From time to time we all experience the need/urge to invest in a new bike. If we're lucky the bike will be brand new if we're not so lucky it will simply be new to us, either way it's an investment and should be made with as much knowledge as you can accumulate. With that in mind we've written a little list of 'do's' and 'don'ts' based on years of hard experience. We hope you find it helpful and please do feel free to share your own wisdom in the comments section below.
1: Buy the best bike you can afford
We are not for a moment suggesting that each and every prospective cyclist remortgage their house, sell their children or cash in their parents Pension Annuity in order that they might ride an identical bike to that ridden by Bradley Wiggins. Far from it.
The recent shift in the mortgage market reminds us all that what we can afford is not just about the money in our bank (or someone else’s) it’s about much more than that; what makes good, calm, rational sense in light of our other responsibilities and commitments. How does your love of cycling compare to all of the other very real demands on your life?
Q: Does the price of this bike match the value it will bring to you life and the lives of those close to you?
Q: Can I justify such expenditure to people who do not share my current level of obsession?
The affordability rule is also a very a good way of eradicating the problems we see coming to our pod on a daily basis; customers presenting the cheapest bike shaped object they could get their hands on who are then mystified by it’s overwhelming repair needs.
"What you spend on your bike you should save on essential maintenance and repairs".
We see hundreds of thrifty purchases in need of expensive repairs, often costing twice the value of the original bike. Sit down and ask yourself:
“What can I afford”
“What am I prepared to spend on repairs”
Note that buying the best bike you can afford leaves much unsaid. Not least amongst which is the age or ownership of your prospective bike. We are definitely not assuming that you limit your choices to a ‘new’ bike. Bikes (like all other objects) depreciate as soon as they leave the bike shop; meaning that buying a well looked after second hand bike can often be the best option: all of the bike for a fraction of the price! We’re huge fans of the second hand market but note that it needs to be treated with extreme caution. Spend a few hours scouring the likes of ebay and Gumtree and you will almost certainly pick up a far better quality bike than you could afford as new.
2: Pay attention to the bikes componentry
This isn’t about whether your prospective purchase has the latest high end group set but is rather a piece of guidance concerned with two much more simple observations.
Q: “Are the parts currently fitted to the aforementioned bike easily replaceable on a like for like basis?”
The simple way of understanding this question probably comes down to two key words “Shimano” and ‘SRAM’ (Yes, we know there are many others but we’re trying to keep things simple). As the biggest manufacturers of bicycle parts in the world Shimano and Sram parts are readily available to you, your friend any reputable bike shop and any bike mechanic.
Cheap bikes are often made with in house components built to an etremely low quality on a minuscule budget, in a far off land, a system designed for mass quantity and maximum profit. There is a reason you can buy a new bike for £60 and this is it! Not only will these parts brake under little pressure they will also be irreplaceable on a like for like basis (if at all); meaning your first repair bill is already spiraling well beyond the value of your bike.
One key word of caution. We routinely see the ‘Shimano’ sticker prominently displayed on bikes for which we can see no evidence of actual Shimano parts. It’s the parts you’re interested in not the sticker!
If you are persuaded to buy a used bike look out for cracked tyres, warn chain and sprockets, movement in the bottom bracket all of which can be repaired but will incur further expense.
3: Check the legal status of the bike’s ownership
And NO this does not apply exclusively to used bikes! The theft of new bikes is on the up. Buying a stolen bike not only means you are participating in the misery of a fellow cyclist it also means you are handling stolen goods ( a criminal offense) and your bike could be seized putting you right back to square one. There was a day when this criteria was an implicit warning not to purchase a bike from a bloke in the pub. The reality is that bike theft and sales are now much more sophisticated making the sales of stolen bikes much more prevelant and you much more vulnerable. So here’s a few tell tale signs combined with a few actions to keep you on the right side of the right thing to do
- Has the bike been repainted? (Thieves will often repaint bikes to disguise from their original owner).
- How much does the seller know about the bike’s history, where they purchased it, where they’ve ridden it etc?
- Has the registration mark been tampered with or removed?
- If you’re buying on ebay or gumtree is the seller using actual photo’s or stock images?
Be warned that some thieves now steal to order so don’t make any offers on a bike you haven’t seen.
4: Buy the bike that’s right for you
And thus not the bike which is right for the guy in the bike shop, next year’s winner of the Giro D'Italia or the youngest women to circumnavigate the globe by bike.
Ask yourself what you will really use the bike for. Try hard to be honest with yourself. A bike purchased for your most wild ambition may well prove deeply frustrating for day to day riding. Equally a bike built for the pub run will leave you frustrated and pretty sore if you start throwing it down mountains or along 100k Sportive’s.
The fact that you want to cycle is a great thing and of its self. It’s important that you purchase a bike which serves that purpose and does so with a degree of joy. This thing we love is not meant to be a constant battle but rather a deep an profound joy which serves us well and which we delight in sharing with others. Buying the right bike will be a significant contributor to pointing you in the right direction.
