Stirling Revolution June / July 19: Demo Bikes

The good, the bad and the ugly – SJ KOTZE gives us a behind the-scenes peek at what these workhorses go through.

In the early days of mountain biking you would, pretty much, buy what you could get your hands on. And your first ride would be once you owned it. That didn’t matter much, as the few brands available were basically the same; hardtails with rigid forks and cantilever brakes, and too many chainrings. Steel, or aluminium (if you could afford it). Shop loyalty, price point and brand (in that order) would have been your deciding factors on your decision to buy.


The Good

Today we live in a world where the consumer is king, where there is fierce competition between brands and the selection is huge. What about loyalty? If you want loyalty, buy a dog. If you want security, buy a vicious dog. I digress …

So, the concept of demo mountain bikes came about. I’d suggest the pioneers of getting riders onto to
demo bikes started in the USA. Understandably, given the number of brands and the size of the market.
Also, that’s where Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, Scot Nicol, Tom Ritchey, Mike Sinyard and a few more Californians pioneered off-road bicycles (the famous late ’70s klunkers) in jeans and lumberjack shirts.

In the USA many (perhaps most) bike stores charge customers a test bike fee of $50 to $100 to cover wear
and tear, setting the bike up and sometimes, insurance. Should the customer, after the test ride, decide to
purchase that brand and model bike this comes off the purchase price. We should perhaps have the same payfor- a-demo and credit-if-purchased system for demo rides in South Africa. Bike shops: think about it!

In South Africa, many bicycle stores offer test bikes to their customers – sometimes from their own test bike
stock or by arranging a test bike for their customer from the brand’s local distributor. In most, if not all cases this is a completely free, no-obligation-to buy test ride. I’m sure you’ll agree this is such a privilege and yet, essential to make the right choice for your riding requirements – particularly on medium to high-end full suspension mountain bikes where suspension dynamics and geometry are so critical to your choice.

The cost of offering demo bikes is significant, both in terms of buying the bikes and in keeping them in
tip-top condition for test riding. We have eight in our fleet and the least expensive retails for R64 000. Financial investment aside, setting up a demo is a labour-intensive activity. Setting up the bike: brakes (standard or moto-style), air pressures for suspension shock and fork, measuring sag and setting rebound/compression, pedal choice, stem length and angle, tyre pressures and sealant levels, saddle height, angle and position … our objective is to give you the best experience possible. It’s a perfect opportunity to get you to buy the bike. Completing forms with customer details (ID, address, collection and return date, insurance cover etc.) is all part of the admin. And the bike must be checked mechanically and physically when it’s returned – more about this under the bad and the ugly, though.


The Bad

Bike stores and customers are both capable of doing bad things. Like …

Not setting the customer up properly on the test bike … and the rider goes over the bars on the first steep descent because the brakes are the wrong way around. Mind you, the customer will have to share this responsibility. Whenever you ride a bike other than your own bike, check the brake set-up: standard (left front) or moto-style (right front).

And then we get the customer cancelling the demo an hour before his collection time. It happens too
often. The time and effort put in by the bike shop is completely wasted. And guaranteed, another customer was desperately wanting to demo the same bike but now it is too late to organise.


The Ugly

No jokes, these are all based on real-life experiences that we have actually had.

It is a disaster when a customer sends his driver or friend in to collect the demo bike. We simply can’t release it – the paper work needs to be signed (indemnity and insurance issues) and the customer has to physically be there to finalise set-up. What was supposed to be a great experience turns out to be a sh*t-show.

With the benefit of riding a (highend) demo bike, comes responsibility. Ride it properly but respect the fact
that it’s not yours. Make sure it’s safe and secure. Put it in your lounge or TV room. We’ve had three demo bikes stolen in five years – not lekker!

Demo bikes are not for:

  • participating in a MTB race/event
  • organizing a bike for a mate from England (or up-country) for the weekend
  • having a bike to use because your bike is out of action

All of the above are examples where a bike should have been rented and not ‘tested’.

The point of a test ride is for a potential customer to ride the bike on the trails that they know well, so that
they can make a direct comparison to their current bike or to other demo bikes that they have tested.


The Really Ugly

When the bike shop arranges demo bikes for a group of guys to enjoy a group demo experience, and they buy the same bikes from another store because their ‘discount was bigger’.

Loyalty? Buy a dog, preferably vicious.

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