Forget The Test Ride

Demo riding isn't the best way to choose a bike.

Photo: John David Becker

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Demo riding isn’t the best way to choose a bike.

Before you walk into a tri shop and start riding bikes from the showroom floor to find your dream ride, consider this: There is no easier way to be deceived by a bike than to judge it from a test ride.

The characteristics that stand out when spinning a bike around the block are “not the ones that truly matter in the final miles of a bike leg or during a long training ride,” says F.I.S.T. fit school instructor J.T. Lyons. Here’s what will be obvious during a test ride—and what is commonly overlooked.

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Tire pressure: Lower pressure equates to a smooth ride. A rattle and responsive feel are the result of higher PSIs.

Tire type: Soft and supple tires feel great at first, and robust ones ride roughly. The difference is distinct.

Saddle: Does the stock saddle happen to match your anatomy? If so, you’re likely to love the bike. And if not, it’s easily swappable for a better fit.

Aerobar fit: The bike matching closest to your ideal fit will be most comfortable.

Component adjustment: A well-tuned bike will create a better impression than a misadjusted one.

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Aerodynamics: Perceiving the aero traits of a bike is impossible. Third-party aero testing is the only way to really identify them.

Potential fit: Every bike can be adjusted to better match each individual rider, and some can span huge ranges. Determining the right match between rider and bike requires a thorough fit.

Storage: Carrying capacity is important for long-course racers and those who like to spend entire weekends on a bike. Storage can be easily overlooked on a short tour around a shop.

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The Solution

Instead of throwing a leg over a few bikes, start your search for a new tri bike with a fit. After arriving at your ideal position and a list of bikes that match, you can learn a little about ride characteristics by testing those bikes set to your position, says Lyons. Ask the shop to set those bikes to your fit, and then ride the bikes one at a time with the same wheelset to neutralize differences between tires. Even then, you’ll only learn a little about ride quality from these back-to-back rides. Relying on position, aero information and personal preference is the best way to ensure you’ll be happy for years with your next bike.

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