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How To Buy A Bicycle

2013/09/02 Leave a comment

“Hey Nick! I hear you know a few things about bikes, and I’d like to get my own and start riding. Where do I even begin?”

Garrett checking out some bikes

I get this question a lot, and even spent a Startup Weekend working on an app to help people with it. It turns out, quite a few people rode a bike as a kid, and 10 or 20 years later, want to ride a bike again. But unlike buying a car, for which we have endless auto company commercials to educate us and sites like AutoTrader to help us sort through the thousands of listings, the process of buying a bicycle is not well-understood by most adults. Someday, we might get to finishing that project, but in the meantime, here are a few steps to get you started:

1. Envision yourself riding your future bike.

Where will you be riding? Who will you be with? What will you be wearing (ie work clothes or workout clothes)? How long will your rides be? Why will you be riding (commuting to work, recreation, racing, etc)? For bonus points, find stock photos or videos of other people doing the type of cycling you’d like to do.

2. Go to a local bike shop to look around and go for some test rides

I’m personally a fan of Pedal Power in Lexington. They’ll likely ask you to describe your answer to question #1. Bike shop people are super-knowledgeable about bikes (sometimes too knowledgeable), but they’re good at helping people find a quality ride. They don’t make most of their margins off bike sales, so turn off your salesperson aversion and just trust their advice. Please don’t showroom them. Their goal is to get you on a bike that’s a great fit for you, which helps build a relationship with you so you’ll come back for maintenance, accessories, etc. And yes, you will need to go back for those things.

3. Realize that a good, new starter bike will cost you $400-$800.

The things for sale at Walmart (and even Dick’s Sporting Goods) are “bicycle-shaped objects”. They cost less (up front) because they’re of a significantly lower quality, but will require maintenance sooner, and that maintenance will be more expensive in the long run. Another plus with a quality bike-store bike is that it will hold its value longer if you decide to sell it later.

4. Used bikes are great!

If you can’t find a new bike you like in your price range, high-quality used bikes are a solid choice. There are some hit-or-miss options on Craigslist, but Lexington (like many other communities) has The Broke Spoke community bike shop. They sell used bikes for usually less than $200, and the volunteer staff is super-helpful. The money earned from selling used bikes aides the shop in its mission to serve bicyclists who couldn’t otherwise afford bikes, parts, repairs, or training.

5. Accessorize.

Helmet is the only thing here that is a must, while all the others can be helpful depending on your answer to question 1. I usually budget an extra $100-200 for an assortment of the following:

  • helmet ($40)
  • bike lock ($30)
  • front and rear lights ($30)
  • water bottles ($10)
  • cycling shorts & jersey ($70)
  • fenders ($40)
  • cargo rack ($30) – to carry stuff on your bike
  • bike rack ($50) – to carry your bike on your car
  • “clipless” shoes and pedals ($120)

*Alternative option: BikesDirect – This is a good option for some people, but I only recommend it to people who know exactly what they’re looking for and have a restricted budget. Prices are low because the bikes are “off-brand”, factory-direct, and not well-adjusted to you, the rider. From my experience, most of the components (mechanical parts) on the bikes are of decent quality, and are much more maintainable than the aforementioned “bicycle-shaped objects”. Most bike purists won’t be happy that I included this, but for the sake of completeness, I don’t think I can leave it out.

I hope that helps, and if you have any other questions, just let me know!

-Nick