Maybe you were the kid who got a tricycle at age 3 and crashed it 84 times outside your house. Or maybe you were more the type of kid who doodled little bicycles with lopsided wheels when you should have been learning algebra. Either way, you’re reading this because you’re thinking it’s time to invest in your very own two-wheeled wonder – either to race mom to the grocery store, or to race Alberto Contador up Mont Ventoux. Read on for some helpful hints on how to get your hands on the shifters of a brand new bike.
Grocery getter or climbing machine?
Before figuring out what bike to buy, figure out what kind of riding you want to do. Take into account how fit you are and whether or not you’re an athletic person – is your idea of working out going on a trail run, or taking the dog on a walk to that store on the corner that sells homemade donuts? Also, consider the amount of time you want to spend riding and on what kind of roads (dirt, pavement or both).
The good thing about today’s road bikes is that they are more flexible so you may not have to completely choose between casual and agro – both new riders and more experienced riders can get good results out of the same bike.
“You don’t have to say ‘I want a road bike’ and then end up fitted like Andy Schleck, all stretched out and bent over so you can’t even look around,” Tyler said.
Money concerns…what’s your budget?
Have an idea of how many greenbacks you’d like to slap on the counter before you head inside the bike shop doors. Expect to spend about $800 to $1000 for a decent road bike ($600 is probably the bottom end). The total sum is somewhat dependent on where you fall on the biking spectrum.
“If you’re serious about riding a lot or it’s your first bike and you think you will get serious, you can probably justify spending more on the one bike,” Tyler said. “The more money you pay upfront for good components, the longer your bike with last.” “Good” components have extended durability and better, smoother shifting for a longer period of time.
The time of year in which you get serious about purchasing might also affect your budget. Stellar deals are sure to pop up in the fall and winter, when bike shops are trying to shed last season’s inventory to make room for the shiny, new goods.
“You can get deals on last year’s stuff, anywhere from 5-30 percent off,” said Pete. “The staff can take more time with you then too because there are generally fewer customers.”
Commit to a relationship (relax, it’s only with a local bike shop)
Take an afternoon and visit a couple of your local independent bike shops – they’re better than chain sports equipment stores because they offer more personalized service, generally have better expertise, and give the consumer a chance to support local business. Find out which bike shops sell the brand of bike you prefer (if you’ve made that choice) and visit each of them to find the staff you feel most comfortable with. If you don’t have a brand in mind visit a few shops so you have a chance to ride different brands and to find the staff you gel with.
“Avoid the ‘Big Box’ type stores, the giant chains. Local independent bike shops are the most knowledgeable, especially about bike fit, which is the most important thing,” Tyler said. “A bad fit will cause you to hate biking instead of enjoying it.”
Another indicator that you’ve found a keeper: the employees treat everyone with the same respect and helpfulness, from the first time bike buyer to the person who has been riding bikes since before they ate solid food and could say “bike.” Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions — those little bike shops specialize in all things bike, so the guys and gals behind the counter really know what they’re talking about.
Details, details, details: Everything from the wheels to the butt cream
At first, choosing a bike might seem like trying to pour windshield fluid into the tiny tube under your car’s hood – it isn’t easy, especially at first. But with the help of a funnel (or the knowledge of a bike shopemployee), the job becomes a lot more manageable.
But how to figure out what wheels to get, how many gears, what kind of shifters, what style of handlebar – all of those pieces and components that come in a greater array than the bikes themselves. Three things to look for: a good bike shop (of course), a one year warranty on parts (just in case) and a lifetime warranty on the frame (read the fine print on the manufacturer’s Web site to see whether or not they will warranty the whole frame).
“If you buy your bike at a local shop, you’ll get good components,” said Tyler. Unlike hitting up the sports section in Walmart on your own, the employees at a shop will do the work for you once they understand the kind of riding you’re into and the kind of rider you are. Of course, there are a couple details you can tweak on your own: for example, you’re not terribly comfortable on a bike, you might consider asking about a flat bar, or an adjustable stem so you can ride in a more upright position. If skinny tires freak you out or make you feel unstable, try using a wider tire.
And as for the butt cream… if you don’t know what it is you probably don’t need it – unless you’ve been riding your new bike a lot (and bike shops sell all varieties of butt or shammy cream to help or prevent a sore backside).
Let’s see what she can do…
Before buying a house, you show up and open the kitchen cabinets, walk around the garden, test out the automatic garage door – you don’t just see a picture online and put money down. Similarly, you might like to take a spin before deciding the red and black Specialized in the corner is for you. Test riding is a perfect way to find the best, most comfortable bike for you – and another characteristic of a quality bike shop is that they encourage test rides, and will do a fitting before each one.
“Each style of bike and each brand fits differently,” said Tyler. “You can’t really tell if a bike fits until you ride it.”
While you’re flying solo on your potential new bike, listen to your body: is something rubbing? Do you feel some sort of pain or discomfort on the seat, while pedaling, etc? Make sure that you are comfortable enough to look around a bit, notice a row of flowers or the kids running out of the elementary school. Make sure the bike shifts smoothly, that your hands can safely reach the brakes and shifters. Note whether or not you feel in control on the bike – if you feel a bit wobbly, perhaps the shop employees can help you pick out a more stable steed.
The internet: good for finding out what your friends are doing on Facebook, bad for finding a great new bike
The internet is a great place to do research and read bike and component reviews, however tread cautiously – or not at all – when it comes to purchasing a quality road bike. An online purchase lacks the goodies that come with buying a bike in person: future services like free tune-ups and warranties and a general promise to keep your bike in good working order. “And better service will increase the lifetime of the bike,” said ExperiencePlus’ other bike mechanic, Peter Field.
If you are looking at used bikes we also caution you about the internet because you can’t be sure if the bike fits and it is also difficult to tell exactly what you’re purchasing. Photoshop makes major scratches easy to erase and there is also the odd chance that a bike could get damaged in transit. In the end trying to return a bike isn’t quite as simple as a pair of pants.
“It may look like a good deal online, but once you get the bike working you may have spent just as much or more money as buying a new bike in person,” Tyler said.
This, that and the kitchen sink… er, water bottle
So, you’ve settled on the green and black 2008 Colnago. But suddenly you realize you don’t have shoes. And what happens if (God forbid) you get a flat? Budget in a little extra dough for some accessories that all new bike owners should have (or at least consider).
- Water bottles and bottle cages: Most bikes have room for two water bottles although small frames may only have room for one. Bottle cages vary in price and material, from inexpensive aluminum to freaky light, expensive carbon or titanium.
- Underseat pack: Buy an extra tube (the same or similar that comes with the bike), a couple of tire levers, a patch kit and a pump. Most local shops also offer, or know of, beginning maintenance classes so be sure that you know how to change your own tire.
- Pedals: If you want to try clipless pedals (which actually means that you clip into the pedal) any bottom of the line, Shimano SPD pedal will be a good starter.
- Shoes: Make sure, first of all that they are compatible with your pedals and that they fit snugly but comfortably; also consider how much walking you will do and if you want your shoes to serve a dual purpose (and in that case, check out the shelf with the mountain bike shoes).
- Helmet: A helmet’s fit is most important – it should sit low on the forehead and be snug enough without making your brain squeeze out of your ears. Also, buy a helmet with plenty of ventilation holes for those hot summer days.
Here’s a link to Rich Young’s article on how to do a quick bike inspection before each ride
Whether you are on a new or old bike – Have fun, be safe and and enjoy the ride!
photos by Sylva Florence