Jul 20, 2023
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Why Is It So Hard to Test Drive a Bicycle?

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By John Montesi

Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or recently looking to upgrade your bike, you likely know the story – if a bike shop has the bike you want in stock, you’re lucky to get the chance to pedal it around the parking lot. 

Whether you’re looking for a road bike, a gravel bike, or a mountain bike, this really doesn’t give you a chance to understand how the bike you’re buying really rides. 

We can understand why bike shops have these rules–it’s risky to let someone leave on an extended test ride of a bike. Just like with cars, the dealers want to make sure what they’re selling still counts as “new.” But as a customer, it’s hard to know how the model – or even general style – of bike you’re looking at really feels to ride. 

It’s Like Riding a Bike

Any cyclist who’s bought and sold their share of bikes will tell you that each one has a character that’s more than the sum of its parts. Each different build has its pros and cons and it is only with plenty of tinkering and experience on different bikes that a rider can form a strong opinion about what does and doesn’t work for them. 

But much of that knowledge can be gleaned after a handful of rides in the real world, which means buying and selling is an awfully expensive way to learn what you’re looking for in your next bicycle.

Bike Rental to the Rescue 

Renting a bicycle is a great way to get a feel for how it rides in real-world conditions. Even a road bike feels a lot different on a variety of surfaces, hills, and speeds than it does making wobbly figure eights in the parking lot. And when it comes to gravel or mountain biking, there’s no substitute for riding out on the dirt. 

Maybe you’re curious about how much travel you really need on your mountain bike. Perhaps you’re wondering if steel is real or carbon bikes really are better. None of these debates can be settled on the internet, or by picking up a bike on the showroom floor to judge its weight. Riding character, the unique alchemy of bike geometry and component selection, and how you feel riding a bike are all far more important than what the spec sheet says. 

Plan a few bike rentals of different styles of bike so you know whether that custom frame is worth the money, if you really need an enduro bike for your townie trails, or if you want a gravel bike after all. 

What to Look For When Trying a New Bike 

There are so many articles, comparison tests, and opinions online that it can be hard to know what to believe. We think renting a bike of the model or general style you’re shopping for is the best way to make sure you like what you’re getting before committing to it. 

The most important aspects of a bicycle vary based on your goals and the style of bike you’re shopping for, but we believe that joy and comfort are the most important aspects of a new bike. If you enjoy riding it, you’ll want to ride it more. And if you’re comfortable riding it, you’ll be able to ride more often and for longer. 

For almost all cyclists, these qualities are far more important than chasing fractional weight reductions or aerodynamic benefits above a certain average speed. But ride enjoyment and comfortable, confident riding dynamics are subjective and difficult to quantify on a marketing spec sheet or even most bike reviews. What feels good to one rider may feel wrong to another – and what feels weird in a two minute parking lot spin may become a cycling revelation on a longer ride!  

Rent a Bike to Pick Your Next Ride 

There are lots of great bicycles on the market today. From boutique custom rides to cutting edge high tech offerings, mainstream to niche, there’s never been a better time to be a cyclist. But all those choices can be overwhelming. If a certain style of bike has caught your eye, now is the time to find a rental bike that will help you decide if it’s really for you. 

Bicycles are one of the biggest purchases most people make – we believe that increasing your sample size will help you choose wisely. This author has bought more than one bike without ever even doing the classic parking lot test drive. In one of those cases, it turned out to be a very expensive mistake. Here’s to having fun learning what you like and picking the right bicycle for you. 

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