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How to buy the perfect bike

“I’ve always just loved riding my bike,” says 19-year-old pro mountain biker Graham Agassiz. “It’s the one thing where I can get away from everything else, where I feel the happiest. Just riding my bike, that’s all I want to do.”

Since you’re reading this, we’re guessing you are a bike rider, too. While bicycles are indeed a simple way to get away and have fun, buying one isn’t always so simple. That’s why we huddled with Graham to bring you the following must-read bike buying tips.

The Gear Guy is currently researching new models and writing an update to this article. Watch for his updated tips and reviews in the December 2015 issue of Boys’ Life.

MOUNTAIN, ROAD OR BMX?

“Before you go to a shop, know what kind of riding you want to do,” Graham says. “There’s a different type of bike for every type of riding you could want to do.”

Schwinn Mountain Bike

Mountain bikes (above) are designed for off-road riding. There are three types of mountain biking: cross country (trail riding), downhill (it’s just like it sounds) and freeride (jumps and tricks on a mountain bike).

 

road-bike-novara

Road bikes (above) are made for riding on paved roads, often for long distances and at higher speeds.

 

Mongoose BMX Bike

Bikes for BMX (above) (which means bicycle motocross, but no one ever calls it that!) are smaller and used for doing tricks (on the dirt or street), racing motocross-style courses and jumping too.

WHERE TO SHOP

Once you’re set on what sort of riding you want to do, it’s time to pick a bike shop. Skip the department stores and warehouse-type places. They likely won’t have salespeople with the bike-specific expertise you need.

“Every town has a few bike shops, so you should check all of them out first,” Graham says. “Be careful, though. Sometimes people can sell you into a bike that might not work for you at all, and you’ll end up wasting your money that way.”

Pick a store where you feel comfortable with the salespeople, where they’re friendly and seem to know what they are talking about. Finally, when speaking to salespeople, be honest about your biking skills and where you plan to ride. That way, they can point you toward the best bike for your skill level.

PROPER FIT

The most important thing to consider when buying a bike is fit. If the bike doesn’t fit you correctly, it will be uncomfortable and difficult to ride. Here are a few rules for bike fitting:

Standover Height. Straddle the bike and then pick it up until it hits your crotch.

For a road bike, you should have about one inch of clearance between the bottom of the tires and the floor.

If it’s a mountain bike, you’ll need at least two inches of space — more if you plan on being a very aggressive rider. This much clearance is needed for optimum maneuverability and so you can hop on and off easily. If the mountain bike has a full suspension (shock absorbers on both front fork and tail), then you don’t need a full two inches of clearance as the suspension will compress a bit under your weight while riding.

Top Tube Length. The top tube is the horizontal tube that runs lengthwise along the bike’s frame from the seat to the handlebars. Sit on the saddle and reach for the handlebar.

“If your arms are dead straight and you’re still reaching for the bars, then the bike is too long,” Graham says. “If your knees are hitting the bar, then it’s way too short.”

With your hands on the bar, you should have a slight bend in your elbows and — this will sound weird — it should feel like you could comfortably play piano keys on your handlebar.

Seat Height. While sitting on the saddle with your foot at the bottom of the pedal stroke, your knee should be bent slightly, not fully extended. Have the salesperson adjust the seat height until it’s perfect.

Any salesperson at a good bike shop can help you get the perfect fit. (Another reason to avoid the warehouse stores.)

BMX bikes are smaller with more compact frames, so the above advice about standover height or seat height doesn’t apply.

“You just want it to feel super comfortable,” Graham says. “I like having my arms a little bent, and not feeling as if my knees are going to smoke the handlebars.”

PRICE

Beware of cheap bikes from department stores. Odds are they’ll be really heavy and not very durable.

“Spend a little extra money for a bike that’s going to last you a long time and will be easy to service and take care of,” Graham says.

Expect to pay at least $400 to get a good entry-level mountain bike, at least $500 for an entry-level road bike and about $225 for a quality BMX bike. If you’re a more experienced rider, you might consider spending a bit more. That will get you a lighter-weight bike that’s likely more durable with more adjustments and bells and whistles.

