The Spring Cycling Season has Arrived - Here's How to Buy Your Next New Bike

The longer days, warmer weather and dry trails of Spring are here and maybe you’re thinking that it’s time for you to go down to your local shop and buy your first bike.  Or maybe you’re tempted to buy your first real bike and aren’t sure how to proceed.  Basin & Range Magazine has you covered with this simple guide to help you make comfortable, knowledgeable and confident decisions about your next set of wheels.


2013 Rocky Mountain Sherpa – Image courtesy Rocky Mountain Bicycles

What Kind of Riding Do You Want to Do

Each new bicycle purchase begins with the simple question: “what kind of cycling do I want to do?” If your answer begins and ends with tooling around the neighborhood & picking up groceries with the kiddos happily in tow then your bike needs will be different than the rider who wants to clock off 30 milers every day after work.  Likewise, the needs and desires of a fitness focused road cyclist are different than the person who is looking for a sure footed mountain bike capable of soaking up big bumps, roots and rocks at speed.  Regardless of your ultimate desire, there is a bike manufacturer that has built a bike that is perfectly matched to your height, weight, riding desires, aspirations and budget.

Some other points to reflect on:

  • What is your current physical condition,
  • What terrain do you have available to you,
  • How much time do you plan to spend in the saddle,
  • If you will be on road or off,
  • What’s your budget

Go local – Find “Your” Bike Shop

When you’ve decided what kind of riding you aspire to do and therefore narrowed your focus somewhat to the kinds of bikes lend themselves most favorably to your riding style, your next steps are to spend some time test riding some appropriate bikes as well as “test riding” several of your local bike shops.   Your local bike shop will become part of your cycling experience whether you buy your bike on Craigslist or at a local shop directly because your bike shop will be there for you when parts break, when it’s time for preventative care, when it’s time to go on your first group ride, when it is time for your first spinning class or when it is time to buy those fancy new panniers and matching helmet combo.  Your local bike shop is your lifeline to the cycling culture that surrounds the sport.  That is why it is important to find the bike shop that you feel comfortable with when you step in their door.  If you get the funny feeling that you’re crashing their private party when you step inside, then that bike shop may not be the one for you.  In contrast however, when you walk into another shop and are promptly and carefully attended to, you know you’re in the right place.  Get a feel for the bike stock they have, the way they treat other customers and if they’re service department is friendly and knowledgeable.

Test Riding Your New Bikes Options

MTB Rider - Image courtesy New Zealand Defense Force

MTB Rider – Image courtesy New Zealand Defense Force

While you’re at your new favorite bike shop take some bikes for a spin.  If all they have is a parking lot available for your research, be sure to use that lot for all its worth (while treating the bike with care of course).  Don’t be afraid or too self-conscious to give your test ride the time and concentration it deserves.  While on the bike, pay attention to the way you feel atop the bike, how it runs through the gears, how it brakes, how it feels on bumps… is it snappy or sluggish?  Is your neck trying too hard to look forward?  Is your seat comfortable?  While you’re out and about trying on different bikes on for size, experiment with things like price point – find out what $500.00 buys you, then move up to $2000.00 and see what that buys you and then find out what $4500.00 buys you.  Then get back to your price range and see firsthand what you’re giving away in trade for the saved expense.  After that, try different sizes, try different component groups, try different brands, different frame materials, and different types of suspension if applicable.  If you care to, keep a notebook in the car so you can take and review your notes later.

Budgeting for Your New Bike

Budgeting for a serious bike purchase can be difficult.  There is a great amount in variance in both bike price and bike quality – not too mention pricing differences between online retailers and your local brick and mortal stores.

