Friday, May 1, 2009

Downhilling on the Cheap

As I was getting ready to leave the bike shop after a ride, a group of kids flocked through the door, and surrounded my downhill bike, which was propped up in the window.

This particular shop primarily sells cross country and road bikes, so to see a “real live” downhill sled sitting there was an anomaly. The shop owner was chatting up the young “regulars” when I heard him say and point at me, “That’s hers. She races downhill.” Suddenly their attention and questions shot in my direction.

Them: “How much did you pay for that?”

Me: “I had to mow a lot of lawns to get that.”

Them: “How much would you sell that for?”

Me: “I can’t afford to sell it.”

I then recognized one of the kids in the group. “Hey, I remember you.” I say. “I saw you doing some flatland trials stuff in the pavilion at the park. You’re an awesome rider!” I remember being impressed by him.

The conversation moved into which bike might be best for him, where he’d actually be able to ride it, etc. He was so fired up about riding but nearly deflated when he saw how much the bike he really wanted was going to cost him, not to mention the other expenses. That’s when it dawned on me that, damn! This sport IS expensive when you look at everything in one big chunk.

In these tough economic times many of us might be in the same situation as these guys. We want to ride and race every weekend, but as they say, “No dough, no show.” We’re stuck wishing we could afford a new downhill bike (or wishing we could ride the one we already have every weekend), but the cost of everything that goes along with it seems too prohibitive.

The good news is that we don't have to resort to a life of badminton and mall walking. There are a lot of ways for riders of all incomes, ages, and ability levels to get our gravity fixes on sweet, sweet singletrack.

Where to Save the Money

Rent bikes.
The initial investment of a full downhill rig is staggering. Figure dropping at least $2000 on a worthy used downhill bike, or if buying new, plan on spending that much just for the frame. If you have the money, go for it, but those that can’t drop that kind of coin on a bike that can only be ridden in one direction, fear not. More and more resorts, shops, and riding spots offer a full line of very nice downhill bikes for rent.

For example, Diablo Freeride park in NJ rents Jamis Dakar BAM I and II between $89 and $99 a day while Whiteface Mountain in upstate NY rents Giants for a few dollars less. That amount might seem like allot, but figure this: If you get to Diablo five times this year and rent, you’ve spent about $500 to ride a fully pimped out ’09.

And, if you bend a rotor, break a lever, or explode your derailleur, as long as you've opted for the insurance, you don't have to worry about throwing more time and money into getting it fixed before your next day on the dirt.

If you rent next year, you’ll spend the money on a pimped out ’10 while all of your other buddies are still riding and making credit card payments on their old beat down rigs. The best part is that no matter what, you don’t have to do any wrenching or buy any new parts! It's also a great way to test ride different brands to find out which bike you'd really want to buy, when you've mowed your 212th lawn.

Sure, you can hide the fact that you listen to Celine Dion on your way to the resort, but otherwise, driving by yourself is lame. It's dumb to spend money on gas to go ride while there are 3 empty seats in your car and plenty of other gas-money-paying people going riding at the same place.

If you start talking to other riders on the chairlift, at lunch, or in the parking lot, you'll be surprised by how many people live near you and are willing to carpool. If you're having trouble meeting folks in person, start up a ride board at your local bike shop or check out the Freeride Foundation forum to see with whom you can carpool. Other places to check are, and

Not only will your wallet thank you, but you'll connect with riding new buddies and improve your overall riding experience at the resort and closer to home too.
Carpooling is smart for many reasons...

Bringing your own food from a grocery store is going to save you more than you realize. Pre-made sandwiches purchased from fast food joints or Seven-Elevens are gnarly, expensive and give you gas that can't be used to get you home. Resort food is often overpriced and lacking in selection.

By bringing a cooler packed with a well-thought-out selection of cold cuts, bread, peanut butter, jugs of water and other bulk goodies is going to give you more energy, more food, and more money in your wallet. Plus, you can swing by the car at any time for a quick snack. We all ride better and smarter when we're well fed.
Well-fed riders are happy riders.
Lift Tickets.
Many places are still offering deals on a summer season pass. If you know you’re going to ride any one place often enough to use it, then go for it. If not, honestly assess how often you’ll be going to the same place. For example, there are at least nine lift-serviced downhill areas within five hours of New York City. With that many places to explore, is a season pass to one resort really going to pay off?

Just like skiing, generally you can score a better price by buying a two-day ticket. For example, Plattekill in NY offers an all-day ticket for $30. However if you’re there for two days in a row, the 2nd day is only $10 more. (One day for $30 or two days for $40).

Look for other packages. Hunter Mountain in NY offers a “Freeride Package” that includes rental, lift ticket, and a guided summit tour for $99.

Afternoon sessions generally knock a few more dollars off the price of a full-day pass. This might be an excellent option for early season riding. If you’re not sure that you can ride the entire day, why pay for it?

Ladies’ Days.
Some resorts offer a "Ladies’ Day" where women ride for free. Not only are these events generally incredibly fun, you can’t beat the price! Just pay attention to Freeride Foundation's blog here, sites like Decline or, and your favorite resort's event calendar to find the specials.

Get involved.
There’s a good chance if you volunteer your time and efforts into trail maintenance, course marshaling for a race or other random jobs around a mountain you’ll get comp’d a pass. Or, you could get a job working lifts, trails, or at a resort shop and get a your season pass paid for while you make a little extra cash.

Where Not to Skimp

Get your own lid if you’re going to be riding more than once. A proper fit is critical. Helmet padding packs out and the medium you rented two weekends ago may not fit you the way it did the last time you rented it. Also, helmets are not designed to take blow after blow. You don’t want to take the chance of using a helmet that’s already been "trail tested" and have it fail when you’re noggin is in it.

Plus, you sweat a lot when you ride, and so does everyone else. You're more likely to wear your helmet properly if you know you're the only sweaty head that's been in it. There are plenty of full-face helmets out there in reasonable price ranges. Just be sure to try it on and make sure it fits properly.

Get yourself some good full-fingered gloves. Might I suggest the Kona Supreme Gloves? Very "handy" to keep all of your digits protected for when you get a bit closer to the ground or trees than you planned.

Protective Gear.
While you can rent downhill suits, shin, elbow and knee guards, I would suggest making the investment and buying your own gear, again proper fit is paramount. You want to make sure that the knee/shin guards fit your legs and don’t slide down your shins. Same holds true with a downhill jacket that offers spine protection. If you have a suit that “kinda” fits, and shifts when you land on a rock, that could very well be the difference between having spent the money for something that fits well and works vs. never walking again. Besides, there’s nothing worse than putting on someone else’s pre-worn sweat-soaked squishy pads against your skin. Click here to check out some options from Fox.

Now you can compare the cost of buying vs. renting a bike, pack your car full of friends, go to the closest resort offering a sweet lift ticket deal, and know that you're getting the most bang for your buck this season. And hopefully you can convince a few friends that riding downhill isn't too expensive, and they'll join in on the fun as well.

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