WHAT’S YOUR OPINION?
A year ago I became a dad. It is much more awesome now than it was a year ago. It seems so much easier now that I have some experience, and so much more enjoyable. When I think back a year, I remember how scared I was, how much research I did and how much advice I was given. Loads of it was conflicting, but much of it was invaluable throughout those first few months. Advice is a weird thing, we seek it when we are in new territory and we listen to those who we trust and feel have the most relevant experience. But when it comes to the world of cycling, it seems like the advice that people are drawn to is from all the wrong places!
Just like when I was preparing to become a dad, I see people buying new bikes or gear and wanting everyone’s opinion. They’re probably trying to re-assure themselves that they are making the right decision but when so many sources are giving you advice, it becomes difficult to see the wood from the trees. It will become even more confusing because you will hear conflicting opinions and too often the result is that you buy the wrong bike or product. You need to get a lot right! Brand and Model, Frame Size, Price, Spec, Wheel Size, and Genre (XC, Marathon, All-Rounder, Trail, Enduro, DH). So, what am I going to do? … Well, I am going to give you some very sound advice on finding the right advice.
First off, and I list this first because it is the most common mistake, is that you are not a pro and what the pro’s ride and what the pro’s endorse, is not necessarily right for you. A pro can race a 10kg Carbon hardtail with a steep head angle, light (weak) tyres, no dropper post, almost no fork travel and a marble hard saddle. They have the skills, the fitness, and the experience plus they have the sponsorship backing to replace bits they break. But the majority of us don’t have these attributes in abundance, so remember, trust your Bro’s before Pro’s.
The second most common mistake is basing too much of your decision on online/magazine reviews. For example, if a magazine is reviewing an enduro specific 2.4 tyre and they rave about the grip, braking and trail feedback, giving it a 5-star rating, does it mean we should all buy this tyre? Are you an enduro rider, will it be too heavy for you, will it fit your XC bike? I have friends who will tell you all about products and give you their vehement opinion all based on reading magazines and online reviews, never having actually ridden the product. It is quite bizarre when you think about it; is a bit like me telling you all about a car that I have never driven based on some reviews that I had read. Be warned, there are a lot more people who think that they are “Mountain Bike” experts than there really are.
That said, some of your riding friends will give you good advice or at the very least point you in the right direction to get the best guidance. But friends are far too often an unfortunate source of the wrong advice. They think that they are giving you the best advice, just like they think that they know more than they really do, and you trust them because they are your friend. We see it in our shop all the time. A new customer comes in with their riding friend in tow. But the riding friend is a proficient rider with completely different aspirations, and as a result gives the newbie all the wrong advice which conflicts with the bike shop’s correct advice. The result is usually a disaster because illogically the new customer typically trusts their self-important friend ahead of the more experienced bike shop salesman. So how do you pick what to listen to and what to ignore … the best approach is to make sure that you ask people who do the same kind of riding as you (or what you want to do), have similar ambitions, fitness and skill levels.
In a perfect world, bike shops should be your best source for the right advice, but biases do exist between brands, and then there is profit maximization and selling floor stock to consider too. A good (clever) shop will give you the best advice regardless of biases, because keeping a customer for a long time is a much more profitable strategy than a quick buck here and there. Also, make sure you speak to the right people in that shop. Different salesmen and owners will have different levels of experience and knowledge on different products, brands, bikes and riding genres. So find the right one, build a relationship and trust their recommendations. If they get the odd one wrong, the good news is that you have somewhere to go back to that will help you put it right. Amazingly, their advice usually comes at no additional cost, even though they are often putting their own reputation on the line, especially when advising contrary to an online review, a friend, or another shop.
Finally, it is important to know that more and more demo opportunities are becoming available. The ability to trial a product or bike allows you to form your own opinion and choose between the plethora of options out there with more confidence. But don’t expect there to be a demo for everything, every brand, every model. If a demo exists, it really is a privilege worth taking advantage of, rather than an expectation. Sometimes you will have to take a leap of faith when buying a new product and these are often the most exciting purchases. In the end if all the advice gets overwhelming and confusing, just trust your own instincts and you’ll find that you rarely get it wrong.