Questions to ask yourself in advance
It’s smart to get a sense of what you’re looking for before you head out to buy. A good salesperson will be quick to ask you some version of these questions anyway, so you’ll be in better shape to answer if you’ve already given them some thought.
Do I know what I want to use a bike for?
This is probably the most important thing to sort out before you begin your search. Are you buying a bike for transport, recreation, exercise, maybe all three? How often will you ride? How far? Will you stay on paved surfaces, or explore natural-surface paths? Assessing these criteria will help you figure out if you should be looking at road bikes, fitness bikes, city bikes, electric, gravel, mountain etc. There are a lot of bikes out there, so this will be in the most significant decision in narrowing down your options.
What kind of riding am I hoping to be doing a year from now?
If you’re planning to make some serious progress in a certain discipline or just do a lot of riding, it is important to plan ahead. Keep in mind that, basically, all bikes are beginner friendly and that, ideally, you want a bike that can grow with you. You probably don’t need all the bells and whistles to start with but you do want to have something you’ll be able to slowly upgrade the components and wheels on. Or maybe you’ll decide after a year of riding that you’d rather spend the money and upgrade to a lighter frame but migrate all the components over. Remember that the shop attendant is there to provide advice, so don’t be shy about asking for their opinion and sharing your cycling plans and goals.
What is my budget?
Having a set budget when buying a bike will help you stay focused and avoid an impulsive buy that you later regret. Be realistic but also know that going with the cheapest option can end up having some significant hidden costs down the road. Cheap bikes tend to come with less sturdy components, might have been assembled hastily, and probably don’t have an accompanying warranty. You need to make sure you’re getting something that is up to the riding you’re planning to do. It might be tempting to save money off the bat but if you consider what you’ll likely end up spending on repairs, it’s easy to see why paying a bit more upfront pays off in the long run.
Questions to ask when shopping
Of course, you’re also going to have some questions for the person selling you the bike! Here a few that should never be left unanswered.
Can I take a test ride?
Honestly, if a bike shop won’t let you take the bike for a quick spin, you should probably shop elsewhere. This will give you the chance to get a feel for the bike and ensure you know how to safely use all the bike’s features —including the shifting and the brakes. If you’re totally new to cycling, it can be hard to judge the fit by feeling but you definitely want to make sure you aren’t hyper-extended trying to reach your handlebars. If you’re uncertain about whether you’re reaching too far, ask to test the same bike in the next size up and down. A quick comparison will usually make it clearer which one fits best.
What level of fit do you offer?
Speaking of fit, it’s important to understand the level of service a given shop offers. If your bike isn’t adjusted to fit your body, it will cause discomfort and could even lead to injury. Many shops will provide a basic fit at the time of purchase, so you can get started on the right foot. At the very least, the shop should set your saddle height correctly and advise you on any adjustments that might need to be made. You should also ask whether or not the fit comes with a follow-up session a few weeks down the road. Especially as a novice, it’s comforting to know you can pop back in if you need to make additional adjustments.
What’s the difference between the groupsets on these bikes?
If you’re looking at two similar options but they have strikingly different price points, there’s a good chance that the groupset is to blame. This catch-all term for the mechanical components like the shifters, chain, and cassette can have a big impact on how much the bike costs. Some of the higher-end range probably weigh less and shift a bit more smoothly and although these are definitely positives, they might not necessarily be worth the extra dollars when you’re just starting out. Getting the scoop on groupsets might help you choose a less expensive but perfectly suitable option.
Does the bike come with a warranty or included maintenance?
One of the reasons it is important to feel comfortable at the shop you buy your bike is because, if things go well, this will hopefully be your first of many visits. You’ll probably bring your bike in a few times a year for servicing and repairs, so it is a good idea to find out about the shop’s policy when it comes to providing these services. You should also find out what the manufacturer’s warranty covers and if the shop will help you navigate the warranty process or whether you’ll be on your own.
Do you offer any bike mechanic courses for the public?
If you’re new to cycling, you’ll quickly realise just how useful it is to have a handle on basic maintenance and repair best practices. In order to ride solo safely, you need to be comfortable changing a tire or fixing a chain that’s slipped off. Having the right tools and knowledge is important, so find out if the shop provides any resources that can help you build your skillset.
A last piece of advice
Finally, if you end up in a situation where the salesperson you’re buying a bike from makes you feel silly for asking questions, consider taking your business elsewhere. You should never be made to feel uncomfortable; the best retailers will be equipped with salespeople who encourage you to ask questions. Never forget that whether you’re shopping for a basic commuter or a top-notch speed machine, you should feel that your questions and concerns are being taken seriously and that the person selling to you has your best interest at heart.