So you want to buy a bike – but what do you do?
The first thing I recommend is going to your local bike shop. Try to go to one that has a good inventory that isn’t pre-built. Talk to the shop folks about what you are looking for. If you haven’t ridden a bicycle in 5 years, definitely start by test driving everything. I was amazed that a bike didn’t have to feel like my childhood mountain bike. I was surprised that I liked a step-through frame. I loved 700cc tires. I liked flared handlebars.
There are a few mistakes that a lot of first time bike-buyers fall for:
- Prioritizing style. If I have one more person tell me that they want to get an “awesome vintage looking bike”, I will scream. I have an awesome vintage looking bike, actually, and I love it, but that was not my priority. Prioritize comfort, and then if you want a particular color or style, go from there. Do not sacrifice comfort or functionality to get an aesthetic you want, you will regret it, because you don’t really see yourself on you bike that much and nobody really compliments you on your stylin’ bike. Maybe other cyclists.
- Buying a beach cruiser. If you live at the beach, this is acceptable. If you do not plan on biking more than 5 blocks, this is acceptable. If you live near a park and just want to ride your bike on the trails, this is acceptable. If you plan to ride your bicycle on a road or up or down any kind of hill, keep looking. Cruisers are fun, but they are not practical. They do not let you get up to high enough speed in traffic and they do not allow you to take advantage of hills to build momentum.
- Buying a fixed gear bike. If you really test ride all of your options and then buy a fixed gear bike, that is totally your decision. But going to a shop where all they carry is fixed gear bikes and then buying one on your first trip out is a bad choice. I’ve never ridden a fixed gear bike, I might very well not know what I’m missing. But try out a beach cruiser, a bike with gears, and a fixed gear bike before you decide. (Test riding a fixed gear bike is on my list, since I am so sanctimonious about it.)
- Not knowing how gears work. Hi, this was me. My parents taught me how to ride a cruiser, and then bought me a bike with gears and hand brakes. I had no idea how to use them. It wasn’t until I met my husband that he taught me how to shift up and down.
- Buying a heavy bike. My hybrid commuter bike is extremely heavy and unwieldy. We used to keep it on the balcony and it was impossible for me to carry. My road bike is lightweight and I can lift it with one hand. When you buy a bike, make sure you can pick it up and keep the front wheel stable at the same time.
- Buying the wrong sized bike. Even if you are going to buy a bike off Amazon, go to a local bike shop and have them size you for a bike.
What about buying used bikes? Used bikes are great. There are probably things that you need to look out for, like making sure the tires are in good condition and the gears are all in good shape, but a bike shop can tune up your bike for less than $100, and the tires aren’t even that expensive to replace, as long as the components are good and not rusted, a used bike can be a great deal. Make sure you know the street value of the bike – nobody likes feeling like they’ve been had. The trickiest part about used bikes is sizing, and the fact that many places don’t have that much availability for women. Some bike tour companies sell their used inventories – Bike and Roll does this as do a number of other bike companies. If a bike has been a rental, it’s probably been relatively well maintained and is likely pretty durable. I’ve gotten some dud rental bikes though (could be user error), so be careful, but it’s well worth the long line on sale day to make sure you get a nice bike.