Beginners Guide to Buying a Bicycle

Bike buying tips! Buy a new bike or build one from scratch?
  • Find a bike now!

Where can I find the best value for the bike I want? Where can I get a Campagnolo rear short cage derailleur? Where can I get a good deal on a carbon frame for this bike I’m building? Should I just buy a whole bike or build my own? These are among the dozens of questions that I’ve fielded over the last 20 years. I’ve been racing amateur (Pro/Am) on and off since the late 80’s. To give you an idea of the group of cyclists that I’ve been surrounded with, one of my former teammates competed with George Hincapie as a jr. athlete back in the day. George Hincapie was the primary force behind Lance Armstrong’s 7 Tour de France victories.

  • The first thing that you must do is to decide what your time is worth. What amount of time do you wish to spend on either finding or building a bike for yourself? Do not continue your quest until you have satisfied this very important step, otherwise you will waste countless hours going back and forth on uncertainty.

This factoid will be more for the novice than for the typical United States Cycling Federation (USCF) amateur or professional athlete as it will relate to the basics to simply buy a bike.

First, some of the pro’s/con’s of buying versus building a bike. A little history: I began buying bikes back in the 80’s. I’ve had custom bikes by Andy Gilmour, in Tucson, and manufactured bikes from Greg Lemond, Kestrel and Giant, to name a few. I’ve had most types of frame construction-aluminum, carbon, steel-the usual. Price ranges from $500-$7000. And, for components, I’ve been mostly a Campagnolo and Shimano guy; as the majority of component groups used by people tend to be these two anyhow. I have bought many competitive bicycles and I have built one from scratch, a Litespeed.

  • Fact: It is much easier to buy a fully built new bike, or one that needs a few new components versus building one from scratch.

I emphatically state that you should just buy a bike that fits you that is either new or used, than build one from scratch if you don’t know which way to go, or if you are on the fence about it. You will save yourself countless hours of frustration and mishaps if you just go buy one. Proper sizing, however, is critical! Do not guess your size! Make sure you get 'sized' first! Pay the $50 to the bike shop pro to do this!

Most people that go to build a bike from scratch are looking to save money. Will you? Yes. But is it worth it? That is the better question. If you have all the time in the world, if you don’t care how long it takes or what obstacles you run into, or if you want the satisfaction of building your own bike up, then, yes; perhaps building one is the thing for you. I am not here to talk you out of building a bike up from its frame. Instead, I am here to educate you on issues that will be encountered during the process of buying one whole. I will write another factoid about how to build a bike up.

  • Buying a bike from a bike shop, the retailer.

This is generally the most expensive route to take. And, also one of the most stressful. Bike shops are a convenience. We pay for that convenience. So, you will expect to pay the most for your bike, in a bike shop. Period. I don’t care what the “special” sale is or that it is last years model or even if it’s a two year old “new” model that “must go.” You will pay more. Know that going in, and you will save yourself unneeded stress. And, yes, you can bargain with bike shops. They mostly do not have “solid” prices. They may tell you they do, especially if talking to a typical minimum wage employee, but the pricing is bendable.

The key to getting a deal on a bike at a bike shop is to talk with the owner, the manager, or the bike mechanic that has been riding or racing for ten or more years. You don’t want to talk to the hired hand, the sales associate. You won’t get anywhere with them and you will most likely leave mad. When you find the bike you want, if it’s priced at say $1299, tell them you want that bike but that you can only pay $1000 and stick to your guns. They will hedge and ultimately tell you what they “can” do the bike for 'out the door.' And don’t forget taxes. If you say you want it for $1000, many times they will say, “ok great, sold” and then you go to pay and with taxes you pay $1200 anyway. Be sure to say “out the door” or the sneaky tax will be in your face. Sometimes the bike shop really is at their lowest price, though, just to break even on their end. If this is the case, they will tell you so, and so you then turn around and walk out. You can find that bike or something like it elsewhere for less, guaranteed.

  • Buying a bike off of Ebay.

