So, you are in the market for a new bike and you aren’t really sure where to go. You have to decide between the big box retail store or your local, specialty bike shop. Both have their pros and cons, but you need to ask yourself a few important questions before making your bike purchase:
- Who is the bike for? Are you buying for your 8-year old who is likely to leave the bike in the rain, crash into fences and beat the crap out of it? Or, are you looking to buy a road bike to participate in a local charity ride in a few months?
- What is your budget? Do you have only a few hundred dollars to spend or the sky’s the limit?
- What is the lifespan and the amount of use for this bike? Maybe you have two or three kids and will pass the bike down to each of them and get years of use. Or…maybe you only plan to ride your road bike once or twice a month every summer.
Once you have answered these questions, it’s time to consider some of the facts about big box retail store bikes compared to those sold at your local bike shops.
Fitting & Assembly
Walk into your local big box store on any given day and take a look at who is working in the “bike department”. This is the person that is going to be fitting and assembling your bike. Do you know if they have any background in bikes or just happen to be covering that area for the day? Bike fit is very important for comfort and in some cases, safety (think little kid on an oversized bike). Just like you want a qualified person to fit your shoes, you also want the same for your bike. In fact, some people pay upwards of $200-300 for a custom computerized bike fit analysis.
Assembly is another issue with retail store bikes. Many of these bikes are not assembled properly, and are unsafe as soon as you roll them out of the store. Even if they are assembled correctly (by some miracle) all bikes need a tune up within 30 days to shift and brake properly (see below). That won’t be an option if you purchase at a retail store.
Service Plan & Repairs
When you buy a bike from a local bike shop, it often comes with a year (or more) of free service and a manufacturer’s warranty. New bikes always need adjustments as cables stretch and bolts loosen– sometimes a few times a month depending on how often it is being ridden. Big box retail store bikes do not come with any service plan and often a
limited warranty. Local, specialty bike shops often get these department store bikes in for repairs. These bikes are generally so cheap they’re hard to fix due to the poor quality of parts. They often aren’t worth the trouble or the cost to repair. For example, replacing both tires will typically cost $50 – $60, and add in a tune-up which runs $40-50, and you are at $100 – typically the cost of the bike.
You’ve heard the old adage “you get what you pay for” and this is the truth with retail store bikes versus a brand name bike purchased at your local bike shop. The components and materials used for cheaper bikes are, well…cheap. To cut costs and keep these bikes under $100, the frame is made of heavy steel and low-end components are used for brakes, pedals and wheels. If you are looking for a “disposable” bike for a kid to use for a season or two and then get a new one, then it’s a good choice. However, if you want something built to last OR you are ever thinking of resale or consignment, then head to your local bike shop and either buy new or used (more on that below). Yes…one of the cons of bike shop bikes is the cost. They range is huge – from $200 up to $10,000 or MORE! However, you will be paying for better components, lighter weight frames (carbon and aluminum), disc brakes…you name it.
Did you know that many local bike shops sell pre-owned bikes? LoweRiders carries a wide selection of used and consignment bikes. You can also shop for bikes on local resale sites like Craig’s List. You are more likely to find a good, well-fitting used bike (that will last much longer than a retail store bike) by buying one that is being resold. If you plan to go this route, make sure to have it fitted properly and tuned up by a professional. Like a car purchase, consider the resale value of any new bike you purchase. A large part of your investment can be recouped a when you buy a brand name bike from a local bike shop vs. a retail store.
Take home message? Think about your needs and budget before making a bike purchase. Every situation is different and both options have their pros and cons.