QUALITY FRAME

A bike’s frame is like its skeleton. It’s what gives the bike structure and strength. Quality mountain bikes and road bikes usually have frames made of lightweight aluminum (more expensive models often have composite frames like carbon fiber). BMX bike frames are usually made of steel.

QUALITY COMPONENTS

The bike’s components (gears, cranks and other moving parts) move you along the road or trail. Graham recommends sticking with well-known, trusted, brand-name components like Shimano, Suntour, SRAM and Bontrager.

Most mountain bikes also have suspensions, or shock absorbers, on the front fork (called a “hardtail”) and some-times also on the rear (called a “full suspension”) for a softer, easier ride on rough trails. Hardtails are generally more durable, require less maintenance and are a great choice for most riders. Trusted brand names for suspensions include Rock Shox, Fox and Marzocchi.

ALWAYS TEST DRIVE

Before you buy a bike, be sure to take it for a test ride.

“They’ll always let you ride them out in the shop’s parking lot,” Graham says. “It’ll be pretty easy to tell if the bike feels good or not.”

But don’t just cruise around the lot. To get a feel for a bike’s performance, try doing tight turns and sprints. For mountain bikes and BMX bikes, consider riding up curbs and speed bumps. Pay special attention to how the bike handles while turning, and note if the gears shift smoothly. Finally, some specialty shops will have demo bikes you can take out on a longer ride — this is a great way to get a feel for a bicycle.

66 Comments on How to buy the perfect bike

  1. but I crashed IN THE STORE!

  2. I found a good specialized hardrock sport that I’m getting for Christmas.

    • I’ve got one of those, and I love it. None of the rest of my family is into biking, so I am often left to find my own trails. It’s great on the trail and pretty good on the road.

  3. johny lightning // November 25, 2009 at 11:03 pm // Reply

    helped me pick out a bike ive been using for years.

  4. If you are going to get a bike, get a TREK. They are kinda expensive, but they are precision on wheels

  5. i like BMX best. : )

  6. where didyougetthose bikes

  7. dutalbrichis // October 27, 2009 at 7:19 pm // Reply

    i love the blue bmx bike it is cool

  8. How good are Mongoose bikes? Are really reliable and durable? I am thinking of getting a Mongoose at Walmart for $120 or $130.

    • Bike expert- Hunts160 // May 1, 2010 at 7:04 pm // Reply

      DO NOT GET ANY BIKE AT WAL-MART! They some of the worst bikes in terms of quality and durability. I suggest REI. Any place that only sells bikes or has a specific department of bikes (with a lot of bikes in the department). It’d be best if you got it new too.

      • Bike expert- Hunts160 // May 1, 2010 at 7:06 pm //

        Oh and don’t get a mongoose . See my comment close to the top of the list.

      • Skinny Willy // July 31, 2010 at 5:27 pm //

        I would not get a bike at Wal-Mart or REI instead I would get a bike at used bike shops usually each town has one.

      • Anonymous // August 6, 2011 at 8:55 pm //

        I would not suggest buying from any department store, even REI. You should go to a bike shop that hav knowlageable staff for all your bikes and gear needs.

    • they ride comfortably but aren’t durable they would last about 1 to 2 years.

  9. I am buying a bike and this helped me persuade my mom to not get a department store bike. My grandmother asked a guy at a department store,”What type of bike is most popular for kids.” He said a BMX bike. But thats not what I wanted. I wanted a mountain bike.

    • bikeneeder55 // June 24, 2013 at 11:24 pm // Reply

      Bongo(whoever you are)you said it. Mountain bikes are the best

      • Idaho DH Biker // November 4, 2014 at 3:51 pm //

        Totally go for the MTN bike, and contrary to what everybody says, do NOT GET A MONGOOSE! They are garbage and will not hold up if you are riding real trails. They work ok for in town, but invest the money and get a bike with RocShox or Fox Shocks (thats what I have) and you will totally recognize the difference!! I have a 2010 Trek EX 8. It rides incredible and I got it slightly used (looks and rides new) for less than $1000.

  10. Perfect information on helping me with my next bike.

    Michael T.
    –I love MathSecret!

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