This is another well tested route to buy a bike. There are both professional bike shops and individuals who will sell you anything on Ebay. I’ve bought bikes and parts from Ebay. I’ve had mostly positive results. But, you must have faith to buy from Ebay. It can be stressful, especially if you fork over hundreds of dollars just to sit back and wait and wonder if you will get what you think you bought, or if you will get taken.

  • Basic Ebay info: you will pay either the seller directly or via Pay Pal. Pay Pal is the safest choice for buyers, I’ve found. It’s good for sellers too, though I stopped using Pay Pal as much as possible because they charge way too much for fees. And Ebay does too, from a sellers viewpoint. As the buyer, however, you will pay whatever the seller is stating on their page. I’ve sold bikes, had them professionally shipped and packed extra secure, only to have the buyer allege the bike had dents or was cracked, etc. Many times the buyer just wants the insurance money and the transaction just turns out to be a scam on the buyers end. The protocol for addressing those issues is not a fun process and really not worth the fight. Everyone loses too. So, ultimately, I would avoid most major purchases that involve either Ebay OR PayPal. Avoiding headaches wherever possible, is my goal. You can do it, but know that it carries inherent risk, purely financial, and with some time consideration.

An Ebay buying tip: Do not post a bid until the last minute. If you wait until under a minute, and have your true “highest bid” entered in, you most likely will “win” that item without unnecessarily inflating the final buying price days, hours, or even minutes before the end of the auction. There will usually be a few key players in at the last second, but that is the only way to get the best buy on Ebay. Wait until the seconds tick down and click on 'buy' with under a minute left. Otherwise, you are throwing your money into the wind.

  • Buying a bike online through a retailer or website.

Yes, I have had a 100% success rate for everything I have bought online from a Website or retailer, other than Ebay or an auction site. I’ve done research though, not just bought blindly.

After you find a potential shop to buy from, you can call them. Ask them some questions. What is their delivery process, how long have they been in business, where are they located?-The basic questions. Most legit businesses will be able to answer the questions easily as they do business all day long and it should be a reflex of a response. I’ve even ordered from overseas and had to wait on wheel sets as they pass through Customs on the American side of things. Every order I've made over the last 20 years has been legit. Maybe I’ve just been lucky.

Here are a few sites that I like a lot: Alfred E. Bike, Performance, and Bike Tires Direct. I’ve had many safe and perfect purchases from each of these Websites. The security you get by buying something from a business comes in the form of their reputation. If you buy from a private seller via Ebay or Craigslist, you don’t get this and it is much easier for an individual to cover things up or hide the reality of an issue of the bike or parts that you are buying. This should be a consideration when making your purchase.

  • Buying a bike off of Craigslist or from a newspaper ad.

The best deals can be found here! If you have the time and money, that is. You must also be willing to look at a handful of frames-I am certain you will find a great bike at a great value this way.

You see, much like a gym membership, people buy bikes all of the time with the idea that they will ride them; but just the idea. The reality is that most people will not ride their bike much, just like most people don’t use their gym membership. So, in the end, they sell their bike at a huge loss compared to what they had paid for it at the retailer. The best part: they know they will be taking a huge loss by selling their bike and it’s a great buy for you. Or, someone just really needs the money-Not a bad thing when you’re on they buying end.

Whatever the price on the bike you find, a good deal or not, offer less! We are all about getting the most out of your money, right? If the bike is offered less than a thousand dollars, it is acceptable to offer a hundred dollars less than the asking price, and bargain away from there. If the bike is priced over a thousand dollars, you can begin with $200 less than the asking price without being insulting to the seller. If it is priced over $1500, you can think $200 and probably max out around $300 less than the asking price, for a beginning bargaining stand point.

Whatever the buying route that you decide to take, I again emphasize the need for you to have a proper fit for your bike. Your performance will suffer no matter what level of cyclist that you are if you do not do this first. I know how you like to think that you know your bike size, but unless you are a professional cyclist with experience, the odds are that you are completely wrong on the bike that should be fit for you.

This information will now allow you to have an edge when buying your next bike with less stress and more confidence. Have fun and happy trails!

Thank you for your time, your attention, and your votes!

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lucia anna
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Posted on Feb 4, 2011
Robert kammerer
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Posted on Apr 16, 2010