How (not) to buy a bike in seven steps

May 29, 2013

Kristin Butcher

The bike shop staff will help you find the perfect size bike for you.

The first time I bought my own bike with my own money, I did it all wrong. I hung out in the bike shop asking a litany of questions about bike components, frame materials, and whether these newfangled full-suspension bikes were just a fad. After trying out a few steeds, I finally decided on just the right bike.

And then I went home and ordered it off the Internet.

I got a bike that was too big that I couldn’t return. Since I’d already alienated the really nice folks at the bike shop, I had to ask for help with my tail between my legs. That bike never quite fit.

In my nearly 20 years of riding, I’ve bought my fair share of bikes, inherited a few others, and acquired even more from garage sales and garbage dumps. I’ve ended up with bikes too big, too small, too hard, too soft, and some that were juuuust just right. In my borderline-eccentric mission to own n+1 bikes, I’ve made plenty of mistakes and learned from (most of) them.

Don’t believe me? Read on and see if my stories don’t make you cringe. Then learn from my mistakes and go buy a bike. From a real person. In a store.

Step One: Insist on your size, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Everyone knows that “proper fit” is just a gimmick to get people to buy bikes that are already in stock. If your first bike was a size 19, every other bike you’ll ever own should carry the same arbitrary sizing number.

What you SHOULD do: Work with the sales staff to figure out your proper size and don’t get too attached to a number

Step Two: Solicit advice from the Internet.
After all, the least biased people are those who just shelled out thousands of dollars on a new rig.

What you SHOULD do: Those opinion forums are full of, well, opinions. At the end of the day, the only opinion that matters when buying a bike is your own. Go ahead and waste time read, but take the info with a grain of salt.

Step Three: Demo, Schmemo
You know that bike demo your local bike shop has set up for Saturday? The one where they’ll have loads of bikes for you to take around the trails or spin around town? Yeah, definitely skip that.

What you SHOULD do: Ride as many bikes as possible before making a purchase.

Do as much research on the bike as you want, but know that in the end it’s your opinion that matters the most.

Step Four: Budget, Schmudget
No matter what your financial situation is, commit to spending approximately a zillion dollars on a brand new bike. After all, that’s why credit cards and debt consolidation services were invented! Sure, buying last year’s model, a bike from a demo fleet, or a lightly used ride could cut the price in half, but then you won’t be able to throw a tantrum about how your zillion dollar bike got scratched on the first ride.

What you SHOULD do: Be prudent. You don’t have to break the bank to buy a good bike.

Step Five: Thank you sir, may I have another?
Don’t decide which shop to buy from by the staff’s helpfulness, their offers to find a bike in your price range, or that feeling in your gut that says, “These people really want me to enjoy riding a bike.” Instead, the best shops are the ones that make you feel inferior for asking basic questions or for wanting to ride a bike without going into debt.

What you SHOULD do: Have fun. Buying a bike should be enjoyable, regardless of whether you buy it at a boutique shop or a big box store. If the staff intimidates you, leave and find a better place. Trust us, they exist.

Step Six: Flex your muscles
After finding a bike that doesn’t fit, is way out of your price range, and which may or may not be stolen, go up to whoever is behind the cash register and demand a discount. Brag about that time you almost podiumed at a local race and about how you’re kind of a big deal, then threaten to tell the Internet about how badly you were treated if you don’t get “the bro deal.”

What you SHOULD do: Be nice. Bike shop employees work hard. The prices of the bikes reflect the cost of the product plus the expertise offered. Don’t nickel and dime.

Bike shop staffers are there to help you and to make your bike shop experience easy and enjoyable.

Step Seven: Be a jerk
Now that you have your shiny new steed, make sure you talk smack about everyone else’s bike. Say things like, “Why are you still riding a bike with little kid wheels?” or point at the guy having the time of his life on a ten-year-old creaking Huffy while commenting about how much happier he’d be on a “real” bike.

What you SHOULD do:┬áRemember why thoughts don’t need to be spoken. Who was it who said, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

That’s all there is to it! Once you’ve done a proper screw-up job buying a bike, you can take comfort in knowing that even if you do everything wrong, you’ll still end up with a bike that, chances are, you’ll absolutely love.


Kristin Butcher is a freelance writer based out of Boulder, Colorado, she spends her time writing about people, the outdoors and, of course, bikes. You can read her column, Butcher Paper, in BIKE Magazine.

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