Buying a Bicycle: A Who. What, Where Guide

Bicycles are selling off the shelves this spring, with people trying to stay local yet craving physical activity. More and more people are discovering a newfound freedom that bicycling provides and experiencing their community from a fresh perspective.

Unfortunately, many first-time bicycle buyers walk into a nearby store, see a fancy bike in a color they like, and buy it on the spot. Then they try it out for a month or two and come to the conclusion that bicycling is not for them. The bike may be uncomfortable or awkward to maneuver. Or it might be that the area bicyclists are riding in is simply not suitable for beginner cyclists.

Picking out a bicycle may seem like a pretty basic undertaking. However, there are many nuances to buying a bike. If these are not taken into consideration, and the wrong bicycle is purchased, it can thwart a potentially life-long passion and joy.

Following is a basic guide that covers some of the important aspects of buying a bicycle.

WHAT DO I LOOK FOR?

The variety of bicycles available nowadays can be daunting for a beginner or for someone getting back into cycling. Road bike? Mountain bike? Cyclo-cross? Commuter? Cruiser? Hybrid? E-bike? Ahhhhhhh! Never fear, plenty of help is available!

Before going bike shopping, be prepared to answer some basic questions . Tom at Rick Cycle Shop in the trendy Allentown section of Buffalo, N.Y. says his first-time buyer business has doubled at the store this spring. His first questions typically are: “What kind of riding will you be doing? Who will you be riding with? What is your experience?”

Another important consideration is fit. A bike that is too large or too small may seem okay during an initial test ride, but after pedaling a few miles that mistake will catch up to you. The crossbar should come within 1 to 2 inches of your body when straddling the frame and your seat should be properly adjusted so that your knee is slightly bent when the pedal is in its furthest down position. Check out Bike New York's short instructional video, “How to Check Your Bike Fit.”

WHO WILL SELL ME THAT IDEAL BIKE?

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Bicycles are in extremel y short supply right now. According to a staff member at CK Cycles, a busy, locally owned shop in Albany, N.Y., many customers have been disappointed to find little available stock. “It’s totally a distribution issue. The manufacturers simply cannot make them fast enough to accommodate the high demand.”

Don’t let the short supply at this time stop you from starting your search, however. If you begin now, when stores are re-stocked you'll know what you want and will be able to act quickly..

Here are a few options to purchase a bicycle:

Bike Shops

Walking into a bike shop can be intimidating for a first-time buyer, but never fear! Nothing makes the staff of an independent bike shop happier than to share knowledge of their passion with you and assist you in finding your ideal ride, thereby creating what hopefully will become a life-long customer. You may experience sticker shock at first glace, but don’t exit just yet! Take a moment to speak with the staff about your needs. Most shops have very limited space and will happily order a bicycle that meets your requirements.. Plus, the individual, dedicated attention you receive from independent bike shops is worth a few extra dollars on the price tag.

Big Box Stores

Big box stores are abundant, convenient, and offer tempting prices. They serve a purpose for children or young adults who just need a bike to knock around the neighborhood, or for those who do know what they’re looking for, or those that are looking for a second (or third) bike to add to their collection. But a beginner who brings home a flashy new bike without consulting with an experienced bike shop staffer risks being disappointed…so disappointed that they may be turned off to cycling for good. Many big box stores may have dedicated staff (and even a repair shop located within), but their knowledge and the time they may spend finding the right bike for you rarely can compare to the service offered from dedicated bike shops.

Used Online (Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, etc)

You can find some fantastic deals online, and good variety. Buying a used bike may be a good option for beginners who may be unsure that cycling is for them. Yet, sometimes the time and effort spent with the back and forth communication, setting up a time to look at a bike, taking a test ride, etc. will be more than that hour spent in a shop speaking with a knowledgeable individual. Also, as with any used item, there is always the risk of purchasing a bike whose owner cared for it improperly, or a bike that may have an underlying issue that will suddenly arise when you’re a few miles into your ride.

WHERE SHOULD I RIDE?

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Roads
It can be very unnerving for beginning cyclists to ride on roads, watching for vehicles and avoiding potholes. Try plotting out a route beforehand that consists of streets with the least amount of traffic. If you do need to go onto a busy road, find the shortest route that will connect with calmer streets.

There are several basic things cyclists can do to enhance their safety while riding on the road: wear bright-colored clothing, ride in the direction of traffic on the proper side of the road, and, of course, always wear a helmet.

Trails
You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the amount of multi-use trails that have sprung up over the last few years. There may be one within your community or just a short drive away. Parks & Trails New York's TrailFinder Map highlights multi-use trails throughout New York State. These trails include more than 1,200 miles of trails that are ideal for cyclists of all levels, especially beginners.

To get to these trails, a car bike rack is invaluable. Again, don’t be intimidated by picturing yourself strapping bikes onto the roof of your vehicle or investing in a trailer hitch. A simple trunk-style unit such as this is easily removable when not needed. And, yes, this is something that would be fine to purchase used via Craigslist or Facebook.

Happy Riding! And be sure to give a wave to all the other cyclists you see when you pass by!



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