How to Buy a Bike – 8 Simple Steps

cabrillo point - jake davis
This could be you. Pretty sweet. Credit: Jake Davis

How does one go about buying a bicycle?  What things matter?  Many people are interested in bicycling – to commute, for fun, to ride along with children, or to get in better shape.  If you don’t already have a bike or it’s been a couple of decades since you rode it can be intimidating.  What to look for, how much to spend, what kind of accessories are needed, etc?  Here’s a short list on how to approach buying your first bike, or the first bike you’ve had in awhile.

  1. Don’t overthink it.  You’re buying a bicycle, not a car that costs you tens of thousands of dollars.  Especially if you’re going to reduce your car usage, you’re going to save a ton of money, even if you buy a very fancy bicycle.  AAA estimates the average car costs about $9,000 per year.  Put another way, you could buy a $750 bicycle every month of the year and be even money with what you spend on a car in that time.
  2. Find a bike shop you like.  Whether you buy a new bike or a used one, you’re going to need someone that knows how to keep it in top shape.  Walk in to a bike shop near you and say hi to the people there.  Are they nice and fit your style? Awesome, you’re good to go.  Are they mean or you don’t really like the vibe? Walk out and go to a different shop, there are lots to pick from.
  3. Buy a bike.  Utilize the friendly bike shop you have identified and ask them what they’d recommend.  All you need is a general idea of what you’ll be doing – going to work, rolling down mountains, cruising along the boardwalk.  The good thing is that bikes have awesome utility so you’ll be able to do many of these things with whichever one you pick, but buying in the right general ‘category’ is a good idea.
  4. Can’t decide? Buy a hybrid.  Here’s my current bicycle – a Giant Escape hybrid.  Hybrids are basically a cross between a road bike and and a mountain bike – designed to handle a wide range of uses, with a little more comfort and durability than a road bike.  They’re all-around great.  I paid about $600 new for this bike.  My previous bicycle was a $200 used road bike I bought on Craigslist.  My wife commutes to work daily on a hybrid bicycle as well that cost around $450.

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    My bike, with rear rack and pannier bag.
  5. How much should you spend? It really doesn’t matter.  For a new bike, I think it’s worth spending $500-600 to get a solid ride from a good brand.  You can buy a new bike for half that and be fine, or buy a used bike and also be fine.  If you’re buying used look for a good brand so you know the bones are good.  With your trusted local bike shop you can rest assured that if your bike has mechanical problems or just needs a tune up they can help you out.
  6. Get some accessories.  A few things you want to add to your bike to greatly increase the utility.
    1. A super strong lock. Get something from Kryptonite and always lock up your bike.  Thieves suck and will try to take your bike.
    2. Good lights – for both front and back, get some powerful lights.  I recommend doubling up on the rear lights for good measure.
    3. A small pump and two spare tubes.  In case you have a flat, you need these.  When you ride with your friends they won’t have these and you’ll be the hero. Rock on.
    4. A rear rack with a pannier bag.  This will allow you to easily carry things on your bike. Awesome.
  7. Take care of your bike.  I don’t know much about fixing bikes, I’m guessing you don’t either.  Plan to get a tune-up at your bike shop twice a year.  They’re pros at this stuff and will make sure your brakes work, your chain is well oiled, and your tires aren’t worn through.  Put it on your calendar and just do it.  It will cost $25 – $65 per time and is well worth it.  Later on you can do it yourself, but start with the bike shop until you increase your skill set.
  8. Have fun and ride often!  You made a great decision to buy a bicycle.  You’re going to be healthier and happier.  You’re going to save a ton of money.  (Mr. Money Moustache has awesome articles about the cost of commuting / cars.)  You’re going to make your community healthier and safer for everyone.

Have other tips for those looking to buy a bike?  Drop some love in the comments.

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John P Anderson

I'm a Kansas native living in San Diego. I enjoy learning about environmental issues and connecting with good people that want to make the world a better place. Cheers!

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