How to Buy a Bicycle: Bike shopping tips for the urban commuter

You can buy a bike for US$30, or you can buy one for US$3,000. Each one may give its rider years of service and enjoyment. Where in that spectrum do you belong? A lot of sites like help riders make right choice but eventually having a lit bit of knowledge will help you too.

You should spend at least as much time shopping for the right bike as you would put into buying any good piece of sports equipment or an expensive item of clothing. As with these other products, you should consider your own particular needs, style and habits. Will you be riding for short trips around the city? Will you also be doing longer, recreational rides? Do you plan to ride through a cold, snowy winter season? Where will you end up parking the bike?

Perhaps the first question to ask yourself is “new or used”?

If you don’t mind rising a “precycled” bike, as one shop owner I know puts it, then your costs will immediately drop. A lower-priced bicycle is a good option for a bike commuter, because bike theft is a reality in most parts of the world. Perhaps it’s not quite so painful to lose one or two US$150 bikes as it is to lose one that cost US$1,500. In fact, unless you want a bike for competitive racing or long-distance touring, you should be able to get a very good bike new for something between US$150 and US$650. (One of the biggest factors that decides price is the weight of the bike: the less you pay, the more it weighs.)

These days, used bikes are often available at dependable bike shops. Unfortunately, there are also unscrupulous operators in many locales who thrive by selling stolen bicycles. (The only ethical time to buy a stolen bicycle is when you get it in a police auction of stolen goods. If your area has one of these, do check it out, as it can be a great source of bargains.)

Ask cycling friends to recommend a trustworthy used bike outlet. It would be wise to avoid buying your used bicycle at a junk store, a yard sale or a thrift outlet. Unless you’re quite knowledgeable about bike mechanics, these places may not be offering the bargains they seem to promise. All too often, you may bring home a bicycle with dangerous or unfixable defects like a bent frame, or one that needs so many replacement parts that you end up spending more than the initial cost of the bike to make it rideable.