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Here is the new link.
So you've decided you want a new road bike, and plan to
test-ride a couple. Here's a few things that will help you
get a fair comparison and make the right choice!
What the shop will require
First, a couple things to keep in mind. You're going to
be taking a spin on something that's reasonably expensive, so
assume the shop's going to require you to leave something valuable
that ensures your return. In our case, it's a valid current
California driver's license. This works because it verifies
who you are and it's something we can be reasonably sure you'll
return to get (even though some of us have some rather dreadful
photos that we'd rather not see again!). I've heard of shops that require a charge card authorization be run for the
value of the bike, and some that require car keys. But for
us, it's a California driver's license.
Also, please note that most shops (including Chain Reaction)
will not allow test rides if the pavement is damp or it's even
getting close to dark (assume you need to arrive at least
one hour prior to closing or one hour prior to sundown,
whichever is earlier). Your safety is more important to us than
selling a bike.
What you should bring
Many shops, including ours, require helmets on test
rides. We just think it's a good idea to try
and keep you alive, at least until we sell you the bike! And
no, it has nothing to do with insurance. If you've already
got a helmet, bring it with you...it's probably already set up
correctly for your head and will save some time.
If you've already got clipless pedals from another bike, bring
your shoes with you! It's much better to test ride a bike
the way you're used to riding. If the pedal system is
something other than standard SPD (the typical mountain-style
recessed-cleat pedal/shoe system), then bring along your pedals as
well, and have them installed on whichever bike you ride.
And if you've got cycling shorts (which you should, since they
make cycling much more comfortable), bring those too. You
want to be testing out the bike and not be distracted by
uncomfortable clothing etc.
How the bikes should be set up
OK, you've figured out a couple bikes you'd like to ride.
Remember, you want to test each bike under optimal conditions, so
here are some things to make sure of-
#1: For the first bike, make sure the seat is
adjusted properly...both for height and tilt. The nose of
the seat should be level with the back, and even small variations
here can make tremendous differences in comfort. Once you
have the seat height figured out, have it measured (from center of
crank to the top of the saddle) and set up each subsequent bike to
exactly the same height. This is very important, as even
small changes in seat height can have a dramatic effect on how a
bike feels...and you're testing a bike, not a saddle position!
(For more info about saddles and bike fit,
we have an article on line)
#1b: It may be possible for a skilled salesperson
to take a quick look at your position on the bike, with your hands
on the lever hoods (where you'll be spending most of your time
with STI levers) and notice that you'll definitely need a shorter,
or longer, stem (the part that holds the handlebars to the
fork). In some cases, this change can be made very quickly,
due to new stem designs that allow you to change the stem without
having to remove & reinstall the brake levers and handlebar
tape. It's definitely in the best interest of the shop to
make your ride as comfortable as possible, so don't be surprised
if this is done before you take your test ride.
#2: Have each bike's tires inflated to full rated
pressure, right in front of you. This is as important, if
not more so, than the saddle height. If you ride the
ultimate carbon-framed bike with its tires carrying only 80psi, vs
a much-less-expensive machine with its tires running at full rated
pressure (120psi), can you guess which is going to have a faster
ride??? I recognize that this is going to annoy a whole lot
of salespeople, who will pinch a tire with their fingers and say
it's fine, but this is a really important point. A tire even
10psi low is not giving you the ride you need. Always
test-ride with fully-inflated tires, period.
#3: Ask if the salesperson could run you through
the gears on a stand, just to make sure you know how they're
supposed to work (which you probably do) and to ensure that
they're properly adjusted. There are a lot of reasons why a
new bike might not have perfectly-adjusted gears (including kids
playing with the levers when the bikes are in the rack), but we
don't care about the "why" for now. We just want
to make sure things will work the way they're supposed to on the
The actual test ride
Now you're ready for your test ride. Question is,
where? We have basically three types of test rides...the
classic "parking lot" ride, the "around the
block" ride, and the longer 4-mile "road"
ride. The parking lot cruise is useful for having the
salesperson check out your position on the bike and, in some
cases, is as much of a ride as a customer feels comfortable with
(because they don't want to deal with traffic etc.).
