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Update... What should I actually do on the test drive? The LBS has been kind enough to allow me to try out a brand new bicycle.

What things should I consider when test riding bikes that I am considering for purchase at a LBS? And what should my procedure be while on the test ride? Also plan to test ride between 2 - 5 similarly priced bikes.

This will be a hybrid (urban) bike intended for daily commuting. The LBS will do some minimal adjustments prior to the test ride, so how do I determine if it's a good/bad selection vs needing customized adjustments/fitting?

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The type of bike and intended riding will have a bearing on this, to a degree. –  Neil Fein Feb 11 '11 at 18:14

4 Answers 4

@Baltimark asked, "Let use know what you end up getting".

I ended up getting:

  • A "Kona Dr. Dew" (with a $200 markdown because it's one of last year's model and now is just before the spring bike show)
  • Hydraulic disc brakes (my first non-rim brakes; they're 'wow' compared to rim brakes)
  • Derailleurs (adjustable travel, and needed to be adjusted by one of the bike techs)
  • Tires which were said to be puncture-resistant and which might (I infer from what the sales-person said) include some built-in slime; the tires say "85 psi" but the sales person said I can/should inflate them to 100 psi; they're 35 mm if I recall correctly; with treads, but not studs; they're OK going slowly on packed snow (unplowed well-trod foot path) but I took a tumble on a frozen puddle of sheer/flat ice; I felt confident about the traction (with or without justification, I don't know) on wet (but not puddled) roadway
  • "Commuter" fenders front and back (metal stays, flexible metal-and-plastic bodies)
  • Rack on the back
  • One Bontrager "interchange grocery bag" pannier (clips on and off the rack; I heard the bike techs who installed it make an admiring remark about it)
  • Cheap flashing lights, front and back
  • Bell (a legal requirement here; while I was at it, I got a loudish one)
  • A "New York" U-lock
  • "Pinhead" wheel locks
  • Chain lube for wet conditions, plus aerosol degreaser w/ mechanical chain cleaner
  • Floor pump
  • A hard hat (reading the fine print in it afterwards, it says, "this is not an approved helmet"; but unlike other helmets I tried, it has less/no front-to-back wobble)
  • Shimano SPD shoes (I'll practice with them for the first time, in a few weeks, when the unplowed bike paths are clear of snow)
  • Pedals, made for SPD on one side and for street shoes on the other
  • For the next two years from the LBS, 2 free tune-ups per year, plus unlimited single-thing adjustements e.g. to change a tire, fix a squeak or whatever
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After 3 flat tires in 6 months, I changed the tires to "Marathon Plus" which was a great upgrade: no more flats, and though they're a bit heavier I go faster (e.g. on roads with imperfect surfaces caused by frost-heave and irregular maintenance), because I'm more confident, and it feels like the bike has better "suspension" (the tires feel like better shock absorbers). –  ChrisW Aug 21 '13 at 10:37

This goes against accepted wisdom, but I think test rides are overrated. Not useless, but overrated.

You're going to own the bike for a long time presumably. You're going to be able to play with the tire pressure, the handlebar position, the seat height and fore/aft, the seat itself, the pedals, the cranks. As you develop cycling muscles, your position on the bike might change a little. If the frame size is "close enough", all of these things can be adjusted to lock it in once you get riding it.

I could give you the same bike with different tire pressures and you would say, "wow, that one was a comfortable ride" or "wow, that was a fast ride". You get it home, change the tire pressure, and all of a sudden it feels like a different bike.

Like sillyyak said. . .some of the important stuff for you is going to be standover height, weight, ability to accessorize. And almost none of that is learned on an actual test ride.

As long as price and model are similar, I think it's a good idea to get a bike at the most convenient shop, or the shop where you like the people the most -- you will be going back there (repairs, clothing, helmet, lights, accessories, etc). I wouldn't rule out a test ride, but just don't use it as the deciding factor. The things a test ride reveals are not necessarily the things that matter in the long run, and can even be deceptive.

Let use know what you end up getting.

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A lot of what the test ride reveals is important stuff about the shop. Like, is the bike put together properly and set up so that it's rideable? A bike shop that can't do that is unlikely to be worth buying from. Likewise, test riding gives you a chance to deal with the staff and see what they're like. Are the front of house staff capable of adjusting seat height? Are they informative or condescending? Oh, and you get to ride the bike too. –  Мסž Feb 17 '11 at 22:58
    
"Let use know what you end up getting." - I've written that, as a separate answer. –  ChrisW Feb 26 '11 at 17:42

A factor that is as important as the bike you purchase is the store you purchase it from. Do you feel comfortable talking to the mechanics about problems on your bike or asking for advice with changes to the bike? Do they offer a fitting service that includes measuring your body and putting you up on a trainer (as opposed to eye-balling it)?

A good bike shop will probably give you a lot of the same advice you will get here. A poor bike shop will probably just push you towards the bike they think you are most likely to buy.

The most critical aspect of your test-ride is the comfort on the bike. Many bike shops have test-bikes that they will let you borrow (or rent) for a day to try out. Give a short ride on several bikes and then your top picks, ask if they have test bikes you can take home. Ride your commute on each of them to see how it feels.

A short 30 minute test ride may not give you the right information as compared to riding your actual route. A good example is the gearing on the bike--it may be ok on a short, 6% grade... but terrible on a long, 2% grade.

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You will want to be sitting in a postion that has your weight mostly on your sit bones.

You also want to make sure that with your saddle in the correct position, your knee is over the axle of the pedal when the crank is in the front-most part of it's circle. Too far off and it can put a strain on your knee. If the saddle can't be adjusted to allow this to happen, then you need to look at a different size/type of bike.

You may also want to check the width of the saddle. You want the support to be under your sit bones, otherwise it can get pretty uncomfortable.

Are you comfortable standing over the bike at a stop?

Is the bike light enough so that you can manuever it onto bike racks?

Does it have eyelets for racks?

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If you do need to sit further forward or back, then can't you just change the seat, instead of changing the bike? Or same bike but different frame size? Is this answer more about how to fit a bike that about what to look for when you take it for a test-ride: or is the reason for a test-ride mostly to check the fit? What does "spots for racks" mean? –  ChrisW Feb 11 '11 at 19:35
    
@ChrisW I think by "spots for racks" sillyyak meant pannier rack eyelets. –  Jason Plank Feb 11 '11 at 19:37
    
@Jason - Corrected. –  Neil Fein Feb 12 '11 at 19:45
    

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