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Bicycle Repair/Stores (From CHECKBOOK, Spring/Summer 2013)
 
Go to Ratings of 29 Boston Area Bicycle Repair/Stores

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Bicycles

Buying a bike is much easier from a store that offers good advice, carries a wide selection of bikes and makes them easy to test ride, and helps you choose a bike that suits you well. Our ratings of area bike shops, shown on our Ratings Tables, will help you track down that shop. 

When it’s time to make your final purchase, make sure the store will do a high-quality job of assembling and adjusting your bike, and make free readjustments—preferably for at least a year after you buy. Our ratings of stores for reliability, and of their repair shops for doing work properly, will help you make a good choice. 

And while you also have to shop for price, unfortunately very little price competition exists on new bikes. 

On the other hand, prices for bike accessories vary a lot. We’ve found that prices for accessories from online/mail-order sellers—but not for new bikes—are often lower than prices at local stores. 

If you don’t need a new bike but just want to keep an old one riding well, our ratings of bike repair shops will help you find reliable, reasonably priced places. 

One look at your rusty 15-year-old bike and you decide it’s time to replace it. But as soon as you start shopping, you realize that the bike world has passed you by. You need to find a bike shop with knowledgeable staff who can steer you to a model that’s right for you but doesn’t break your budget. 

Our Ratings Tables will get you rolling with ratings of local outlets. Most are rated both as places to buy bikes and as places to get them repaired, but some are rated only for one purpose or the other. Before you get cranking, however, you need some background info to help you choose wisely. 

Evaluating Bike Types 

Although the lines between types have gotten increasingly fuzzy as bike makers mix the characteristics of several types to create new models, bikes can be roughly classified into several categories: all-terrain bikes, road bikes, touring bikes, and cruisers/recreation bikes. 

As you begin to shop, determine what you expect to do with your bike and choose your bike accordingly. Will you run errands, commute, work out, compete? How often will you ride? Every day, weekends only, hardly ever? What kind of surface will you ride on? Smooth roads, potholed city streets, off-road trails? How hilly will the terrain be? Do you care how fast you can go? 

In general, the more you plan to ride and to compete, the more the bike will cost. 

The brief descriptions of bike types below might help, but you’ll need to get hands-on experience to appreciate the differences by visiting bike shops, trying friends’ bikes, or renting bikes. 

All-Terrain/Mountain Bikes 

All-terrain bikes (ATBs) consist of wide (1 3/4 inches and up) high-traction tires; either flat or riser handlebars, depending on riding position; at least 18, and possibly 27, gear ratios extending into the low, low range; and a sturdy high-tech frame that allows substantial clearance between pedals and the ground. This combination, along with a number of other details, yields a bike that can be ridden off-road on rugged up-and-down terrain and at the same time allows riders to sit in a comfortable, upright position on smooth roadways. 

All ATBs are not alike. The most rugged (and expensive) ATBs are called “mountain bikes.” Less rugged versions—often with smoother, narrower tires for easier pedaling on road surfaces—are called “city bikes.” Because of city bikes’ upright riding position and shock-absorbent construction, many riders prefer them for commuting, daytrips, and touring. But city bikes can’t be pedaled as efficiently as touring bikes. 

Road Bikes 

Road bikes have tires that are often less than an inch wide and pumped to a very high pressure, drop (“ram’s horn”) handlebars, ultra-lightweight construction, caliper-type handbrakes, narrow seats, and a wide range of gear ratio combinations. Built for high speed and crisp handling, road bikes cover a lot of ground fast on commutes, on recreational day rides, or in competition. 

A road bike requires careful tuning and maintenance; expensive versions are extremely high-tech precision machines. For some riders, the bent-over riding position, seat configuration, frame design, and narrow tires make it extremely uncomfortable to ride. In addition, the riding position and quick steering response discourage casual sightseeing, and the narrow tires and lightweight precision construction aren’t suitable for rough terrain. Still, some bolder cyclists love a road bike’s ability to travel vast stretches of open road at high speeds. 