Usually, after graduating successfully from the parking-lot ride,
you'll want to take it on a bit longer spin around the block,
getting up some speed on the straightaways, or maybe just feeling
better because you don't have a salesperson looking at you while
you're riding. [By the way, for the parking lot ride, it
might be OK to use normal street shoes on clipless pedals, but for
anything more, make sure the pedals are compatible with your
shoes! We keep quite a few standard toe-clip pedals around
for just this purpose.]
We're still working out a "course" for our Los Altos
location, but for Redwood City, we have a four-mile loop that
includes good pavement, bad pavement, hills, descents and maybe
even a combination of head & tailwinds. What more could
you ask? We even give you a map showing the course, and ask
that you stay on it. Why? Because if something were to
happen to you, we need to know where to go looking!
Remember, you're on someone else's expensive machine, and we have
an interest in keeping both the bike, and you, safe.
At this point you may have fallen in love and confirmed your
suspicions that this is the bike for you! But if that's not
the case and you want to test ride another bike, make sure that
the seat height is set up exactly the same as it was on that first
bike, and have the tires aired up, and run through the gears
again. By the way, I should explain that tires in
high-quality bikes have a normal tendency to lose a fair amount of
air over a couple week's time, so it should not be a surprise when
they need air...it should be expected.
How to compare different bikes...what to look for
Afraid you won't be able to tell much difference between two
bikes? Even if you're inexperienced at cycling, my guess is
that the differences will be more obvious than you think!
And what should you look for? Check out for how each
bikes accelerates while sitting and standing, comfort over big
bumps, how it handles road buzz (vibration from "grainy"
road surfaces) and any sort of emotional appeal it might have
(how's that for a vague quality?). For longer rides, we
strongly recommend that you find a small hill you can charge
up. Why? Because there's nothing that separates a
great bike from an also-ran like a hill. A really great bike
just feels like it wants to go, even climb, even when you're not
in the right gear. An also-ran will have you constantly
searching for that right gear, that sweet spot where everything
comes together (hopefully). The really great bike just
doesn't care...it simply performs.
If you're in Kansas or
Florida and the closest hill is 100 miles away, maybe an overpass
For more info on the differences between one bike and the next,
you can check out our articles on such things as whether
a bicycle has a soul, how durable is
carbon fiber, do you need a double or
triple crankset, should you buy
the cheapest bike with the best parts and many others in the menu section at
the bottom of each page of this website.
You've found the right bike...now what?
You've found your bike...it's got the right features, feels
great while riding, etc. Now you need to get measured for
proper fit. The frame size on what you rode
might be correct... then again, it might not. At Chain
Reaction, we use the New England Cycling Academy's FitKit system,
which takes a series of measurements of the rider, to make sure we
have not only the correct frame size, but top-tube plus stem
distance (critically important and frequently ignored!),
seat-to-handlebar drop, seat height, handlebar width and
more. It's not a matter of how much clearance you have
standing over the frame! That might help get you in the
ballpark, but since the front-to-back distance of a frame changes
with size, your arm & torso measurements might dictate a frame
size different than standover height might indicate.
Please note that, in the majority of cases, the stem length on
the bike will need to be changed. This isn't a big deal if
the shop sells a lot of road bikes...they'll have the various
stems in stock and ready to go. I would suggest that any
shop not willing to swap the stem for proper fit on a road bike
may not be a good place to buy one! In most cases, there
should be no charge for a stem swap, but there will be times where
you have to go to a stem that might cost a bit more, or perhaps
because it's a lot higher they might need to replace several
cables & housings, which definitely takes a lot of time.
In those cases, you could expect to pay a small amount of money to
cover the difference and/or the labor involved.
Fortunately, at Chain Reaction we have such a tremendous number
of road bikes in stock that there's rarely an issue getting
someone set up with exactly the right size bike, right then and
there. But Chain Reaction, with over 300 road bikes in stock
at any one time, is not exactly typical, so don't be surprised if
getting the proper fit involves waiting for one to come in.
It will be worth the wait, especially if the alternative is a bike
that doesn't feel quite right because the fit's wrong. If
your local shop doesn't have a zillion road bikes in stock, that's
not necessarily an indication that they're not serious about road
bikes...could be they just don't have such a highly-developed road
bike market like we do in the SF Bay Area, and can't afford to
have a huge number of bikes sitting around, waiting for you.
Not a problem for us...the number of road bikes we sell would make
most shops heads spin.
After you find your new dream machine, you might check out our Taking
Care of your Road Bike article.