Don’t Buy A Bicycle Before Reading This! – A consumer guide to buying a bicycle.
Buying a bicycle is a simple task that many struggle with. The array of choices in the market nowadays and the price differences we encounter can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, there are also many things people not familiar with the industry ignore, and therefore they get scammed with a defective or low-quality product that 9 times out of 10 is unsafe to use. Most shoppers stress out about finding the right brand and focus on the brands they think they know or they see other people riding when they should be focusing on key attributes that at this level are much more important.
In this blog post, we seek to expose the truth about certain practices, identify popular scams, educate you on what makes a good bike, and steer you clear of the worst brands out there that are outright robbing consumers and putting them at risk.
Where to buy a bicycle?
By far the best place to buy a bicycle is going to your local bicycle shop. For some reason this has had a bad rap in many online forums in recent years, leading people to believe that bicycle shops are scammers and overpriced and offer poor service. Nothing can be further from the truth, we obviously cannot speak for all bike shops out there but most bike shops are there to offer the best possible service. It is in their best interest to do so as serving customers is their number one source of revenue.
Also and most importantly, the best quality bikes and bicycle brands are exclusively sold in brick-and-mortar stores with very few exceptions. This is because, reputable bicycle brands recognize the value of having their product assembled and presented by professional mechanics and industry experts that can guide and advise the customer on the right fit, right style, and ultimate the right bicycle for their specific riding style and use needs.
We cannot emphasize enough to stay away from department stores like Walmart, Target, Dicks, Costco, and most definitely Amazon. All these bikes sold in these retailers are of extremely low quality, poorly built (structurally), have poor parts, and are even poorly assembled. They pose a serious danger to riders, and as there are very popular among young riders, children and youths, this is a risk that parents should seriously consider.
What makes a bike good or bad, and what should I look for when I’m going to buy a bicycle?
Now that we have established where to look for your next bike, now we have to show you what to look for. There are some major brands nowadays like Trek, Cannondale, Giant, and Specialized, for example, that are producing bikes with very poor component choices, merely to achieve an attractive price point for consumers, it is important that as a consumer you are aware of what to look for on these bikes as well. To clarify, we are mainly talking about leisure style bikes, the so-called “regular bike” category for the everyday rider. Bicycles like cruisers, hybrids, fitness, commuters, and some entry-level mountain bikes. These bikes comprise the bulk of the industry sales worldwide. Specialty bikes like road bikes, mid-to-high-end mountain bikes, triathlon bikes, gravel bikes, and e-bikes are a different story and we will touch on that in a different blog.
Now, going back to what should you look for. The first thing you need to do is identify the kind of riding you will be doing with your new bike. This is something the bicycle shop staff could help you with and suggest a style of bike that might suit you. For simplicity we have broken this down into the following:
Bikes with single gear or single-speed bikes.
These bikes are the simplest of all bikes out there, offering a good pedaling ratio (not too hard and not too loose). Generally, these are cruisers or the so-called fixie. On these style bikes, you want to look at things like what style brakes the bike has. Most cruisers will have a coaster or pedal brake which will be more than sufficient to stop comfortably and will likely be the least expensive option. Certainly, this style bike with this style brake will require the least amount of maintenance so the cost of ownership is almost zero. Another important thing to look at is the wheels, what size, and what type of wheels the bike comes with. Remember the wheels are the metal parts that hold the tire, not the tire itself. You want to make sure the wheel is of some kind of aluminum alloy, with alloy spokes or even better stainless-steel spokes. Rims come in single wall and double wall, meaning there are 2 sheets of aluminum between the spokes and the tire compared to 1 on the single wall rim. A quality bike will have double wall rims, with alloy or stainless-steel spokes. Wheel size will vary on the bike style, most beach cruisers will have huge relaxed handlebars, over-extended frames, and 26-inch wheels with chunky tires, usually 2-2.5 in width. Conversely, a city cruiser will be a lot nimbler, with not-so-big handlebars, and 700c (about 28 in) wheels. Fixies will have 700c (about 28 in) wheels and narrow handlebars. Finally Frame material will usually be an aluminum alloy, with some being steel, and some a combination of the two materials. None of these bikes should have suspension, in fact, if they do stay ways from it, it will almost certainly be a gimmick to market the bike and not a real suspension system. Keep in mind good suspension systems range in the hundreds of dollars.
Bikes with Gears or Multi-Gear bicycles
This is the widest category of bicycles as most bicycles out there have multiple gears. Gears help people pedal comfortably through adverse conditions like wind, hills, and while carrying or towing extra weight; and they also afford more ratios to pedal faster. For this category of bikes, the main thing you want to focus on is the components that make the drivetrain (transmission) of the bike. The number of gears will vary from 3 gears, all the way to 13 in some cases. It is important to know that the industry now refers to a 7-speed bike because it has 7 gears in the rear axle of the bike, regardless of how many gears are on the front. The same for 8-speed, 9-speed, and so on.
Looking at the components, you want to look at the rear derailleur (the most important part of the drivetrain) you want it to be of good quality as this will keep your bike running smoothly and changing gears easily and reliably. You want to check for a production series rear derailleur. more on that later.
