Tri Coach Tuesday: Ladies, 5 Questions to Ask When Buying a Mountain Bike

by Elorie Slater, Co-Owner of Sports Garage

There are so many stories women are told, most notably the stories they tell themselves, along the path to becoming a self-identified female mountain biker. Often these stories are presented as well-intentioned advice.

This spring I needed a new bike – a position that should have inspired only excitement. I was born-again in mountain biking on my last bike (The Perfect Bike) and I love it still, despite the fact that during vigorous rides the thing now sounds like that street performer playing about 10 instruments simultaneously. Entering into the new bike selection process actually inspired mild PTSD. You see, before The Perfect Bike I suffered through a series of ill-fitting, twitchy, poorly set up, under or over-geared machines, each of which I acquired because I believed a story. Retracing this history has helped me identify five key questions that every rider, especially women, should be asking themselves when shopping for a new mountain bike.

Once upon a time…

Story #1: “ You’re not experienced enough for clipless pedals.”

I learned everything the hard way: started riding legit singletrack at  30 in daisy dukes, on a twenty-five dollar cult of poverty hardtail I picked up at a yard sale. Among the first crew I rode with was a guy who told me, “You’re not experienced enough for clipless pedals. It will be years before you’re ready for that”. So when I shopped for my first full suspension mountain bike – an aluminum Gary Fisher – I set it up with heavy steel Primo pedals. I rode the dog out of the Fisher. A year later I moved to Colorado and received the unexpected “gift” of a pair of SPD’s. I spent the next three months the victim of repeated SPD falls, picking gravel out of my knees, grafting skin to my elbows, and resisting the urge to kick my bike over every cliff.  I should have come out of the gates with clipless pedals and learned the entire skillset from the get-go.

Story #2: “A light-weight bike with a smaller wheel is better for smaller riders.”

Not long after recovering from that bout of SPD-itis, I was bit by the carbon bug, perhaps an even more serious malady. I started shopping for a new bike again. At that time, 26” rigs still took up as much space in bike shops as 29-ers. I had traded my dukes in for a chamois and figured out hydration packs.  At just under 5’5″, fully geared up and soaking wet, I weighed in at about 125. The staff at a trusted bike shop explained that light-weight, nimble 26” bikes suit smaller riders: strength to weigh ratio, turning radius, blah, blah, blah. So I got one. That bike was the lightest, steepest, twitchiest, race set-up on the trail. I was lightning fast…when I was upright. I scored insane endo style points that year. And then one day I rode a friend’s 29” bike. The longer wheelbase added confidence and stability to the equation, even in switchbacks. Descending, I felt like a tractor. Despite my size, I’m a big wheel girl. I should have done test rides on both wheel sizes before making my buying decision.

Ladies, it’s not just bad advice from others. Most of these are stories we also tell ourselves. If I had a nickel for every lady rider that came in SG and said “I’m pretty small so I need to demo a 27.5,” I would ride gold-plated wheels. And don’t get me wrong – I’m not telling women that they shouldn’t ride a smaller wheel or should replace her factory-installed dropper. I’m telling all mountain bike shoppers that discovering your own riding style and analyzing your own preferences is a valuable investment of time.

When shopping for a new bike, find all your opportunities to demo. And someone – whether yourself or an expert at a shop you trust – should ask the five following questions:

1. What’s your favorite part of riding?
2. Can you describe the trail that you feel most confident on or enjoy the most, and why?
3. Do you have a riding goal or dream destination that you are working towards?
4. Are you more nervous about climbing or descending?
5. Do you ever (truly in your heart of hearts) intend to take big hits?

Complete article at Sports Garage here