Friday, November 20, 2015

Santa Cruz Factory Demo

It's been a while since I did any mountain biking, and while searching for a mountain bike rental place near Wilder Ranch in Santa Cruz, I noticed that the Santa Cruz Mountain Bike company does factory demos! The price is quite reasonable: $20 per person, and you get to book the bike you'd like to ride, complete with SPD pedals if you ride SPDs, or supply your own pedals if you have other types.

We showed up at 10:30am: finding parking was a major challenge in the area, but we fortunately found something. The friendly mechanic had our bikes ready, and we raised our saddles to a comfortable position and then took off. When I picked the bikes off the menu on the company web-site, I expected that we'd demo the lowest end version of the bike. To my surprise, the demo bike was the highest end carbon fiber wonder-bike, with top end components, including a single-chainring, 32x10-42 drive-train. The bike weighed 20.8 pounds!

As a result, when I got to the bottom of the hill at Wilder Ranch, I started up the climb and could not bring myself to pause or stop, because it was way too much fun climbing with a bike that light that I did not want to stop. Once I got to the single track, I found out to my dismay that I had let it go too long between mountain biking trails: I freaked out at some of the drops which I would have never thought twice about doing in previous visits to the park. Fortunately, an hour later, I was once again riding those drops.

One of my objectives this time was to figure out whether or not I liked 29" wheels on a mountain bike. 29" wheels are effectively 700c rims with mountain bike sized tires. The theory is that with a larger wheel you get a better angle of attack on most trail obstacles, making it easier to climb. I was pleased to discover that the theory matched up with practice: it was indeed far easier to roll over obstacles than with 26" wheels.

Unfortunately, just as I was starting to have fun, I found a flat tire. This was my first experience with flat tires on a tubeless wheel, and it was an incredibly frustrating experience. I borrowed tire levers from other cyclists, but could not get the tire off, because the tire was sealed to the wheel using some sort of sealant. I resorted to pumping up the tire every 3 minutes to get down to the bottom, and then to the bike shop.

We returned the bikes to the factory, but had to run because we had to pick up Bowen from his school. I knew it was a successful day when my wife asked me how come I'd never taken her to Wilder Ranch State Park before!

Now I just have to get a mountain bike for myself and practice a lot before I do something similar again.


  • The factory's usually booked up on weekends, so go on a weekday. You need to reserve the bikes before you show up.
  • Bring your own pedals, or an SPD tension adjusting allen key. I found the factory pedals tough to get into and out of because they were set at too high: doubtless the person who rented the bike before me was much heavier.
  • Bring your own pump! Despite the mechanics' statement that it would be difficult to flat on tubeless, I managed it (hey, if I can crack a titanium frame, I can break anything). If I hadn't brought my own pump I would have been walking back to the shop.
Needless to say, this experience is highly recommended and an amazing value.
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