Buying a new bicycle can be almost as intimidating as buying a new car, maybe even more so, since bikes don't get nearly as much media coverage as cars do. That leaves the casual cyclist without a lot of reference points when she ventures into the world of new bikes.
A generation ago, buying a bike was a relatively simple thing. Unless you wanted one of those fancy European models with drop handlebars and 10 speeds, your choices were limited to a few American manufacturers, single speed or three-speed, hand brakes or coaster brakes and about three colors. Almost all makes and models were available at every sporting goods store, right next to the baseball mitts and tennis racquets. Specialty bike stores were virtually unheard of. Nowadays there are dozens of bicycle shops in the Salt Lake valley and most specialize in two or three makes. So where does the novice bike buyer go?
First, determine your goals. What will be the main function of this bike? Commuting? Recreational riding? Exercise? Racing? Make a list of the features you want. Style? Ability to carry cargo? All-weather capability? Light weight? Durability? Ability to fold or disassemble easily for travel? Answering these questions will allow a knowledgeable salesperson to point you in the right direction when you walk into the bike shop.
Before visiting the bike shop you have one more task: Set a budget. Realize that a good, entry-level bike will set you back at least $300. Anything less and you'll regret the bargain price within a couple of years of regular riding. From your maximum budget deduct at least $150 for accessories that will help make the bicycle suitable for its intended purposes.
Now that you have an idea of what you want and how much you have to spend, start looking at bike shops. Make a list of the shops in your area, the makes each carries, the store hours and their locations. Then devise a plan to visit each one. It will help if you can arrange to visit during the week rather than on Saturday or Sunday as the salespeople will have more time to give personal attention. When you first walk in and the salesperson greets you, say something like "I'm looking for a bike mainly for X. I
plan to ride it mostly around Y." This helps the salesperson focus on bicycles that meet your needs and wants.
As you visit each shop make note of how you feel. What vibes are you getting from the store? Do the salespeople seem genuinely interested in helping you find a bike for your needs or are they more interested in steering you to a high-end bicycle that is more than you want? Ask about the fitting process. Reputable bike shops will fit the bike to you before you leave. Also ask about post break-in adjustments. Reputable shops will also offer a tune-up after 30-60 days or the first 50 miles or so. Some will also throw in free tune-ups for a year after purchase.
Test ride a few bikes. Be sure to make notes about what you like and dislike about each make you try. After visiting four or five shops and riding eight to 10 bikes in a day it's impossible to remember which bike you really like and what store it was at.
When you're finished, thank the salesperson. Then move on to the next shop. As you go from store to store you will surely find some where you just don't get warm fuzzy feelings for whatever reason. Scratch those shops off your list. Buying a bicycle shouldn't be a one-time visit to the bike shop. Ideally you want a long-standing relation with the store. Eventually you'll find a bike that feels great at a store that also feels great. Congratulations! You've just found your new bicycle.
What about that extra $150 or so that we set aside? Now it's time to accessorize your bike. Get a new helmet if your old one is five years old or older. Pick up some eye protection in the form of shatter-proof glasses. Gloves will make riding more comfortable and protect your hands in the event you fall. A water bottle, bottle cage, a few spare inner tubes, tire levers, pump, multi-tool and patch kit will help, too. And don't forget a small bag that hangs from your saddle to carry it all.
So there it is: Bike Buying 101. Most important, don't put too much pressure on yourself to get the perfect bicycle the first time. This probably won't be the last bike you ever buy. u
Steve Chambers is a Salt Lake City lawyer and freelance writer. He has been commuting by bicycle part time for over 10 years.