You may not have $5,000 for a mountain bike, but you do have options

Starting a new activity can be daunting and expensive, but you can give it a try before emptying your account thanks to apps, gear libraries and local universities.

(Jessica Eddington | SUU Basecamp) Jessica Eddington helps a student pick out a climbing helmet at Southern Utah University's Basecamp, an outdoor gear-lending library for students and community members. Eddington is the Basecamp manager. Gear libraries can be a great resource for anyone wanting to try a new wilderness activity.

At her wit’s end, Chelsee Bagley took her plight to Facebook.

Bagley wanted to buy a mountain bike, and she had no idea where to begin. Really. She didn’t even know where to go locally to shop for a used one. So the 25-year-old from South Jordan posted in the Utah Adventure Girls group asking that question and a flurry of follow-ups: What brand? What style? What size? Does she need to get fitted? Any features she should look for? And how can she get a bike she’ll like on a very limited budget?

She wrapped up her post with the social media equivalent of throwing up her hands in frustration.

“All the feedback is supported,” she wrote, “as I know nothing.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Chelsee Bagley wants to buy a new bike, but hasn't been able to find a good deal, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022.

Starting a new outdoor activity can be hard, especially when that activity requires special gear. How does a person know what to get or where to get it? And what if they’re not sure fly fishing or snowboarding or slacklining is for them? Few can afford to fork out $1,750 for a life-size elk archery target that in a couple of seasons may be nothing more than an overpriced coat rack.

It’s a problem that applies even to people who have been borrowing gear from friends and neighbors for years, like Bagley. She’s at the point where she’s ready to have her own bike but, as she put it, “I want to obviously see if I really enjoy it before I go all in.”

The good news is that fear of commitment nor a barebones budget can stand up as an excuse not to delve into a new outdoor activity. Gear-lending libraries, social apps and outdoor-specific consignment shops can all get you out on the trail, lake or lifts with little obligation and without first sending you into debt.

So when you’re done mooching gear off your friends and neighbors, maybe give these avenues a try.

Everything you read on the internet

When Bagley got serious about getting her own bike, she believed her biggest handicap would be her limited budget. Instead, it was the internet.

She tried to research mountain bikes online, and every query for the best suspension design or the most efficient shifting mechanism for beginners would turn up a cornucopia of gizmos or phrases she didn’t understand. Then she had to look those up, too.

“It just was so overwhelming that it was to the point where I would pull [a website] up and then just get off of it,” she said. “It was just way more than I expected.”

One place newcomers can go to get a crash course in mountain bike mechanics is a local bike shop, of which there are nearly 20 in Salt Lake City alone. Most have technicians who are eager to offer input about what is and isn’t essential for a certain type of rider or the terrain they’ll usually be traversing. And several, like the non-profit Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective, also sell used bikes and offer bike maintenance classes.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Stacks of bicycles wait to be repaired, at Jerks Bike Shop on State Street in Murray, on Monday, June 21, 2021. Bicycles and bicycle parts were in short supply due to the increased interest in cycling during the pandemic.

That same advice applies to other outdoor activities as well. For second-hand ski or climbing gear from a reputable source, check out The Gear Room in Cottonwood Heights or Lone Pine Gear Exchange in Millcreek. Western Rivers Flyfisher in Salt Lake City, meanwhile, offers a free casting lesson with the purchase of a premium flyfishing rod and carries some used gear. And the knowledgeable staff at Utah Whitewater Gear in Midvale is a go-to resource for new paddlers.

If it’s cheap gear rather than advice you’re seeking, you might even find a deal at a thrift store. That was the case for Doug Jacobson of Clearfield who, when he was a broke college student at BYU, found a four-person dome tent at his local Deseret Industries. He set it up in the store to make sure all the parts were there, then bought it for $5.

“I still have it,” Jacobson said, noting that was six kids and 16 years ago.

Social solutions

If Bagley thought bike shops would give her too much input, the online classifieds listings she found gave her none.

“A lot of people don’t put a description,” she said. “So it’s like you go and read all these things and then you’re looking at these bikes and you’re like, ‘OK, what are they?’”

Better resources are out there if you know where and how to look. That’s why Bagley said posting in a Facebook group populated by other active people — in her case, specifically women — with similar interests produced the biggest breakthroughs in her search for a suitable bike.

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Participants in Outdoor Retailer try out new watercraft from stand up paddle boards to kayaks at the Demonstration Experience at Jordanelle State Park Tuesday July 25, 2017.

