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Ultimate First Bike Buying Guide

Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Ultimate First Bike Buying Guide

Old 05-07-15, 07:35 AM
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Ultimate First Bike Buying Guide

It seems like a day doesn’t go by where someone is asking about buying his or her first road bike. So, I am attempting to provide a fairly comprehensive guide to help you with your first bike purchase. (It’s a slow day at work.) And maybe this will become a sticky. Who knows.

I have tried to stick as much to factual information as possible and to limit my opinion as much as possible. And I encourage others to post their recommendations or thoughts as well. Please note, the examples used are not comprehensive nor are they an endorsement of any particular brand or model. I simply went with options from the larger brands that most people should be familiar with.

The areas this guide covers include the following:
1. Types of road bikes
2. Fit
3. New or used
4. Online or Local Bike Shop (LBS)
5. Frame materials
6. Components
7. Wheels
8. Disc brakes – yes or no
9. What is most important
10. Negotiating price
11. Helmets
12. Accessories

1. Types of Road Bikes
There are essentially three types of road bikes: Competitive, Endurance and Relaxed, and most manufacturers offer models fitting all three options.
Competitive bikes tend to have more aggressive geometries. The geometry is the arrangement of the bicycle tubes, and it will affect how a bike rides and handles. Competitive bikes will have shorter wheelbases for faster cornering and shorter head tubes for improved aerodynamics. This also means your handlebars will be lower on a competitive bike. This does not mean you must be a racer to purchase a competitive bike, only that the geometry is designed for a more aggressive ride and rider.

These bikes also come in both aero and non-aero versions. Some people report that aero bikes are a bit stiffer and more uncomfortable to ride, but you may experience things differently.

Common examples of these types of bikes are: Cannondale Super Six and Caad 10, Specialzied Tarmac, Venge and Allez, Trek Emonda and Madone, and Giant TCR and Propel.

Endurance bikes have a slightly more relaxed geometry compared to a competitive bike. This means the headtube will be a bit taller, putting the bars a bit higher, and the wheel base will be a bit longer to smooth out the ride. As a result, the bike will be a bit more stable and slower through turns.

Many of these bikes will feature technology to help smooth out the ride, like Specialized’s Zerts inserts or Trek’s IsoSpeed.
These bikes can be raced. Many of them are raced by both amateurs and pros, especially during the classics, like Paris-Roubaix. In fact, many of these bikes were created out of the need to create bicycles better able to handle the cobblestones of P-R.

Common examples of these types of bikes are the Cannondale Synapse, Specialized Roubaix, Trek Domane and Giant Defy.

Relaxed bikes offer even longer wheelbases and taller headtubes than endurance bikes. They are often used by people who want to ride long and who may not have the flexibility or demands of a more aggressive position. Many of these bikes come with flat bars instead of drops.

Common examples are the Specialized Secteur, Cannondale Quick or Giant Fastroad.

As an addendum, I want to mention Cyclocross bikes.

These bikes are essentially road bikes modified to ride off road. They accept wider tires and commonly use disc brakes. These are often a good option for people looking for a do-it-all bike to ride around town, commute to work, and participate in group rides on the weekends.
Common examples are Cannondale CaadX, Specialized Crux, and Trek Boone.

2. Fit
Fit refers to finding the right size and type of bike for you. This is the most important thing when buying a bike. If a bike does not fit you well, it will not be comfortable to ride and can actually lead to injury. But fit is a very personal thing and is impacted by both body size and flexibility. Two people with the exact same height could ride two different size bikes. That said, someone who is 5’0” is not going to fit onto a 58 bike and someone 6’3” is not going to fit onto a 50.

For this reason, it is important to find a bike that fits you. I encourage you to test ride any bike before you buy it.
Beyond that, there also is the fitting process to establish the proper saddle and bar position for you.