Touring Bikes 

To the less experienced eye, a touring bike (or recreation bike) looks a lot like a road bike, but touring bikes are designed for longer trips. Compared to road bikes, the tires are wider (typically 1 1/8 inches or 1 1/4 inches), the tubes to which handlebars and seat are attached are less upright, the distance between seat and handlebars is shorter, and the distance between front and back wheels is longer. 

These differences produce a more comfortable and stable ride; a more upright riding position; and steering that tracks more easily. Touring bikes have different gear ratios than road bikes, with more gears at the low end for uphill rides. Within the touring category, you are likely to find a single “compromise” bike suitable for reasonably high-speed daytrips, commutes, and even races, but also serviceable for multiday treks with heavy packs (most touring bikes are equipped to add a wide variety of racks for carrying duffel bags, camping equipment, coolers, etc.). ATBs also can serve as touring bikes. 

Cruisers/Recreation Bikes 

At the opposite extreme from road bikes are cruisers or urban bikes. The direct descendant of 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s models, cruisers have fat tires, upright handlebars, large seats, and, in most cases, coaster brakes (applied by pushing down on the back pedal). Cruisers are ideal for comfortable, leisurely riding and sightseeing on level terrain. They are simply constructed, easy to maintain, and durable, but provide a poor way to climb hills or go fast. 

Hybrid Designs 

In order to provide still other speed/ruggedness combinations, “hybrid” or “cross” bikes borrow some features from road bike designs (i.e., drop handlebars or narrower tires) and other features from ATBs (i.e., rugged frame, high pedal clearance). 

Other Designs 

Other bike design variants include traditional three-speed bikes, and the “BMX” and freestyle/trick bikes popular with kids. Among ATBs, bikes specialized for activities such as cross-country, downhill, and extreme riding are available, all with different variants on suspension, tire width, and body position. Fixed-gear, or track, bikes similar to road bikes but with only one gear combination, are options if you want a simple design. New variants continue to appear as new materials and manufacturing techniques create new possibilities, and as the highly competitive bicycle manufacturing industry searches for new designs to fulfill consumer desires. 

Consider Construction 

In addition to deciding what type of bike you want, you’ll need to sort through the various construction materials and features that often impact performance, comfort, and durability. The best way to get a feel for what’s available is to visit several bike shops, but we’ll touch on a few of the major considerations here. 

Frame 

The central—and usually most expensive—component of a bike is its frame. Frames should be lightweight, durable, rigid (so you won’t dissipate energy bending the frame, rather than moving the bike), and able to dampen vibration from road or trail. Frames vary in quality according to what they’re made of and how they’re put together. 

The least expensive bicycles—generally found only in department stores, discount stores, and other outlets that don’t specialize in bikes—are made of low-carbon or carbon steel. Low-carbon steel bikes tend to be very heavy, around 35 to 45 pounds. Their main virtue is price: sometimes under $100. 

Chromoly, a lighter, stronger, more high-tech version of carbon steel that was at one time the predominant material in the mid- to high-end bike market, has been replaced by other metals. 

One of them is aluminum. Although not nearly as strong as a good steel, aluminum is much lighter than steel. Aluminum tubes can have thicker walls or larger diameters than steel tubes without weighing more. And because small increases in diameter greatly increase a tube’s strength, larger-diameter aluminum tubes can be as strong as smaller-diameter steel tubes. In addition, aluminum frames usually create a stiffer ride than steel frames. Aluminum is now commonly used in lower-middle- and mid-priced bikes. 

Titanium is also available in some high-end road bikes and ATBs. Like aluminum, titanium frames are lighter than steel but just as strong. And titanium flexes so well while maintaining its shape that it can be incorporated into designs that allow the metal itself to act as a shock absorber. And while titanium frames are also generally more durable than aluminum frames, these benefits come with a very high price tag. 

The ultimate frame material is carbon fiber, which is made from strands of light, strong metal fibers bound together with resin. Modern carbon-fiber designs create very tough, very light, very expensive bike frames. 