Several commenters pointed her toward more user-friendly retail and resale sites, ones that would actually provided details about a mountain bike, like its make, model, size and components and that cater to women. One was pinkbike.com, which markets itself as the world’s largest mountain biking community in terms of traffic. It has a buy/sell function that theoretically will allow a buyer to narrow the offerings down to the state in which the bike is located, though during a recent search it listed only three used women’s mountain bikes in all of Utah. A more local resource was KSL.com’s classifieds, which has a filter just for women’s mountain bikes.

But more than just links to click or rabbit holes to follow, Bagley also got some actual leads on bikes after making her post. Some women responded that they were looking to sell their bikes. And since the group was locally based, so were the bikes, which Bagley appreciated. Others even offered to help her look for one. That not only gave her a fresh set of eyeball, but some much needed moral support.

But if Facebook isn’t your thing, fear not. If a partner, either to play with or help you search for your gear, is the key to getting into your next outdoor activity, there’s an app for that.

Pastimes, a free social networking app born in Utah, was created with the intent to connect people with similar athletic interests and abilities so they can, say, have someone to go paddleboarding with or a partner for their next sand volleyball tournament. In addition, members can post on their Pastimes feed that they are looking for a certain kind of equipment. Then, according to co-founder Forrest Good, other members often will help find the gear or offer up anything they don’t use anymore, sometimes for free.

It gives users the ability to be proactive, said Good, a Salt Lake City resident.

“You have the option to post,” he said, “instead of just waiting for someone to post.”

Check out this gear

So, at this point you have someone to go with and you know some of the best places to get advice about and to shop for gear. But what if you know your 6-foot-2 friend’s bike doesn’t work for your 5-3 frame, but at the same time you’re still not quite feeling financially — or psychologically — ready to commit to finding space for a new toy in your garage, basement, closet, patio or living room?

If that sounds like you, it might be time to take a step back. Renting or borrowing gear until you know exactly what you want can be a productive route to owning your own stuff, especially if you can do it on the cheap.

That’s where gear libraries come in.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Eddington/SUU Basecamp Jessica Eddington clips on a climbing helmet she borrowed from Southern Utah University's Basecamp, an outdoor gear-lending library for students and community members. Eddington is the Basecamp manager. Gear libraries can be a great resource for anyone wanting to try a new wilderness activity.

A gear library, as the name implies, is a place where you can basically “check out” outdoor gear at a low cost or no cost at all. The gear varies depending on the region and how well the library is supported. Typically, though, it includes all manner of camping gear — from the tent to the sleeping bags and pads to the cook stove and pots — as well as adventure gear like inflatable paddleboards and kayaks, bouldering pads and downhill and cross country skis. Some even rent out jackets, snow pants, boots, mittens and hats.

Despite its plentitude of outdoor activities, Utah doesn’t have a more traditional community-based gear library — yet. However, one is in the planning stages on Salt Lake City’s west side.

In April, the Wasatch Mountain Institute partnered with Outdoor Empowered Network, a nationwide organization dedicated to introducing kids to outdoor adventures through gear libraries. The institute, which was founded in 2019, has already begun running programs for youth, like snowshoeing or camping, through its Rock Cliff Recreation Area center on the east end of Jordanelle State Park. Just this month, however, Wasatch Mountain Institute finished kitting out a mobile trailer to more efficiently outfit children with outdoor gear for group outings.

Executive director Hilary Lambert said the organization also has ambitions to build a gear library along the Jordan River within the next couple years. She said she envisions it allowing community members to check out kayaks, SUPs, fishing gear and the like at low or no cost.

“Our longer-term goal is to have within an existing facility, like a county rec complex, or as a stand-alone, to build gear library somewhere along the Jordan River,” Lambert said, “so we can rent gear in places where gear shops don’t exist.”

In the meantime, the next best thing might be checking in with the outdoor recreation center at your local university. Nearly every university in the state has one, including the particularly well-stocked Basecamp at Southern Utah University. It started as a closet in the student center where, according to Basecamp Manager Jessica Eddington, staff would rent out used gear and sometimes their own stuff to students. Now it rents out new gear to both students and community members and runs student-only excursions, like a weekend rafting the Grand Canyon, that cost less than a stack of books.

“Buying outdoor gear and committing to a sport is a big investment,” Eddington said in an email to The Tribune. “We encourage them to try it out first by coming on one of our trips or renting.”

When the time comes for people to invest in their own gear, Eddington said Basecamp has resources, such as staff-written guides chocked full of recommendations for getting started.

Maybe that will be the next step for Bagley. After two months of searching, she’s better informed about what she wants and where to get it. But she still hasn’t bought a bike. What’s she still missing? Time.

“I just need to have every little piece together,” she said, “to make a decision and actually spend money on it.”