6 Ways You Can Demo a Mountain Bike Before You Buy It

Try before you buy. Tips for finding and testing a mountain bike at a demo event before purchase.

photo: Jeff Barber

There’s no doubt about it: buying a mountain bike is a big financial decision. Bikes can cost a lot of money, and only depreciate after purchase, so it’s important to be confident in your buying decision.

To find full confidence, it’s best to test ride a mountain bike before you buy it. Even better: ride a lot of bikes before you settle on one.

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If you haven’t ridden any new bikes in a while, the first brand new one you demo may seem like the best bike in the world. The technology is going to be much newer compared to your old bike, and different brands have different suspension platforms, different components, and different personalities. Ride at least a few others before you tell yourself it’s “the one.”

Here are six ways to track down a demo on the mountain bike(s) you’re interested in.


Outerbike is set up just for this reason, and now there are a few different stops across the country including Moab, Utah; Bentonville, Arkansas; and Crested Butte, Colorado. Most major bike brands have plenty of demos available, and the events take place at some of the most iconic mountain bike destinations in the US.

The downside is that the event is not free. Admission for the Bentonville stop is $255 with fees. For this price bikers get access to all demos for three days, lunch every day, two nights worth of beer, and access to shuttles and trails.

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Considering the cost of a new high-end mountain bike, spending a couple hundred bucks conducting “field research” in a fun way doesn’t seem like a bad investment.

Mountain bike festivals

If you can’t make Outerbike, there are quite a few bike festivals with a demo component. Unlike Outerbike, these events often include a competitive element in addition to offering demo bikes.

Sea Otter Europe Cannondale Demo Bike

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Admission is usually much less expensive than Outerbike and still includes quite a few amenities. The events are almost always in a great mountain bike destination too. Here is just a short list of mountain bike festivals that offer mountain bike demos.

Brand demo by bike shop

Usually a few times during the summer, a brand that a local bike shop carries will partner with the bike shop to set up a demo at a local trailhead. These events are usually free, but are often limited to just one brand at a time. This isn’t a problem if you know which bike you’re interested in or are trying to check a particular bike off your list.

To demo bikes from a particular brand, check the brand’s website or Facebook page for a list of demo event dates and locations. For example, Pivot lists local shop demos and festivals where demo bikes are available on their website.

Some shops will also pull a bunch of bikes from all the brands at their shop and set up a demo day at a nearby trailhead. It might still be tough to demo more than one bike, but at least there will be a bigger sample to choose from. Follow the shop’s Facebook page, check the shop website, or give them a call and see if they have any upcoming events.

Demo the specific bike from a shop

If you’re almost positive about which bike you want to buy, demo it from a local bike shop. It usually costs around $100 at most bike shops, and then a portion of that often goes toward the purchase of the bike.

Again, it’s not the most economical way to demo a bike, and testing more than one is going to add up very quickly, but it’s certainly better than buying a bike from the shop without trying it.

You can also incorporate this tip into your next mountain bike trip. Bike shops in Moab, Crested Butte, and other destinations offer rentals. Fly in without a bike, rent a bike for the stay, ride it on amazing trails, and then decide if it’s the bike for you.

Check the brand’s demo tour

Most big brands also have a demo van with lots of bikes in it. The van travels around the country during the summer months to let interested folks ride the latest bikes. The demo events are usually offered free-of-charge, and will often swing by your local trails or local bike park. Check your favorite brands’ websites and look for their demo calendar. This is an easy one to swing.

Brands with demo tours:

At the brand’s headquarters

If you happen to live close to a mountain bike company, they’ll often have a few demo bikes available as well. Sometimes bikes can be tested for a price, and sometimes it’s free. Give the company a call, or check on their website to find out more information. At the very least, they’ll help you find a way to demo the bike.

The Santa Cruz factory demo fleet. You can schedule a test ride of any bike in the Santa Cruz lineup right at the factory.

There are many ways to get on a demo bike before swiping at the register. If you’re dedicated to finding the right bike, it’s easy to get on more than a few bikes before you buy. Keep your eyes peeled, stay in touch with what the mountain bike brands and shops are up to, and go ride some bikes!