I'm stuck indoors today, so I added the following to the "Why to buy a hybrid" sticky. I'd appreciate comments and promise not to be more tactful than I sometimes am...
Some hopefully useful advice on buying a hybrid:
- Final assembly and tuning of the bike are done by the shop you buy from. Given that components and frames on different brand's bikes often come from the same factories, you should worry more about the skill of the mechanics at the store you buy from than the manufacturer. One quick (but not infallible) test for a good store is asking if they custom build wheels. Another is to see if they stock Kool Stop brake pads and SRAM powerlinks - low profit items for the store, but ones that makes a big difference to a bike.
- It's useful to know if your salesman is on independent commission. If he is, he'll be much less interested in selling you the right bike for you and much more interested in moving whatever carries the biggest commission that month - which will often be the lemon the store couldn't otherwise move. Phone ahead of time and talk to a salesman. At the end of the call thank him and ask if you should speak only to him when you come in. If he says "Yes!" too emphatically then be wary.
- The best time to get a super-bargain is when makers change to a new year's model. The differences are usually minor or cosmetic and the discounts can be substantial.
- Try to buy your bike at a time of year when the store won't be busy. That way it will be more likely to get more attention from a better mechanic.
- Saddles, tyres, brakepads and chainrings and gear cassettes are easily changeable on a bike. You can negotiate changes in all these components as part of your purchase.
-- If you like a bike except for the saddle, then tell the store and ask them if you can test ride and buy it with a different saddle. If the answer isn't yes, go to different store. Saddles are very personal - ass shapes vary so much, and the same person will sometimes need different saddles on different bikes because of changes in riding position - but one that works very well for a wide range of people of people is the WTB Speed V. And it's fairly cheap as saddles go.
-- You should almost always change stock tyres on a new bike for better ones. They'll be faster, more comfortable, and resist punctures better. Marathon Supremes or Duremes are usually the best all round choice. Ask the store about Slime or Sludge filled self-sealing inner tubes too.
-- If you are going to ride in rain and don't have disc brakes, have the bike fitted with Kool Stop Salmon or Dual Compound brake pads.
- If you are going to leave the bike locked up on the street, then buy security skewers to replace the quick releases on the wheels and seat post. These need a special key to unlock them and will stop your bike from being stripped of these components.
- When you buy the bike, have the chain fitted with an SRAM Powerlink. This will let you remove the chain much more easily so that you can clean it when needed. A nice side effect of specifying Kools and a Powerlink can be that you get taken more seriously by the store and they assign a better mechanic to assembling your bike. Booking a course in bike maintenance should help too
- If you are a heavy rider, planning to tour loaded up, or ride hard off road, then avoid wheels with a fashionably low spoke count and consider hand built ones. High quality hand built wheels are often a much better upgrade than higher end shifters and the other stuff that differentiates different levels of the same basic design.
- If you don't have one, buy a good pump with a pressure gauge when you buy your bike. Use it regularly. (The Truflo Evolution is excellent.)
- Regarding carbon fibre components, be aware that:
-- The complex anisotropic carbon fibre weaves used in expensive racing bikes do give them a marginal advantage over metal bikes in some competitive events. But weaving this sort of CF is very expensive and in lab tests the cheaper CF used in less elevated racers - which will be the same as that used in a CF hybrid - lacks the most of desirable properties of the good stuff. Low end CF is usually just a marketing gimmick to give a bike more glamour at a low cost and increase profits.
-- Carbon seat stays and chain stays on a metal bike are often marketed as ways of reducing "road buzz" and making a bike more comfortable. They don't really work!
-- Carbon adds significant danger and hassle to a bike. It can take invisible damage that can cause a component to snap instantly at a later time. Always have a carbon bike professionally inspected after even a minor crash or other shock.
Drop handle hybrids
- If you want a ready made drop handle hybrid, they are fairly readily available and called cyclocross bikes. For the sort of riding you'll probably want to do it is a good idea to have the stock cantilever brakes changed for v-brakes with little gizmos called "travel adapters". (Cantis are powerful and flexible but adjusting them is a dark art, and they can squeal or even cause fork judder if special care isn't taken - these problems can be especially bad with carbon forks.) Bikes Direct sells crossers from $500 up (their prices are VERY aggressive) over the Internet; unless you're quite at least a little skilled with mechanics it's a good idea to find a local mechanic to assemble and check the bike when it is delivered, and to fit those v-brakes. The Specialized Tricross and Kona Jake are probably the crossers your local stores are most likely to stock. The Surly Cross Check is extra tough and very popular among traditionalists.
- Even good bike companies are prone to loading bikes with useless gimmicks to sell them to customers. Carbon fibre seat stays are a fairly good example; Specialized's use of supposedly shock damping Zertz inserts is an even better one. Try not to be take in by this sort of thing.
- Some new-ish pieces of technology that do work well are:
-- Disc brakes, which give much better braking in the wet (at least if they are decent disc brakes - the best low cost disc brakes are probably those made by Tektro.) Discs can be hydraulic or mechanical. The hydros are harder to maintain. With either, ask how to maintain them and make sure that you are happy with doing the job, or at least you'll know *when* to bring the bike in for a brake service.
-- Internal gear hubs, which require much less maintenance, laugh at bad weather (which can do really nasty things to over refined modern powertrains, thanks to the very thin gears used to get 9, 10, or 11 speeds per chainring) and let you shift gear while stopped. A downside to these is that most stores don't know how to repair them, so in the unlikely event yours has an internal fault you'll probably need to replace it.
- Choose the store carefully.
- Your best upgrades are a saddle that suits you and premium tyres.
- Be wary of gimmicks designed to sell you a higher priced bike.
- Try to buy just after a maker changes models for a year, or during the off-season.
I should probably add something about negotiating prices, forming a group of people to order the same bike, and advice on pedals and sizing. Unless someone else feels like doing those jobs? I'd especially appreciate hearing from people who maintain (or don't) disc brakes. Oh - and the trick of checking if a bike has a good BB and cranks as a guide to its overall quality. (These are critical and good cranks are some of the hardest components to make, but they are unsexy. So less scrupulous bike makers tend to skimp here and push up the spec on the components that people notice more.)
I'd especially appreciate comments from qmsdc15 and sixty fiver(although I think I know what "Basil" will say about hand built wheels.)