There are dozens of kinds of bikes: road bikes, mountain bikes, cross-country bikes, downhill bikes, cyclocross bikes, time trial bikes, triathlon bikes, gravel bikes, cruisers, hybrids, BMX bikes and on and on.
And all you want to do is go for a ride, so how do you narrow down all of the decisions to finding your perfect bike? Buying a bike needn’t be a challenge, however, which is why we’ve prepared this bicycle buying guide to help you figure out what kind of bike will meet your needs; set a budget for your bike and related gear; and how to get the most out of your bike buying experience for the long haul.
Think about your bike goals
The first step to buying the right bike is taking a look at your goals for owning your bike, i.e., what type of riding do you want to do? Do you want to cruise around the neighborhood with the family, or go on longer road or mountain bike rides? Whatever your goals, keep them in mind when you shop, and don’t get sidetracked from it. You may be interested in a week-long bike tour, but if 80 percent of your riding will be around town with the kids, it would make the most sense to buy a bike more suited town riding and then adapt it for touring. Mention your interests when purchasing your bike, but stay focused on your main use.
Set your budget
When it comes to budget, have an idea of what you want to spend, but give yourself a little room, too. Most bike manufacturers target certain price points they think will appeal to the market, and spending an amount in between those price points doesn’t necessarily get you a better bike. You may find a bike for less than you thought, or you may choose to spend a little more and get a substantially better bike. Like any machine, a higher quality bike will function better and give you less trouble in the long run.
In general, if you plan to ride a lot you should expect $600 as your floor for a decent street cruiser, and $1,200 or more for a quality road or mountain bike.
Find a great bike shop
Here’s a secret: when you buy a bike, most of the time you’re really buying the bike shop. Only a handful of factories around the world produce all of the hundreds of bike brands out there. At a given price point most manufacturers offer similar, if not identical equipment. So how do you choose? One bike may feel like it fits better or rides smoother or offers a particular component, color or seat you prefer.
Just as often the reason for a good fit is a quality assembly job from your local bike shop. Bikes are super efficient but they’re also delicate, and there are practically no industry standards for how tight a nut should be, or when a wheel is perfectly true and round; a good bike mechanic simply knows when things are right. Some bike shops pull each bike out and carefully assemble it to ensure it’s right, and others assume the factory (or mail order company) got it right. Which kind of bike would you want to ride?
Investigate bike shops and choose a well-respected one that has a good stock of the kind of bike you desire. If you’re interested in serious road or mountain biking and have a good idea what you want, spell it out for the salesperson. However much time you plan to spend on your first bike, it’s almost a guarantee they spend more time on theirs. They know their stuff and are experienced at guiding folks in the right direction. But what they say should make sense, too: if someone steers you towards a mountain bike for riding on the road, find another shop.
If you have varied interests and are unclear about which kind of bike is best for you, a staff person from a good shop can help you narrow down the choices based on your preferences. They can also help you pick a bike that fits you well, reducing the strain of riding and chronic injuries that can result from a bad fit. Even if you’re not a “serious” rider, the shop staff should be serious about meeting your needs. They know that if you love your first bike, you’ll be back for another. A bike shop lives on customer loyalty and the good ones work to earn it.
Leave room in your budget for extra essentials
While a good bike shop should at least make basic adjustments to the seat and handlebar height so it is best adjusted for your body, the more dedicated rider should allow room in their budget for full professional bike fit. A bike fit can take several hours and cost accordingly, but they’re worth it. Here’s a general rule: if you plan to use a clip-in shoe/pedal combination for greater power and efficiency, get a full fit.
Safety and accessories
Most shops offer a discount on clothing and accessories when you buy a bike so leave room in the budget for a few critical items.
- For safety, get a helmet.
- A good floor pump is a great friend. Tires lose air pressure between rides and a full tire will reduce flats and road resistance.
- Your new bike should have at least one water bottle cage and you should get a bottle to carry in it.
- You might want to carry a small repair kit on rides, but be sure to learn how to use it.
- Plan to ride for more than an hour or two? You will definitely want some bike shorts, and if you don’t get them for the first ride, you’ll get them for the second.
Then, once you’re ready, ride a lot. There is a joy and a freedom to being on two wheels under your own power that you can’t get anywhere else. Welcome to the family! See you on the road, and the trail.
Coach John Forbes has been competing as a cyclist and triathlete for several decades. His experience also includes working in a bike shop and more than 15 years of professional bike fitting. For more information, visit Wenzel Coaching.