[Updated November 2022]
Bicycles are a wonderful sentiment of freedom, of power over your own movement, and are fantastic gifts to give to family members or friends! Working in retail, I hear a LOT about “I don’t know what size they are – but I can’t show it to them, it’s a gift!”
Trust me when I say that supply chain issues are still at play and sometimes it’s better to get the bike in front of you than it is to wait too late. I’ve got some simple guidelines about bike-buying.
1. Don’t delay joy.
Go ahead and get the potential rider involved with your offer by checking on 2 things: Their size and their purpose.
For younger kids, you’re not as concerned with style of bicycle necessarily as much as you would be with size. My rule of thumb is a growing rider can go just slightly bigger if they are a comfortable, confident rider. If they are still timid – or in an in-between stage – either wait until they’ve gained more confidence or are the correct height/arm length for the appropriate size.
A trip to a local bike shop to have your young rider sit on a few styles and sizes will be very instructive. Many parents will want to know, “How long will it last?” – that’s not as easy an answer as you’d hope for, but one trick is to pull the seat post out to its minimum insertion point and see how much space a rider’s feet have to touch the ground. Don’t get a bike that’s too big just so it’ll last a long time UNLESS the rider is confident enough to control it AND will grow into it.
For adult/already grown riders, style is just as important as size. If you think your wife wants a cruiser bike, but actually she wants to shred on dirt trails, that’s a big disconnect!
Futurecast what the rider may want to be doing – I’ll hear people say they aren’t a “real cyclist” and then talk about possibly wanting to run short errands, which may require a rear rack, fenders, lights. A different style of bike with potential to expand usage.
2. Buying a cheap(er) bicycle from a big box store may be more expensive in the long run
Bikes sold at your local bike shop can definitely be more expensive initially than a big box store bike, but they will – in many cases – have a much longer lifespan. A quick look at a few of the sub-$200 offerings will yield improperly fitted brakes; shifters that aren’t adjusted properly; and components that break at the first sign of stress.
If your budget doesn’t permit the cost of a new bike shop bicycle, definitely take into account the cost of potential repairs down the road. It is ALWAYS WORTH IT to take a big box bike to a local bike shop for a safety check and possible adjustments. You should ask the mechanics to be honest with their assessment for potential repair needs on the bike down the road.
Used bikes are a good alternative, but beware of a seller who oversells the bicycle (“only 10 miles! tubes work! rides great!”). If you can arrange to meet a seller at a local bike shop, and have the bike shop assess the bicycle for repair needs, you’ll have a much better overview of immediate purchase price + repair costs. (Read more about buying a used bike here!)
Case in point: I was looking for a bicycle for a shorter adult rider. My goal was to find an extra small frame with 26″ wheels. I found a bike for sale – listed at $100 – with accompanying pictures looking “OK”. Upon arrival to inspect the bike, I found the tires/tubes unusable, the cables and cable housing completely shot, the brake pads degraded, the cassette and chain worn out, one shifter broken, and the saddle disintegrated.
Armed with this knowledge – but also knowing that the frame, brake levers, crankset, derailleurs, and wheels were intact – I paid $30 for the bike from the buyer, and spent approximately $225 turning it into a brand new bicycle. The original ad said, “good condition, hasn’t been ridden in a while.”
$255 is still less than the cost of a good quality bike bought new these days, so it is definitely worth checking into – as long as you can get the repairs done from a reputable mechanic, and in the timeframe you need!
If you have any questions about buying bikes or wondering if something would fit or work for you, drop us a line.
Thank you for giving the gift of freedom of movement and many thanks for taking size and purpose into consideration!