To get a grasp of this step, let’s examine what your money will get you in a new bike.  Let’s start by looking at a few theoretical 700.00 bikes, as that amount should be enough to cover the price for most entry level bikes on the market today.  Taking mountain bikes as a test subject, seven hundred will buy you a capable bike that will be built of either aluminum or steel and feature a compromised mixture of components that will blend various levels of reliability, quality, and durability.  For that amount, you’ll bring home a bike that is built with the casual rider in mind, who will only occasionally ride “off-road” on some light duty trails.  It will likely have a front suspension fork that gives perhaps 2″ of squishyness.  It will be fairly heavy and will require regular maintenance to keep the cheaper parts in tune with heavy use.

For comparison, if you jump upscale to the 1500.00 dollar mark, you can expect to find a bike that is several lbs. lighter, boast a higher quality front suspension fork that will offer more a compliant and predictable travel range, will be built stronger and employs higher quality components that will require less care and maintenance to keep the bike in harmony with regular use.  This bike would allow the owner to ride more aggressive trails more often.  A hard tail mountain bike at this price will likely be a bike that you will be able to regularly ride for years and years with normal preventative care.

By contrast however,  the game changes when you start looking at fully sprung mountain bikes at the same price range… where $700.00 was the entrance level for hard tails, the same cannot be said for bikes with both front and rear suspension.   Their real world entrance price is over a thousand which means that a fully sprung bike at $1000.00 will take a step backward in quality vs. the hard tail bike at the same price. The entry level priced full suspension bike will be heavier, will require more maintenance more often and is designed with the casual user in mind.  For a more serious fully sprung bike, plan to spend over $2,500.00 if you want improved reliability and less weight.

Another factor that impacts the bottom line price of a bike is it’s “Componentry,” which is geek speak for the gearing, brakes, and other accessories that accessorize the bike.  It is worth your time to study up on the various levels of component groups that populate the bicycling landscape.   The names and differences are many, so I’ll not mention them here, but they generally trend from the cheap, heavy and flimsy to the expensive, lightweight and reliable.  Each level up the ladder represents a new mixture of these three elements.  Bike manufactures blend different groupings together to meet competitive price points with each other.  Be sure to meet your minimum requirements (are you concerned with price, reliability or weight) and keep that in mind when you hit the bike shops.  Study their differences in the way they perform (like how disk brakes differ from rim-pincher style brakes) or how how 8 speed gears feel differently than 9, 10 or 11 speed gears.

Cycling Drivetrains - Image courtesy Charles Watkins

Cycling Drivetrains – Image courtesy Charles Watkins

Get Fitted For Your New Bike

Another way to ensure a positive bicycle ownership experience is by finding a bike that truly fits your body type comfortably.  Bike sizing can directly affect your bicycle ride time so spending some extra time on this step isn’t time wasted.  Trying on bikes is a bit like trying on blue-jeans… where one brand says you are a small-med, another will say you’re a med-large.  At times, it seems like bike sizing is an arbitrary art rather than an exact science.  This step technically begins at the bike shop, experimenting with different bikes in differing sizes.  Also, while the “Fit Kit” used to only be the tool of the road cycling set, times have changed.  More people are using a Fit Kits service for mountain and touring bikes if they intend to spend a lot of hours atop their saddles.  Consider it if you think you will too.


Last, don’t forget to save a few extra dollars for the accessories that you’ll surely need at the time of purchase.  This step is the least planned for part of buying a bike, but is no less important.  Be sure to plan for a helmet, cycling shorts (yep that’s code for spandex), shoes, pedals, gloves and maybe a water bladder if it suits your riding goals.  Keep in mind that these products also come in an array of sizes, qualities and feature sets.  It is well worth it to find out which helmets fit narrow heads and which shoe company sells shoes for wider feet.  Expect to spend 100-300 on these items so again, plan and budget ahead.

Cycling Jerseys - Image courtesy Charles Watkins

Cycling Jerseys – Image courtesy Charles Watkins

That wraps up the essentials in bike buying.  The key to not regretting your bike purchase lies within your inclination to do some research on the front side, test riding bikes and bike shops thoroughly and to budget accordingly.