5: Be sure the bike fits
Riding a bike which does not fit you will quickly result in discomfort at best and serious injury at worst. The internet is flooded with useful guides to hep you understand what this means for you. And that’s the important bit ‘for you’. Do not be swayed by a persuasive sales assistant who, unbeknown to you, is under real pressure to get rid of the last of a particular line. If you’re not absolutely comfortable walk away. There will be a better bike for you.
Simple fitting rules.
Size: When standing over the cross bar of the bike both feet should be flat on the floor with only a few centimetres between the bar and your crotch.
Reach: When reacing for the handle bars aim for a slight bend in the elbow
Seat Height: Aim for a slight bend in your knee when at the botom of the pedal stroke (without rocking your pelvis)
1: Be taken in by stupid trade in offers!
You know exactly who we’re talking about but let’s just be clear of what's at stake.
All over the country there are brilliant community projects, social enterprises and ethical businesses for whom bike recycling enables them to have a valued impact on the lives of people often in desperate need. Given a choice between donating your old bike to somewhere of real value and being drawn in by a worthess marketing pitch this ought to be a no brainer.
In real terms the marketing pitch is never what it seems. The wreck in the picture will NEVER get you anything like the figure listed on the same advert. The figure listed is more likely to represent you trading in a very high end bike which in truth you’d be much better selling yourself. It’s manipulative marketing and we’d encourage you to resist it.
2: Be seduced by sales speel.
The secret which bike shops don’t want you to know is that every single feature they sell you will one day be a repair bill. If the riding justifies such expense then that’s great news but please, please be cautious and honest about the kind of riding you do. I live, work and commute in the city. I have no idea why anyone who shares this pattern of existence could possibly need a dual suspension MTB yet we see hundreds of them entering the pod for complicated and often expensive repairs. At the time of purchase the dual suspension is what separated the bike from all others, now you’d happily exchange it for anything else!
A new wave of honesty about the actual needs of urban commuters has seen a real surge in the popularity of brands such as Bobbin wo often use a hub gearing system. Simple, low maintenance brilliance. Of course that’s bad news for the bike shop dependent on your repeated custom but we’re choosing not to worry about that today!
3: Buy what hasn't been well looked after.
However great the bargain appears, buying a bike which hasn't been well looked after means you’ll be inheriting a never ending headache. Forget how cheap it is, if it hasn't been looked after they should be paying you to take it away!
Here’s a few tell tale signs:
- Corrosion on the handlebars (remember that rust might have been washed away so look for pitting). If you spot this the the bike has almost certainly been stored outside, in damp wet condition, continuously neglected by its current owner.
- Ask when the chain was last replaced. If you don’t get a clear solid answer be aware that you’ll probably need a chain and cassette replacement within weeks.
4: Take on what you’re unable to manage
Whether your forthcoming purchase be new or old it will require maintenance. If your time, skills, commitment and budget are low then don’t take on what’s not realistically possible. Things go wrong on every bike, it’s just a fact of life and you need to know you’re well placed to manage it. If on the other hand you know your way around a bottom bracket, are confident truing a wheel or have a good mechanic you can both trust and afford then your options might well be very different.
5: Embrace supermarkets
For fear of repetition! Cheap bikes ordered through supermarkets are cheap for a reason! They might have bright graphics and shiney stickers but my old man used to say,
‘You can’t polish SH*T’.
Add to the lack of quality the inevitable requirements for assembly which leave many of us bewildered and suddenly the supermarket/catalogue store, is a really, really bad option.
The internet is a great option if your primary motivation is to grab a good quality bike at a bargain price. There’s no running away from that fact but it's assumptions are huge. Buying a bike off the internet will almost certainly assume you know exactly what you're looking for and leave you needing to find a shop able to assemble it for you and check your sizing requirements match the bike you have purchased (and wil struggle to return) all of which leaves us wondering why you wouldn’t just support a good local bike shop who offer a great and lasting service.
Remember that small bike shops are often able to source far more than they have the room to stock, if you think you’ve found what you’re looking for don’t be shy to ask people like us if we can source your best option. We'd be only to happy to help. If you end up going with the internet option don’t struggle alone. People like us are here to help and would be much happier if you just asked.
And Finally. . .
We all live in a world more real, more complicated and more nuanced than many ‘how to’ guides appear capable of recognising. We’ve therefore endeavored to outline some simple principles of procurement yet in truth there will always need to be a significant degree of compromise. If the perfect bike has been left standing in a dry garage for two years and thus subsequently has cracked tyres, the need to replace two tyres might be a very small compromise against other advantages. Please make sure you never ever compromise on your safety; you are far too precious for that.
If you purchase a new bike you should be offered a free service a few months later (six weeks or 500 miles on average). Check what that means. A worrying number of bike shops increasingly use the term ‘Bronze service’ to mean that they will place your bike in a stand, inflate it’s tyres and converse with you about accessories you now need to buy. If that’s what it means don’t let it be considered an additional service or a deal breaker. Make sure you get good after service if that's what's going to break the deal.
If you purchase a used bike you’d be wise to check it in for a health check and possibly a service. That’s what we’re here for so come and find us and let’s get you and your friends living your dream!
Tell us about your experience buying a new or used bike. . .
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