Most shops should do a cursory Fit to make sure the bike is good for you. This generally consists of the salesperson looking at you on the bike to make sure your leg extension and reach look OK. The shop may use a drop line to check your knee position relative to the pedal spindle or a goniometer to measure your knee angle at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Some shops might even be willing to swap stems if you need one of a different length. (Note, if you need a different length stem, you can usually find cheap ones for sale at your LBS or on Ebay, and many people on the forum have stems they are will to sell or trade for a different length.)

Many shops also offer Comprehensive Fits that will consist of measuring your body dimensions and flexibility limits off the bike and then assuring you are operating within those dimensions on the bike. Such a fit will cost between $100 and $300, though some shops will put part of that cost toward the purchase of a bike.

If you are coming off a major injury or have some major medical issue, you likely are a good candidate for a Comprehensive fit. For other new riders, getting a cursory fit at the shop is often a good starting point, and you can make minor tweaks as you go.

3. New or used
Bikes hold their value about as well as BMWs and Mercedes – that is, not very well. That means there are many great deals to be had in the used market. But, if you do not know what you are looking for, you do not know what fits you, and you do not know how to evaluate the condition of a bicycle, going used may end up costing a lot more in the long run. Also, finding the right bike may take time.

If going used, potential problems include worn cassettes, chains, cables, housing, bar tape and tires – all of which are consumables that need to be replaced with some regularity. Also, be wary of any aluminum frames that are dented or carbon frames that have cracks or what appear to be cracks. Those are tell-tale signs of a potential major problem.

A new bike will come with a warranty that should cover any defects or problems. It likely will cost more, but for some, that additional cost provide peace of mind.

4. Online vs. LBS
This is a common debate on these forums.

Buying online will likely save you money on the initial purchase of the bike. But, you will not be able to test ride the bike, and you will need to put the bike together. If you do not have the tools or expertise to do this, it will cost you $100-$300 to have a shop install it. You also may incur substantial costs if you need to ship the bike back due to a problem.

Buying from a shop may cost a bit more, but you will be able test ride the bike, and most shops offer some level of service with the bike, such as a free adjustment of cables after 30-60 days. The shop also will be there to answer any questions you have down the road.

5. Frame Materials
Aluminum and Carbon are the two most common materials used today to make frames, and most of the bikes people are looking at for their first ride are probably going to be aluminum or carbon.

Aluminum is going to be cheaper than carbon, and most entry level frames are aluminum. It also will be a bit heavier than carbon. Some people complain that aluminum is not as comfortable to ride as carbon, but that often can be affected by adjusting tire pressure. People have completed hundred mile rides on aluminum, so it cannot be that bad. (I’ve owned several aluminum frames and never had issue with the ride quality.)
Carbon is going to be lighter and more expensive than aluminum. In many cases, people report carbon being more comfortable. The beauty of carbon is that manufacturers can shape tubes any way they want to maximize strength, comfort and weight.

Regarding durability, people often worry about breaking carbon frames. The truth is that both carbon and aluminum frames can break. Modern aluminum tubes are very thin to reduce weight, and as a result, they can very easily be dented. Dents alone are not a problem, but aluminum does not like to be dented, and dents can lead to cracks and tearing. Aluminum frames cannot be repaired. Carbon also is susceptible to cracks and breaking. The same force required to break a carbon frame is likely going to substantially damage an aluminum frame, though carbon will break immediately and aluminum may break more slowly. Carbon, however, can be repaired, often for about $400.

Steel and titanium are two other frame options. The biggest difference between steel and titanium is that titanium is lighter and not prone to rust, though both materials reportedly produce similar ride qualities. Steel is often lauded for being “real.” And many people like the way it rides.
Steel was the primary frame material until the mid- to late-1990s when aluminum replaced it. Aluminum offers a lighter, stiffer and cheaper build compared to steel.

All options are good. There are positives and negatives to each. If you are unsure whether to go carbon or aluminum or steel or titanium, it is OK to let your budget decide. Or just pick the paint color you like most.

6. Components
Shimano and Sram are the two most commonly spec’d groupsets, with Campagnolo coming in third. All three make excellent products. Basically, the three differ in how they operate and shape their levers. Shimano uses the brake lever and a second paddle to shift. Sram uses one paddle separate from the brake to shift. And Campagnolo uses a paddle separate from the brake and a thumb lever to shift. (Note, some lower end Shimano groups also use a thumb lever.)