Among the different frame materials, there is no outright winner. Extremely high quality frames can be made from carbon fiber, titanium, aluminum, and even high-quality steel alloy. The keys to making the best choice are the specific ways materials are treated and assembled, your riding preferences, and price. 

Rims and Tires 

After the frame, wheels are a bike’s most important components. Like the frame, rims can be made of many types of metals, with similar tradeoffs between weight, strength, performance, and price. 

Tires should let you expend as little energy as possible to propel the bicycle. The less tire surface meeting the road, the less friction. Hard tires with slick treads require less energy than soft tires with “nubby” treads. Accordingly, you’ll travel fastest with the least effort on narrow, hard, low-tread tires. Unfortunately, these kinds of tires are the least comfortable, least durable, and least protective of rims, and provide the least traction on rough terrain. 

The most expensive tires are manufactured to be very light and have high pressure ratings. Lighter tires inflated to a high air pressure let you accelerate relatively easily because the tire has low rotating mass and loses relatively little energy in flexing the sidewalls of the tire. The downside of lightweight high-pressure tires is that they are more easily punctured and provide less traction and rougher rides over bumpy terrain than heavier tires. 

Gear Options 

The advantage of a bicycle with 18 or more speeds over one- or three-speed bikes is that riders can adjust them to the terrain. To limit fatigue and muscle and joint stress, cyclists try to maintain a constant pedaling rate. The higher number of gears makes this easier to accomplish. 

Gear ratios are described in terms of gear-inches. Lower numbers mean easier pedaling. Most moderately priced touring bicycles let the rider select ratios from 40 to 100 gear-inches. Bicycles designed for well-conditioned racers generally have gearing between 55 and 110 gear-inches. Gearing on all-terrain bikes often ranges from about 25 gear-inches to more than 100 gear-inches. 

The actual number of gear positions available depends on whether the bike has two or three chainrings (gear sprockets by the pedals) and whether it has six, seven, eight, or nine chain cogs on the freewheel (at the rear wheel hub). Two chainring positions and seven freewheel positions produce a 14-speed (2x7) bike; three chainring positions and seven freewheel positions produce a 21-speed (3x7) bike. 

Other Features 

There are many other features to look for on bikes: seats gel-padded for comfort; a quick release lever (good for quick adjustment with changing terrain on off-road bikes but easy to steal); pedals with toe-clips or clipless attachment mechanisms to increase pedaling efficiency; handlebar width and whether they are drop type or upright; etc. You can learn more about what to look for by visiting cycling websites, talking with other bikers, consulting bike store personnel, and looking at bikes and accessories in stores. 

Get the Right Fit 

Armed with basic knowledge about bike types and features, you are ready to shop for specific bikes that fit your needs and your body. One of a bike store’s main services is to guide you to the right bike and then adjust it to fit. If a bike doesn’t fit, you’ll never feel very comfortable riding it. While fitting can usually be done while you are sitting on the bike, some stores use special fitting stands. 

Because bikers have different preferences, test ride your bike to make sure you feel comfortable on it. Below are some guidelines for getting a good fit. 

The first step is to get a frame that’s the proper height. To find this by eye, a salesperson will ask you to straddle the frame. The rule of thumb is that bikes that will be used only on roads should have one or two inches of clearance between the top tube and the rider’s crotch; the clearance for off-road bikes should be three or four inches or more. 

Next, check the fore-aft position and height of the saddle by having someone hold the bike, or by placing it in a stand and then checking the position of your legs as you move the pedals. For most bikers, it’s best to have the saddle set so that the lower part of the leg is vertical when the front pedal is halfway up; if this can’t be achieved by moving the saddle forward or backward on its tracks, a frame with a different configuration may be required. Generally, saddle height should not permit the thigh to come up to horizontal at the top of the pedal stroke and allow the leg to be just slightly bent at the bottom of the stroke when pedaling. 

