We’ve seen clients wait months or years for fear of getting their first bike purchase wrong. Yet buying a bike should be a simple and enjoyable process. Just like learning to ride, buying a road bike is a step by step method centred around one question … What is your aim?
The First Hurdle
If you’re new to bikes, I feel for you. There are literally thousands of options in road bikes. You’ll be flooded by marketing that shouts importance of the latest technology, materials, prices, brands, styles, colours and sizes. Walk in to a shop knowing nothing and its no surprise to feel apprehensive, distrustful, nervous or vulnerable. There’s fear… A fear of being ripped off, sold the wrong bike, and the fear of experiencing potential regret.
Weighed down by confusion some potential riders wait months or years.
While you want to be empowered with knowledge, just where should you start without getting caught up with the unnecessary frills and trims?
I say the same thing over and over. Stop looking at bikes. The first step is to look at you. Look at your goals... The bike will logically follow.
You and your Goals
1. The basic questions to ask is, why a bike? Why not run, or play basketball or tennis, or swim laps? What compels you to ride a bike? Perhaps its a feeling or you’ve been inspired watching others. Maybe you’re injured and came to cycling as a second option, or you’ve friends that love bikes and want you to join. Understand your level of commitment and your reasons to ride.
2. Where do you want to ride? Is it local, or do you seek adventures, friends, challenges, travel?
You’ll be able to understand the terrain you need the bike to cover if you consider where you want to go. Don’t be conservative! Conjure large aspirations and imagine riding further, faster or higher than you can today. Cycling is about meeting challenges and we know you’ll reach your initial goals and need to imagine bigger in no time.
3. Look at yourself in terms of your lifestyle. Are you sitting all day? Do you play other sports, attend pilates or yoga? Are you flexible or do you tend to be on the stiffer side (usually a symptom of spending daily hours at the desk)?
Knowing your body will give light to understanding the position you are best suited when it comes to comfort and suitable frames. These should be questions asked by qualified and professional staff if their interest is in fulfilling your needs as a long term motivated cyclist. But getting a head start will really help you decide on a bike more proficiently.
"the answers will cut through a multitude of options that would otherwise clutter your time and your efforts"
These three questions will have you cracking the nut of buying a bike. What's more, the answers will cut through a multitude of options that would otherwise clutter your time and your efforts. You will more easily understand your commitment, your goals, and what it is that motivates your to start riding. These things will really help when it comes to chosing a bike to invest in.
For example, wanting to ride to work efficiently will provide bike options that differ from a rider aspiring to compete in triathlons or even endurance sportifs. The first could allow a more budget friendly alloy frame with simple gearing. The second would be better suited to a light weight frame more specific to sporting use; a bike with a decent set of gears allowing more competitive climbing ability.
Bunch riding aspirations will likely require you to choose a better suitable frame for endurance or faster paced riding... hence a carbon option could be our suggestion. Lets look closer at how to decide on what to spend, and what bike to get.
Reducing stress and mistakes
The common mistakes we see amongst riders who regret their purchase?
- Buying for a bargain when the bike does not fit
- Buying a bike not built for their purpose
- Purchasing a bike that needs upgrades or replacement within a few months.
Most potential riders go through a familiar process in the initial stage of a purchase. If you just started looking at bikes, you'll know exactly what we’re talking about here… The thought process goes like this, ‘Should I get an interim bike or, a more expensive but long term bike’?
This stage has nothing to do with choosing the right bike. This thought is motivated by risk of losing money and based on mistrust. While we all like to manage our finances and make economic decisions, buying a bike because it is the cheaper option is where most buyer remorse begins.
The interim bike is an option for those who may consider bunch riding but haven't experience with bikes. In general they don’t have a supportive network of friends who road ride, but they're pretty sure they’d like to do a few laps in the park. Because there’s risk associated with the unknown - questioning things such as 'will I like it, will I continue using it, will I be good at it, will I get out of the park on it' - choosing to buy an interim bike is generally driven by risk aversion, confusion and lack of support.
If you’re at this point, let me be rather clear by repeating what I say to our first time road bike buyers.
Look at your personality.
If you’ve a tendency to really grip on to ideas or sports, or activities then the likelihood is you’ll get the ‘cycling bug’ and want to ride obsessively. Its that kind of sport. If thats you, and you decide to get an interim bike, you’ll want to change that bike within 6 or at most 12 months time.
