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I am looking for a MTB, but am unsure how to measure if the frame would fit me.

I haven't had a full-suspension bike. Furthermore, I am pretty sure MTBs perform entirely differently in the city and when going down a rocky track. My previous bike was small, short and awkward on pavement, but incredibly stable on the descents.

When test-riding, I very much doubt that any shop will let me ride for a whole day. And from doing a couple of circles around the shop, rushing a couple of curbs, feathering or squeezing the brakes and doing a jump or two there is hardly any feel as to what riding will be like, when I get used to the bike.

Kind of like with new shoes - at the start, every model is "awkward", as one has not gotten used to it.

I will ask the guys at the shop to help me with fitting, of course, but concerning the test ride - how do I do it correctly? What information is most essential to gather during the very short ride and how do I do that?

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2 Answers 2

Bike shops have a special test-bikes to be lent for a whole day or even a weekend. I tested Specialized, Scott and RB for the whole weekend this way.

You will pay them a refundable deposit (20-80% of price of the bike - depends on the shop). Some of them will charge you a little for cleaning/service or whatever. This may vary across the countries; I have experiences only with mine, but Specialized and Scott are international brands, so I expect similar offers around.

This is an answer for the topic, not your last question, but I think this is the right way to choose a bike.

There are also test-centres in some Single-tracks where you can borrow a bike for couple of rides. But they have a limited offer of models there. Or some shops organize test-events near nice places to ride with many bikes to try if you book in advance.

This is the best way to choose a bike. I was in the same situation as you. On the first test I borrowed two bikes from one Shop (RB): similar hard-tail and full-suspension and rode it with my friend exchanging couple of times to discover if is it even worth to invest to full suspension. It was quite convincing. Then I tested couple of other models of brands above for weekends. It's a fun to have a different new bike on every weekend. From these tests I came with very certain conclusion what I like the most.

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If you cannot find a LBS with loners/trials, contact the distributor or manufacturer - they often have bikes for trial rides at events. Also clubs are a good way to meet people who will let you have a short test ride of their bike. If you are adventurous, ask a random stranger if you can swap bikes for a section of trail. –  mattnz Sep 19 '13 at 21:28
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What to look for on a shop test ride:

  • Fit: Like you said, it's new and might feel awkward, but usually you can narrow out some that are just not as good.

  • Components:

    • Brakes: Test out front and rear braking power, bite, etc.
    • Drivetrain: How does the shifting feel, is it responsive? Do the cranks flex? Is anything loose (usually can be fixed on the spot)?
    • Cockpit: lean back over the rear wheel and see if you can do it comfortably, check to see if the bar width works for you, stem height, etc.
    • Suspension: bounce up and down a bit and see how the shock and fork moves. Now go run over some bumps or try to bunny hop and see what if feels like.
    • Maintenance: Look over the entire bike and notice whether the wheels have thru-axles or quick releases, if brake mounts are built in, removable dropouts/derailleur hanger, etc.
  • Look: Do you like what the bike looks like?

  • Ride: Ride fast, ride slow, turn wide and turn tight. Then lean the bike while riding, lean forward, lean back, lean to the sides. Basically see how the bike moves with you.

Now the majority of these things you can adjust or change. So what you'll really want to look for is frame size and geometry, the "feel" of the bike, which the shop should be able to help you with. They can also help get the suspension set for your weight and riding style at least to start with, that's another adjustment you can make. If you manage to get a really good shop or if they're not busy, you might be able to persuade them switch bars, stem, seat and other bits to see if you can make the bike feel better.

One note, on the maintenance part, I added this because you can buy bikes that are horrendous to maintain (internal gearbox, weird suspension layout) and some are super easy. I wouldn't make it your main factor in choosing, but it's something to look for.

And, not surprisingly, buying a bike is a lot like a car, you have to like it. That means, color, design, and feel; and that's something only you can determine. Some guys like riding a smaller frame because it's more "flickable" and others like a longer bike to have more stability at speed.

Lastly, there's really no substitute for riding the bike you want on a trail. Rentals, demos, and friend's bikes are great for this. Check with your local shops/clubs to see if you can find a bike you'd like to try and maybe meet someone at the trail.

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