Suburban Assault

Buying Advice For Getting Back Into Cycling

with 8 comments

Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop

A friend was looking to get back into casual cycling and asked for my advice as to what bike to purchase. I found it to be such a loaded question, with too many subjective answers, that I couldn’t even begin to give a specific recommendation.

For now, all I could pull together were some pointers that I’ve picked up through my own bike purchase experiences. Please keep in mind, this is such a subjective process and this information may or may not be the best advice for you.

As a rule-of-thumb, I strongly recommend that you consider where and how you will be riding to help narrow down the type of bike you will need. Plus, no matter what kind of bike you decide on, always do a test ride when you can. Fit and comfort will make all the difference in your ride. Here are a few general things to think about when getting your first ‘casual’ (back in the saddle) bike:

If I get a choice, I prefer CrMo (4130 Chromoly) which is a steel alloy. Aluminum is a nice option, but the trade-off is usually lower end components on a similarly priced bike. Yes, CrMo is heavier, but usually rock solid. Many custom-built bikes are made with this quality steel which says something about it’s strength and durability. You may want to save the super light, exotic materials for when you get serious about cycling.

The size of a bike frame varies from brand to brand and from model to model. A qualified salesperson can always help you choose the best size for your body type.

Suspension is not needed for casual riding around the neighborhood. Unless you are going on some serious off road trails, suspension components are a waste of money and add extra weight to your bike. If you want comfort, look into spring loaded saddles. Your butt will thank you.

Single speed bikes are the latest fad and fun to ride, but not the best option. If this will be your only bike, I strongly suggest getting one that’s geared – even if it’s only 3-speeds. When you are trying to get back in the saddle, there’s nothing more frustrating than hitting your first climb and having to walk it. The granny gear will be your friend. Embrace it.

That being said, you may not want to compromise when selecting your components. Shimano and SRAM are a couple of the better brands to look for in external derailleurs. Even the lower-end versions of those brands are better than most consumer, no-name bike components. Plus, better components are much easier to maintain and repair when needed. I’m not familiar with Internal gearing so I can’t help you here.

Disk brakes are nice, but an expensive upgrade. If budget is an issue, I wouldn’t bother with them. Ol’school rim brakes will stop you just fine.

Wheels and Tires:
Depending on your needs, stay either in the 26″ or 700 world – they are the most universal. This is where it becomes a little more important as to how/where you will be riding. Go with a tire that’s a little fatter if you plan on taking it off-road or need a bit more comfort. Some things like knobby tread might not be as important if you are mostly on pavement.

Just remember, saving a few bucks isn’t worth all the hassle. A good low-end range you should be looking at is between $400 and $500. It might seem like a lot for a bike (especially looking at Sub-$100 bikes at Wal-Mart) but you’ll end up with a bike that you’ll use more.

If you don’t have a lot to spend, I suggest checking out places like ebay or Craig’s list. There are a bunch of people who spend good money on bikes they never use. Unfortunately, you might not get the option to test ride these.

On the other end of the spectrum, even if you have a big bike budget, I wouldn’t spend more than $700 – $1000 on your first (back in the saddle) bike. Get to know and love riding first, then upgrade later.

Also, don’t let price be the only deciding factor. If the bike is a good deal but doesn’t fit – you won’t ride it.

General Tips:
– IF you can, avoid the Wal-Mart, Toys-R-Us, Target type bikes: They are usually cheap because they are made poorly with bad welds, heavy steel and low-quality components. You’ll get frustrated with the weight and gearing within the first few rides.

– Again, always consider where and how you will be riding before buying: I say this from experience owning a single speed mountain bike that has never gotten off road.

– Also, always test ride a bike: I highly recommend buying at a local shop where your needs can be evaluated and you can test ride their bikes. Also, many manufacturers are represented in local shops so you may be able to order a style of bike that’s not in inventory. I would avoid the ones that require a deposit.

An online purchase might be cheaper, but you may get stuck with something that doesn’t fit. Size and fit are the some of the most important things to look for in a new bike. If you aren’t comfortable on your bike, you won’t ride it.

Anything else?
Again, this is all subjective information from one person’s collective experiences – and I hope it is helpful. I’m sure there are other factors that I haven’t touched on. In the end, a bike purchase is about finding the right balance between where you will be riding, how you will be riding and what you can afford.

Please, feel free to leave a comment with any other helpful advice that you might have.

Written by dickdavid

November 29, 2010 at 5:42 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Hence, you rock! Th♥nk you!


    November 29, 2010 at 6:14 pm

  2. Excellent buying guide. Although I readily admit that I am somewhat prejudiced against Mellow Johnny’s since my nephew builds the bikes at Cycle Progression ( Having the right fit makes a world of difference in how you feel while riding as well as how you feel about riding.


    November 29, 2010 at 6:20 pm

  3. Golly, only one of my bikes cost more than $400, but that one went well over your $1000 high end. I guess we’d be better off not bike shopping together!

    It’s all about fit, as you note, which is one more reason to avoid the big box store.

    Steve A

    November 29, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    • That low end price range was based on average prices that I’ve seen at my local retailers for geared bikes – at regular prices. If one can find a cheaper option on sale, even better.

      There are lots of great option above the high end range. I just think a person needs to be more committed than casual riding before making a big investment.


      November 29, 2010 at 8:45 pm

  4. I like your used bike suggestions. I too would recommend buying a used bike, especially if money is tight or even if it is not. Sometimes, one can’t be totally sure if they will like cycling?

    It may take a while to find the right used bike, but there are tons of’em on CL.

    Peace 🙂


    November 30, 2010 at 10:47 pm

  5. Good article! An additional danger of buying a bike at a big-box store is that it was likely assembled by the same guy that stocks cheerios and cleans the bathrooms. In other words, he likely doesn’t know how to properly assemble and test the vehicles he is putting together.

    My most common advice to people is to not buy a mountain bike for their first bike (sorry!). A) it isn’t great for on-road riding, especially if it has suspension, like you said and B) a mountain bike less than $300 new won’t be worth much on a trail anyway.

    Adam W

    December 1, 2010 at 1:13 pm

  6. If your friend is just looking to toodle around, may I suggest that he/she look at flat foot bikes? It’s a lot easier on the knees. The cranks are just a little bit forward of the knee (not like a recumbent bike though) and the seat post is tilted back just a bit. The rider sits more upright but not quite as straight as on a cruiser. Several companies make these bikes. Electra comes immediately to mind.


    December 1, 2010 at 5:02 pm

  7. […] friend Richard recently scribed this article for his Suburban Assault website, all about picking out a bike.  Great article and good […]

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