Buying a Bike? Here’s What You Should Know


When the weather’s nice, it seems almost criminal to travel via car or stuffy bus. Jumping on a bike and cruising down the street with the breeze blowing through your hair-now, that sounds like a better way to celebrate the sun. Unfortunately, my bike is a rusted mess, with shoddy brakes and practically flat wheels. I’m in need of a new one, which means I need to do some research. Buying a new bike is an investment; not only are your safety and comfort at stake, but should you buy the wrong one, that’s hundreds of dollars (or even thousands, depending on the model) down the drain. Whether you’re looking for a bike to commute with or just something to get you to the market down the street, there are necessary steps everyone should take pre-purchase.

Ask yourself this first: why do you want a bike?

Have you walked into a bike shop recently? There are roughly one bajillion bicycles to choose from, so before you set foot inside, figure out why you need the bike. Chances are, you’ll choose from one of four different types. Be sure to talk to a professional about each before making a decision. He or she will have a better idea of the needs each specific model can meet.

  • Mountain: This bike’s perfect if you want to bike on rough, uneven surfaces (i.e., not pavement). The bouncy, wide tires absorb shock well, and the heavy frame provides more stability. It does all right on regular roads, but only for short distances.
  • Road: Road bikes are much lighter than their mountain counterparts and have big, skinny tires that allow for faster speeds and longer distances. They’re perfect for city commuting, taking long bike trips, and fitness riding, and the handlebars (either drop-bar or flat-bar) are designed to move through traffic better.
  • Lifestyle: A couple of bike types fall into this category. Cruisers have retro designs (think bright colors and big handlebars) and are good for quick rides. Comfort bikes let riders sit more upright and have padded seats. They’re often similar to mountain bikes or hybrids, but, like their name implies, modified for extra comfort.
  • Hybrid: Hybrids have tall, skinny tires and tend to have lighter frames than comfort bikes. Like comforts, their handlebars let riders sit taller. They work well in city situations.

Get advice from a bike shop employee.

Employees are there to help you, not intimidate you; if you’re being disrespected or made to feel stupid for being a bike newbie, go to another shop. Ask as many questions as you need to in order to feel comfortable with a purchase. There are many things to consider, like the size of the bike, general maintenance, and necessary equipment, that you might not know about. A professional will help you choose the right size and show you how to adjust seat height for optimal riding, give you tips on maintaining and fixing your bike, and show you all of the essential accessories (helmet, headlight, rear reflector, bike lock, etc.).

Be prepared for a little sticker shock.

When I first looked into getting a new bike, I balked at some of the prices. Even the cheapest ones fell somewhere between $350 and $500. I considered getting a used bike instead, but as a beginning bike enthusiast, I realized that was a mistake. If you’re a newbie like me, I’d advise you to get a new bike as well. Other than the fact that bike technology’s constantly improving and newer bikes are generally built better, you get more out of them-warranty protection and access to bike shop specialists being two of the more important advantages. A used bike could come with mechanical problems that, as a beginner, you won’t know how to fix. You can get it on the cheap, but expect to pay more for tune-ups and repairs later.

As for bike-shop versus big-department-store shopping, consider this: bikes at bike shops are put together by skilled employees, whereas department-store bikes are put together by people who don’t necessarily know anything about bikes. As with used bikes, department stores are usually cheaper, but you also get what you pay for. But if that’s your only option, just do as much research as you can beforehand.

Take the bike for a road test.

So you’ve consulted a professional and found what you consider to be the best bike for you. Now comes the most important part: take it for a spin! Even if the bike’s perfect on paper, you won’t know how much you’ll like it until you hop on the seat and go around the block a few times. Don’t be afraid to ask the bike shop employees if you can test it out; it’s what they expect. Would you buy a car without driving it first? The bike is a means of transportation, too, so make sure you can ride it comfortably before buying.

Switching out the car or bus for a bike once in a while is beneficial in numerous ways. Not only can it improve your physical health and mental wellness, but it helps the environment as well. While it might seem like a costly investment up front, think of the money you’ll save on gas and bus fare in the future. Clearly, bikes do a lot more than take you from point A to point B. And by learning about bikes and the rules of the road before you get to that starting point, you’ll minimize any potential bumps along the way.

Article by Vicki Santillano for DivineCaroline. First published May 2010.

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