There are countless threads on this forum arguing that one brand is better than another. The truth is they all have their strengths, and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. Pick one that is in your budget or that you like, and you will be good. Also, in my experience, I adjust pretty quickly between the different options.

With regard to bars, stems, saddles, seatposts and pedals, there is no consensus. Those items are known as contact points, and everyone has his or her own preference. Also, in many cases, this is where manufacturers look to save money by using low cost, heavier, manufacturer-branded items. This is the first area many people upgrade to improve comfort.

7. Wheels
Entry level bikes come with entry level wheels. They likely will be heavy, and may need to be trued. This is the second thing many people replace on their bikes (after the contact points).

I really would not worry too much about this. The only point of concern is whether the wheelset is 11-speed compatible. Many entry level bikes come with 9- or 10-speed drivetrains. If you think you may want to upgrade in the future, it is nice to have extra wheels lying around. But this should not be a deal breaker.

8. Disc brakes – yes or no.
This is where I am going to venture into opinion, and many people may disagree with me. I am not venturing into the value of disc brakes, simply my perception of where the industry is going.

It seems to me that disc brakes are going to be the future of road bikes. While there is debate about the benefits of disc brakes on the road, I think that in five to six years, pretty much all new bikes will come with disc brakes. It only took two years for the Cyclocross market to switch entirely to discs, though the benefits there are much more pronounced. But I do believe that the manufactures want to go that way and will push it.

So, if you have the option of going disc brakes now, you might as well do it. I don’t think it is a fad. Others will disagree with me. That is OK. I am simply taking an educated guess as to where the industry is going.

9. What is most important?
Well, I’ve pretty much written this so far in order of importance. Make sure you get a bike that fits. Then select the frame material you like most. Frames do not wear out as fast as other moving components, so it is very possible to keep a frame through several groupsets.

Then select the components you like as you will be interacting with those the most.

Contact points are the first thing you will replace on any full bike you buy, so there is not much reason to select a bike because of them.
Wheels are next.

If you are stuck between two bikes that are similarly priced, similarly equipped and that you equally like, pick the one that looks the best. At this point, I honestly put looks very high on my list of things to consider when purchasing new bikes. If the bike is ugly now, it will always be ugly, and you won’t be happy with it.

10. Negotiating price
This is another area where I will be injecting a lot of opinion.

Haggling with bike shops is another common discussion item on the forum. In my experience and opinion, it is ok to a point.

Most manufacturers price their bikes in a way so that the LBS can automatically discount it from MSRP. For example, MSPR might be $1700 but the shop will list it at $1600, or MSRP might be $970 and the shop lists it for $900. It’s designed to allow the shop to look like its giving you a deal but still make money.

From about December through July, you will be hard pressed to get a shop to lower the price on any bike. Those are model year bikes, and the price is going to be pretty steady. From August through November, you can expect shops to put bikes on sale as they work to clear out model year inventory.

As far as haggling goes, I think it is okay to ask a shop, “Is this the best price you can offer me?” In many cases, it will be, but in some it may not.
A better place to negotiate is on accessories. Accessories offer shops a higher profit margin so there is greater room to negotiate. Also, many shops will offer 10-15 percent off all accessories when buying a bike.

When I bought my first road bike, here is how it went:
Me: Is this the best price you can do?
LBS: Yes.
Me: Ok, throw in pedals, bottles and bottle cages and you have a deal.
LBS: I’ll give you two bottles, any of the cages on that rack (pointed to the cheap metal cages) and pedals at cost, and 15 percent off anything else you buy.
Me: Deal
I ended up buying several other items I had not planned on purchasing because of the extra 15 percent off and spoke very highly of the shop later on. We negotiated, and both sides came out in the positive.

11. Helmets
Buy one. Wear it.

It’s that simple. Helmets may look dumb on some people, but it’s a good idea to protect your head.

