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Gear Guy

Is it true you should pick the bike shop before the bike?

I buying my first mountain bike and trying to decide between a couple of bikes and bike shops. Is it true you should pick your bike shop first and then the bike? I trying to decide between the Trek 4500 WSD and the Gary Fisher Marlin. I like the 4500's women-specific fre, but the Marlin has disc brakes (should I have those?). Also I liked the staff at the shop that had the Marlin better. Laura Napa, California

A: For starters, let me be clear on one thing: A good bike shop is worth tons. They'll help ensure the bike is a good fit, be good sports when it comes to swapping out certain components (the saddle, for instance, if so desired), and of course handle any after-purchase issues.

4500 WSD

As for the bikes, well, it's a close call. The Trek 4500 WSD ($500, has an aluminum frame, Judy TT fork, a mix of Shimano and Bontrager components. Very serviceable setup for an intro mountain bike. The Marlin ($520, is basically identical—aluminum frame, Manitou fork, a mix of Shimano and Bontrager parts. It's a little more aggressively designed, though, with a slightly lower gearing to accommodate big, steep hills. If the Marlin you saw had disc brakes, then that's a retrofit of some sort, because they don't come from the factory that way. Disc brakes are a good thing if you ride a lot in wet/muddy conditions, as it's then that they really shine. They also don't wear out rims like cantilever brakes will over time. Otherwise, it's a bit of a wash.

My sage (and wholly predictable) advice, then: I'd ride them both and see what you think. A women-specific frame is indeed an advantage, so that's a point in favor of the Trek. But you might find that it's not a big deal, in which case I'd go with the better shop and the Marlin.

Grab a copy of Outside's April 2005 issue, on newsstands now, for a glimpse of cycling's handcrafted, carbon-fiber, tricked-out future in "State of the Art".

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Lead Photo: courtesy, Trek