An interim bike is characterised by one major feature. Its the cheaper option. Starting at around $1000 - 2000$Aus, it's good if you're starting out with a tight budget. The traits? In general its alloy with a basic gear set, may come with pedals and will weight 10 to 11kg+ That may seem light if you're used to a commuter, but when you're trying to catch up with the bunch on a climb, every gram counts!
Warning about interim bikes. If you ride in bunches with an alloy frame having an 8 or 9 cassette, you’ll be struggling to stay with the bunch traveling up hills. You’ll get tired of riders passing you or waiting for you on the crest. Maybe you’ll wonder why other riders less fit are constantly ahead of you. It’s not you, it's your bike.
Alloy frames tend to obviously be heavier. They don't have the same stiffness or flexibility as good carbon frames do - a trait which more consistently transfers your power into speed. Interim bikes don't tend to have as good a group set with lesser quality components and heavier gears. This combined means your ability to keep up is hindered, I mean there's a reason that pro riders aren't riding these bikes and while you may not have any aspirations to ride in the TDU, you do want to ride to your best.
However, if you ride once a week for enjoyment or commute, an interim bike might just be your perfect solution. As mentioned, everyone has different causes for riding, and one reason to ride is no better than another.
Assuming you do want to regularly ride with others how do you get it right the first time? How do you guarantee you'll enjoy the bike for years without wanting to try something different?
Lets enter the carbon bike market.
We've customers who walk in to the store unsure of what to spend or what to buy. But because they know why they wish to ride, where they aspire to ride, and what their personality or level of motivation is, they can really be firm deciding that carbon is the option for them.
Because we often look at price when new to consumables, its an obvious important point for bike buyers. So if you're looking at carbon that will offer years of satisfying adventures, you'll likely start at around 5000$. This will give you not only a decent group-set but also a bike that possesses a decent carbon layup. What does that mean?
Without getting technical about the weaves, and the effects of placement in strength and flex, carbon layout done by professional manufacturers produces a bike that will feel and respond differently to a cheaper carbon option. So a bike that is using a great groupset, but a lesser quality carbon and cheap processing will not respond and perform in the same way as a frame done by high quality product and craftspeople. The feel of a good frame will result in the frame having stiffness where needed, increasing power transfer - and that means faster. But at the same time, where not needed, the carbon will be lighter with more flex, providing a lighter frame.
We always say that the frame is the heart of a bike. You can change wheels, the components and the group set, but the frame will always remain the same. So if you are wanting to invest right the first time, don't be tempted by a bike with a great groupset, then go compromise on the frame!
Knowing if you're more likely to get an interim bike, or a long-term bike is essential to feeling confident when you enter the bike shop. You are prepared enough to give them information on where you see yourself riding, how often and why.
"When you buy a bike the discussion should always centre around you, as opposed to giving the bells and whistles centre stage."
The determining factor is that a decent bike shop should be able to offer you reasons why one bike will fulfil your expectation better than other bikes. This is different than the general method of buying a bike based on the reviews or the marketing blurb which cannot take into account what you want from a bike. When you buy a bike the discussion should always centre around you, as opposed to giving the bells and whistles centre stage.
Choosing which bike from either of these two options is for another article as the depth of conversation is endless. Suffice to say if this has helped the very initial stages of your bike contemplations then its a very good place to begin refining further.
Of course, there are potential riders who need even further refinements when it comes to choosing a frame. If it comes to injuries, inflexibility, body proportions, individual detailing, then the custom option is certainly something to pursue. This will push the price if we are genuinely looking at custom frames handmade by frame builders. And this is really for a separate conversation on custom frames.
But for the general rule a rider looks for two options in their first bike - alloy or carbon. If thats you, take the information resourced here to your bike shop and test what they do with it. Focus on the reasons why they think that frame will specifically suit you. If they can tell you how the bike will perform for your specific needs and if they are on the mark with what you want to do with the bike, then you’re likely on to a good thing.
Lastly, support for those new to riding is crucial to becoming a confident and decent bunch rider. There are plenty of clubs and rides out there when you buy your bike. But often its incredibly intimidating. If you are keen to start but don't know how, contact us about our complementary bunch riding courses and shop rides. We absolutely love getting road riders in bunches, riding well and meeting friends to extend their adventures. Riding a bike is not always just about the bike!