Now, should you buy a $30 one or a $250 one?

All helmets must meet the same specifications for safety, so the $30 helmet protects as well as the $250 helmet. The difference is that more expensive helmets may fit better and likely will offer better ventilation and will weigh less.

In my experience, I can notice when I put a heavier helmet on my head, especially after a few hours.

Also, helmet manufacturers say you should replace your helmet every three years as the foam padding degrades. I’ve always followed that policy because in my mind, it was worth $200 every three years to keep my head safe. I’ve also read several articles lately about people who collect sneakers. They’ve found that after 10 years, the shoes just fall apart because the foam degrades, making the shoe not so collectible. This would seem to add credence to the manufacturer’s claims.

12: Accessories
When you buy your bike, you also likely will need several other items and accessories. Be sure to factor that in to your budget. Those items include:
• Water bottles and cages
• Spare tube or tube patches
• Tire levers
• Inflation device – CO2 or minipump
• Saddle bag
• Cycling shorts/bibs
• Cycling jersey
• Pedals
• Shoes
• Computer

The first four items are pretty necessary. You need to hydrate when riding, and if you flat, you want to be able to fix it and get on the road. I prefer a spare tube to patches because pin holes can be hard to find on the road.

The others are up to you.

Cycling shorts/bibs may seem silly, but a good fitting pair of shorts can make your ride much more comfortable and enjoyable. I prefer bibs to shorts – they keep everything in place better – but some people are not fans.

Jerseys again can look silly, but the pockets across the back are well designed for carrying food, extra water bottles, ID and phone, tubes…
You can use flat pedals and sneakers, but cycling shoes and clip-in pedals are more efficient and can be more comfortable. There is a learning curve to using this – I suggest practicing clipping in and out. You can use a door frame in your house to support yourself. And expect to fall a couple times when you fail to unclip properly.

The computer is nice for tracking your efforts and improvement, and if you’re into it, uploading rides to Strava.
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Old 05-07-15, 07:42 AM
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Old 05-07-15, 08:14 AM
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I'm gonna go with unpopular opinion here.

1. Buy a cheap cycling kit (good pants, cheap jersey), a helmet, cycling gloves from Walmart. (30+20+30+10 = 90$)
2. Buy a 10$ flat repair kit and a 2 water bottles. Stuff the Flat repair kit in one of the bottles. Buy a bike pump. (10+5+5+20) = 40$
3. Find the friction shifting bike from your dreams on Craigslist roughly 200$. Size yourself from the internet, you can adjust everything anyway.
4. Join local cycling club and buy yourself some fancy sunglasses from your local gas station (10$)
5. Develop bike envy fever.
6. Graduate from sneakers and flat pedals to clipless pedals and cleats. Straps are for commuters and hipsters. ( 30+50 = 80$)

Now you've spent $220 on clothing, accessories, and safety equipment.
Optional things to purchase: FluoroRain jacket 40$, light kit $10
Things to contemplate for later: Winter clothing

Now that you have a cheap working bicycle from the early 90's and can keep up with your local cycling group, you can further identify what type of road sport you'd like to do.
My personal logical idea is to spend $2000 on a quality Shimano 105 bike (it's a great groupo) and a bike that looks as cool as you want it to. Don't worry about getting a 10,000$ Dura-Ace Emonda SL-R and saving 2lbs, get the 105 Emonda SL at 3000$ instead. They look the same, ride about the same, go just as fast (just an example, it doesn't have to be an Emonda). Pick a brand you like! Get it because you like the looks and the fit is right! (I'd personally get a 105 Giant Propel Advanced).

2000$ too much? Go 500$ Aluminum and Sora/Tiagra components! You won't do much better than your old Craiglist beater, but you'll still feel great on a clean new bike.

Kits/Safety First, Bike, Experience, Bike.
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Old 05-07-15, 09:27 AM
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This deserves a sticky. Good job OP. I think this guide would benefit from a more detailed section on components/groupsets (explaining the hierarchy and cross-compatibility), which always seems to be one of the more confusing aspects for newbies.
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