M50 Fully loaded commuter bikeAn example of a fully-loaded commuter bike.
By Ben Van Loon
For the budding cyclist, buying a bike can be as exciting as it is overwhelming. You have mountain (6) , commuter (1), city (8), Dutch city (9), cargo (5), folding (2), cyclocross (7), touring (3) and road bikes (4), all with various amounts of carbon fiber, aluminum and/ or steel. How do you know which one is right for you?
The best place to start answering that question is your local bike shop. Chances are that the people there are knowledgeable and willing to help. With the advent of Yelp and other customer-generated review websites, finding an honest and friendly retailer has become a little easier. But please keep in mind – as anyone who has worked in retail knows – that not all reviews are created equal. Ultimately, as a conscientious buyer, you will have to go to a shop and find out for yourself. And there is no reason to be scared – bike shops don’t bite.
Here is a list of five tips I’ve compiled from my experience to help you with your passage into cycling. You can make your life better by riding a bike and if anything, the purchase of a bike should be as easy as… well… riding a bike, which brings me to point one:
(1) Try it before you buy it: Surprisingly, there are shops out there that don’t allow test rides, and people still buy bikes from them. Later, these same customers often end up at different shops and ask employees there why their bike doesn’t fit right. No surprise there. How do you know if you like it when you can’t even ride it?
(2) Know what you want: Simply trying bikes doesn’t tell you everything about what you want. You also need to know what you’ll be using your bike for. Commuting? Training? For fun? Do you need suspension? Fenders are important if you ride in the rain. A basket and/ or rack is useful for carrying things. If you have hills where you ride, you’ll need at least seven gears. There are always questions to be asked, but the more you know about what you want, the easier it will be to find the right bike.
(3) Do your research: A lot of people will look up product reviews and online write-ups, but – as with anything on the internet – not everything you read is true. Real research is up to you and is best when based on your experience. Go to a few different shops, ask questions, ride a few different bikes and see for yourself what works best.
(4) Be careful about purchasing bikes online: Sometimes, a bike’s warranty is void unless it’s sold by an authorized dealer. That said, your local bike shop might not carry the ride you have your heart set on, so internet purchases are necessary in some cases.
(5) Support bike shops: Supporting local businesses is good for the local economy and is the first step towards getting involved in the cycling community, which is what cycling is all about: fun, community and connectedness.
Ben is a writer, reader, cyclist and cinephile, in no particular order. He lives in Chicago, IL, with his wife, their five bikes and Rowsdower the Cat. When he’s not writing, he’s riding, selling, working on and volunteering with bikes, and he has been for years. Follow him on Twitter (@benvanloon) or on the blogosphere (bvanloon.blogspot.com)