Buying your first bike can be a cumbersome and intimidating process. Our very own Reluctant Cyclist was thwarted at the first attempt, with unsupportive and disinterested shop staff.
And if it’s not you buying your first bike, and is your little one who’s on the lookout, this might be a bit more helpful: Buyers Guide: Buying your Child’s First Bike.
Chris Garrison has jumped on board to help you and the Reluctant Cyclist demystify the bike-shopping enigma.
How do you navigate your way through the hundreds of options available?
Bike shopping should be an exciting experience; you’re making a purchase that could potentially be life-changing. However, it’s not something to be taken lightly as buying your first bike in a speedy process and selecting the wrong one for you can limit your enjoyment of cycling, making you less inclined to ride.
Ultimately, a great local bike store is an invaluable resource for all of your cycling needs. They are experts in the field of matching bike to rider. That is, assuming you find one that makes it easy, and provides you with a good shopping experience.
In short, one of the first tips here is from the moment you set foot in a bike store, if you aren’t acknowledged within the first thirty seconds, even if it’s just to say that someone will help you as soon as they can, go elsewhere.
Acknowledgement and approach are two of the most basic tenets of good customer service. If these don’t happen in a timely fashion, it’s unlikely that the rest of your shopping experience will be any better.
This means there may be some trial and error required to find a good shop, but your unwillingness to compromise on getting a great shopping experience will be worth it in the end.
So let’s start and try to prevent you from having a similar experience to that of the Reluctant Cyclist.
Before you set foot in a store, there are some things you can consider that will streamline your shopping experience when buying your first bike.
1. Riding goals
It’s very common, particularly for women, to ‘under buy’ when buying their first bike. I’ve seen this happen more times than I can count. People will often shop for a bike based on the fact that they have a desire to take up riding. They judge their purchase on the level of riding they do at the time they walk into a store. The statement usually associated with this is “I just want something that I can use to see if I like it.”
When this psychology is at play, people buy almost entirely on price, rather than on what’s appropriate. From there, one of two things will happen: they’ll either stop riding because the bike they bought is too heavy and slow, or they quickly outgrow the performance level of the initial purchase, and wind up spending even more money on a bike that they should have considered the first time.
Think about what you hope to achieve on a bike. If you want to do your first sportive or triathlon, then you’ll need a bike that will help you grow towards that goal. Conversely, if what you are after is a bike that you can ride with the family on bike paths, or in the park, then you don’t need a top-of-the-range-carbon-wunderbike, when a hybrid is just the ticket.
A great tip is to visualise yourself one, three and even five years from now. What type of rider do you see yourself as? Once you have this answer, then you’ll know what to say when a shop employee asks you what type of riding you want to do.
2. The myth of ‘one bike for everything’
Another common occurrence in bike stores and one that is very closely related to the first example, are those customers who want a ‘do it all’ bike. When asked what type of riding you want to do when buying your first bike, the response is generally ‘a little bit of everything’.
This is vague, and often happens when someone hasn’t considered the first tip and thought about their riding goals. There is no ideal bike that you can use to ride singletrack, urban streets, canal paths, bike paths, fire roads and country lanes. There are some bikes that do well on a few of these things, but nothing that is universally excellent at all of them.
Bikes are pretty versatile, and most can tackle a variety of terrain. The issue isn’t whether or not you can ride a mountain bike on the road; it’s about using the right tool for the given application. Of the customers who want to ride a little bit of everything, they rarely do. Most of the time, they stick to one type of surface. Maybe two, and that is a much easier match to make for a shop employee.
3. Be colourblind
We are all fashionistas, obviously, but the one time you need to ignore colour is when you are shopping for a bike. The bike that appeals to you the most visually is not necessarily the bike that is the best choice for the type of riding you want to do. Sort out the type of bike, and then think about aesthetics, two great tips to think about when buying your first bike. This is very much a case of form following function.
So what are you?
The conversation you have with yourself about your riding goals and desires is designed to make getting the right bike easier for you, so let’s look at some of the possible outcomes of those internal monologues, and the types of bike that would apply to them.
Urban / Hybrids
Let’s say that you have been completely consumed by what has become known as ‘the Wiggo effect’. This is essentially a result of the success that British riders, including Sir Brad, have had in the last 12 months. You might not have ridden a bike since you were a kid, but you’ve been inspired to get back on and start riding to work, the 5 miles you normally drive.
This type of ride doesn’t require the top of the line, carbon fibre anything. Our four top tips to lookout for it something that’s comfortable, efficient, possibly stylish and affordable. For this distance and this riding purpose, you can look at buying your first bike within the hybrid, fitness, ‘Dutch’ style, or dual sport categories. Prices for these categories generally start around £250 and up.
You could be someone who has been a runner or swimmer, and have decided to do your first triathlon. You’ve been riding a hand-me-down bike that’s heavy and old, and know that a better bike will help you achieve a good result. If this is the type of rider you are, then the only type of bike that’s really worth considering is a road bike.
Road bikes tend to be the most expensive bike category in any given shop. This is largely due to the resources that are required to achieve something that performs well, and doesn’t weigh much. Be prepared for entry-level road bike prices to be higher than fitness or hybrid bikes.
If you are someone who lives to be in the woods, or on the moors, then you might have been out on walks or trail runs and come across people on mountain bikes having fun. If this is something you would like to try, then head on over to the mountain bike section of the store when buying your first bike.
In general, there is more variety among ‘mountain bikes’ than in the other bike categories. This is mostly due to bikes either being a hardtail (a suspension for in front), full suspension, or rigid (no suspension at all).
There are also now 3 wheel sizes to complicate things. If you know for certain that trail riding is in your future, and you can see yourself making a trip to any one of the Nation’s outstanding trail centres, then at the very least you should consider a bike with front suspension.
That being said, it is my (educated) personal opinion that even a beginner mountain biker will gain more from starting on a full suspension bike than a hardtail. The reason for this is that suspension isn’t about absorbing bumps. It’s about maintaining more control over the terrain.
More control equals more confidence, which is exceptionally important for people new to riding singletrack. Mountain bikes will start around £350, but for full suspension bikes you should expect to pay upwards of £1000.
There are clearly more than three types of riders, but none of them deviate too far from the three examples I’ve given. The idea is to figure out which one you most closely resemble and this should provide some clues into how to begin your search for a bike.
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