Shifters would be the next thing to look for. Shifters are the controls on the handlebar that let you change (move the derailleurs) the gears. They come in two styles, a twist shifter, where you rotate your hand to change the gears, or trigger shifters, where you pull or push a lever with your fingers to change the gears. Usually, higher-priced bikes have trigger shifters because they are faster and more precise. You would want a trigger shifter on most fitness, hybrid, and mountain bikes. The more leisure bikes will likely have twist shifters. An exception will be internally geared bikes which will come only with twist shifters.
The next component you want to look at is the crankset. The crankset is the main pedal arm assembly that rotates as you pedal and converts your power input into forwarding motion. The crankset usually will have 1, 2, or 3 chainrings or gears. The cycling industry is fading out the 3-ring cranks. If you want to stay away from bikes with 3-ring cranks, look for single-ring or dual-ring cranks. These will be far more efficient, less problematic in terms of keeping your gears running smoothly and quietly, less prone to dropping your chain as you ride, and less heavy.
Finally, brakes, brakes in this category would be hand operated, foot operated or coaster brakes are not recommended. Most bikes in the category would be equipped with either a V-Brake or a Disc Brake. V-brakes would offer a solid and reliable stopping power and are easy to adjust, replace pads, and operate. Disc brakes are increasingly becoming more prevalent in this category, however, a major drawback would be cheap, poor-quality disc brakes. Two kinds of disc brakes are available, a mechanical (cable actuated) disc brake, and a hydraulic disc brake which is fluid-activated (like your car brakes). Cheap mechanical disc brakes tend to be problematic, impossible to adjust correctly, and hard to find replacement brake pads when they need to be replaced. Usually, these poor brakes are only found on bikes on our Do-Not-Buy list below and not on quality bike-shop sold bikes. However, it is important to check or ask your sales rep what kind of mechanical brakes are installed on the bike that you are looking at. Some examples of good mechanical disc brakes would be those made by Shimano, TRP, AVID, Tektro… Although more uncommon the same can be said for hydraulic disc brakes. You want to make sure you have a reputable, and quality hydraulic brake and make sure it can be serviced, and are able to find replacement pads. Some examples of good hydraulic disc brakes would be those made by Shimano, TRP, AVID, Tektro, Magura, and SRAM.
An additional note regarding suspension on this category of bikes. With the exception of the light-duty, entry-level Mountain Bikes (MTB), which we will explore more in a different blog post; none of these other leisure bikes should have suspension. At this level and price point what you are getting is a steel spring that would neither absorb bumps correctly nor endure the test of time. You want to steer clear of suspension as a key feature of the model you are looking for in this category. Rest assured that all of these bikes will be very comfortable, will offer a smooth ride, and will be about 5-10 lbs lighter without these cheap suspension systems.
Shimano is the biggest manufacturer of bicycle parts in the world and most of the bikes we are talking about on this blog will have Shimano parts. However, there is a big difference between the Shimano parts you find on these bikes. You want to make sure that the parts on your bike are part of a model series made by Shimano and not merely that it says Shimano on the part. Shimano licenses its brand to some Chinese part makers to use in their very-low quality products and some of those products, unfortunately, are being used by major brands too on these style bikes. That said…
Urban or pavement-specific bikes should have parts from the following series:
- Shimano Tourney A070 (bare minimum, try to avoid if possible)
- Shimano Nexus (Internal)
- Shimano Altus
- Shimano Acera
- Shimano Claris
- Shimano Sora
Bicycles with hybrid (pavement/light off-road) or light mountain bikes (not trail rated) should have parts from the following series:
- Shimano Tourney TX800 (bare minimum, try to avoid if possible)
- Shimano Tourney TY500 (bare minimum, try to avoid if possible)
- Shimano Altus
- Shimano Acera
- Shimano Alivio
Other parts manufacturers are building some bikes out there, manufacturers like Microshift for example that are making very good quality alternatives to the Shimano components, however, they are less common. Nevertheless, we would recommend a bike with a Microshift derailleur instead of one of the Shimano ones we mentioned above. However, you should ask your sales rep for more information as to how it compares to the Shimano counterpart.
What bike not to buy. Stay away from these bicycle brands!
Now that we have identified where to look for your new bike and once you are there what to look for on the specific bike that you are looking at. We now want to take a moment to advise you against some brands that for some strange reason continue to be at the top of most consumers’ minds despite being some of the worst possible choices you can possibly spend your money on. We base this opinion and recommendation on years of working on these bikes, attempting to repair, assemble, and keep them running for customers. We cannot stress enough the danger these bikes pose to users, and the money pit they become for most people who actually try to use them.
Here is the list of the worst bicycles you could possibly waste your money on:
We sincerely hope this information would be useful for consumers looking for a bicycle. Our intention is not to bad-mouth other retailers or brands, but to offer consumers a guide as to what makes a good bike and where to find those good bikes. We want to help consumers get a better build and functioning bike and also save money in the long run with their bike purchases. Most importantly, we want new and experienced riders to enjoy the sport. If your bike is always broken and always needs to be serviced and always needs to be repaired then you will not use it, and eventually will dread having it. In contrast, a good bike is an investment for your health, a way to release stress, and a great way to get a workout and have fun.
Stay tuned for our next edition, we will be talking about specialty bikes. We’ll help you determine what makes a good mountain bike (MTB), road bike, e-bike, gravel bike, and more.