo ride, this was finally my opportunity to properly test out the bike I was interested in purchasing. It helped me to practically understand the difference between the geometry of the Kona and Diva on known trails and how riding each one gave me a totally different experience.
Despite there being absolutely no obligation or pressure to purchase, at the end of the day we drove home with a sparkly new Diva in the back of the van. It still brings a smile to my face when I’m out on the trails and I have never once regretted purchasing. To me, that’s proof enough of the benefits of a demo ride.
So if I love my Diva that much, why did I end up on a Santa Cruz Demo Day less than 6 months later?
Well, having spoken directly with the guys from Orange and chatted with the guys from Cotic on their Demo Days (which my husband went on), I’ve taken much more notice of the Demo Day and the intent behind them. I always thought a Demo Day was for people who were serious about purchasing and one step away from digging out their credit card. However, I’ve since realised that the people running Demo Days are just happy for you to take out their bikes and give feedback about what you like/dislike.
There’s never any hard sell, it’s just people who design or sell bikes talking to other people who ride bikes.
The people running Demo Days are full of information. They understand how the bikes perform and what’s best for the type of riding you do – and they’re happy to talk in both technical terms for the gurus of this world and in basic terms for those like me.
When the Santa Cruz Demo Day was announced at my friendly local bike shop, 18 Bikes I checked that they were happy for me to go along for the hell of it and then booked myself to test out a full suspension bike in my size.
It was my first ever experience riding full suspension (unless you count 5 minutes on one which was way to big for me). I started out on the Juliana Furtado and the bike just seemed to work for me. I always felt in control of the bike, I could play around on it and the fast rocky downhill was pure exhilarating good fun.
Next, I took out a Juliana Roubion and had high hopes that with the extra travel in the suspension it would be an even better experience. However, it just didn’t work for me. If I’d been in a position to purchase one of the bikes, before riding I would have automatically chosen the Roubion so testing both gave a great comparison.
Chatting afterwards, I learned that more travel in suspension does not necessarily mean a better bike. The only way you can ever know which works better for you and the way you ride is by testing each one on rocky trails – and how often do you get the opportunity for a proper ride on different full suspension bikes with zero financial outlay.
The Demo Day is also the perfect opportunity to talk about any problems you have on your current bike and what might work for you in the future.
But are you going to feel out of place if you’re not a technical figures and geometry guru? Well in my experience, no. If that’s your thing, then you can happily talk about angles and mm of travel – but it’s not necessary. As long as you know what you want from a bike and what sort of mountain biking you do, you can have a great conversation and learn something new.
So, I’m officially a convert to the Demo Day. They’re not just for boys who like to ride gnarly trails on flash bikes. They’re an essential way to try out different bikes and see what works best before committing to a large expensive purchase.
Oh, and if you’re worried about being slow on the uphills – as the slowest person by far on the uphill sections this week, I can guarantee that everybody is absolutely fine about it. It just means that they get more time to stop and make tweaks to their suspension set up or chat about the bikes they’re testing – and that’s the reason they’re on the Demo Day!