Buying a bicycle, especially your first one, can feel overwhelming. There are as many brands of bikes today as there are libations in BevMo, and myriad options—Carbon, aluminum, or steel? 700c, 650B, 26, 27.5, or 29? Race, touring, or comfort performance—are bewildering. But don’t despair: All that competition means that most bikes on the market are generally very good, so it’s easier and cheaper than ever to get a high-quality ride to suit your needs.
The first step in getting a bike is figuring out what variety you need: road, mountain, or utility. We have descriptions of each style, along with buying specifics, in the subsequent pages. There are, however, tips and advice that hold true no matter what type of bike you get. As you get ready to shop for your first bicycle, consider the following:
- You don’t have to spend a fortune. High-end bikes cost more than ever, but the R&D and improved manufacturing that have driven up the prices have trickled down to more affordable models. Many inexpensive bikes today are as good if not better than professional-quality bicycles 15 or 20 years ago.
- Buy from a local bike shop, especially for your first bicycle purchase. Whereas it’s easy to get the wrong size bike (or even the wrong bike completely) if you buy online, a shop’s staff will set you up properly. And as you break in the bike, they’ll be able to help you with service and fit issues that arise.
- If you plan to keep the bike for longer than a year or two, buy as nice a frame as you can afford. You can always upgrade components as parts wear out, but a new frame is a big investment. High-quality wheels should be the next consideration after a good frame as they will make the biggest difference in how a bicycle will ride.
- Don’t get too caught up in frame material. Carbon is light, stiff, and today’s most vogue material, but it’s also the most expensive. Aluminum has a reputation for being too stiff, but with the advances in tube-shaping technology bike companies are making very comfortable bikes from alloy. Other metals like steel and titanium offer great ride qualities and durability. The differences are in the nuances.
- Get your bike fit. There’s no sense in spending a lot of money on a bike and then being uncomfortable or riding in a bad position. Many shops offer complimentary fit services with the purchase of a bike. But even if you have to pay a bit extra, it’s worth it to avoid problems and injuries that can develop from a poor fit.
- If you are looking for a deal, buy in autumn, at the end of bike season, as many shops discount their stock to make room for fresh inventory. If you don’t want to wait, ask your shop about previous season’s models.