With the seat in position, put your hands in place on the handlebars. Recreational riders should not feel too bent over. To ride for speed, you should be able to lean farther forward, with your weight nearer the center of the bike, but your arms should still be relaxed and your body shouldn’t feel overly stretched. If you feel too stretched or too upright, check whether replacing the handlebar stem could give you a more comfortable reach; some shops will provide a replacement stem at no charge. New riders should keep in mind that they may want to bend over more aggressively as they become more experienced. They should be wary of getting a bike that requires a very long stem extension to give them an adequate length of reach at the time of purchase. If a bike can’t be set up to provide a comfortable reach, try a different frame. 

Finally, check the position and width of the handlebars. Although riders should be able to raise them at least as high as the seat, speed-oriented riders usually want to set them lower. Handlebar width should correspond to shoulder width. Wider bars make breathing easier and enhance control, but can create problems when ATBs are ridden in the woods. 

Try Before You Buy 

More important than all the other information you can collect about a bike is simply how it feels when you ride it. Don’t purchase a bike until you’ve had thorough test rides on several. For each bike, have the store’s salesperson fit you properly. Then observe carefully the smoothness of the ride, the bike’s responsiveness, how comfortable your body feels, the bike’s stability, and how easy it is to control, shift, and brake. Tell the salespersons what you like and dislike, and let them make adjustments or suggest another bike that may suit you better. 

Test several bikes to get a realistic idea of how good a ride can be. Even experienced riders need to get some perspective on the current market, which offers much better bikes than were available at similar prices just a few years ago. Test a wide price range. You may find that you can get a thoroughly satisfactory bike for much less than you expected. 

Buy from the Right Shop 

A good bike shop can provide immense help selecting and maintaining a bike, beginning when you first start shopping and throughout the time you ride the bike you purchase. 

Helping You Choose a Bike 

You want to deal with shops that offer good advice on selection and fit, serve you promptly and pleasantly without condescension, and have a variety of bikes and accessories conveniently available to examine and test. 

Our Ratings Tables report how area outlets were rated by area consumers (primarily CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers) on “advice on choice and use of products,” “promptness of service,” “staff attitudes/atmosphere,” “ease of looking at/testing products,” “reliability,” and “overall quality.” It shows the percent of each store’s customers who rated it “superior” (as opposed to “adequate” or “inferior”). (Our customer survey and other research methods are described further here.) As you can see, there were substantial differences in ratings. On the “advice” question, for example, scores ranged from 15 percent for Chelmsford Cyclery to more than 95 percent for Dedham Bike and Norwood Bicycle Depot. 

Assembly, Adjustment, and Repair 

Your satisfaction with your bike depends as much on skillful assembly and adjustment as on the bike itself. 

Bike retailers are responsible for final assembly and adjustment. When bikes arrive from the factory, some components are not yet attached and others are just that—attached. If shop mechanics do no more than attach the remaining parts, you wouldn’t be able to ride the bike: Brake pads might not contact rims, for example, and you might not be able to shift into all the gears. 

Any shop will assemble and adjust the bike so you can ride out using all the gears; that typically takes about 45 minutes. But a great shop will do much more—possibly spending two to four hours on assembly. 

Consider, for example, the wheels. A mediocre shop will make sure wheels don’t wobble from side to side. A better shop will also eliminate any up-and-down hop. A truly top-quality shop will precision-center the rim on the axle so the bike tracks well; adjust spoke tension so the wheel wears evenly; and adjust hub bearings, make sure they are adequately greased, and lock in the adjustments with the locknuts. 

Adequate and top-quality shops similarly differ in the way they prepare the shifting system, steering mechanism, cranks, and brakes, and align the frame. 

While our data doesn’t specifically identify shops that do the best preparation work, our Ratings Tables show ratings of repair work by surveyed customers. Several shops were rated “superior” for “doing work properly” by at least 85 percent of their surveyed repair-work customers. Shops with high-quality repair operations are good prospects for top-quality bike preparation. 

Almost all bike shops offer a period of free adjustments after sales. Many offer free adjustments for the life of the bicycle, while others limit them to one year, six months, or less. Your bike will almost certainly need adjustments after initial use—and a shop with a good reputation for repairs is likely to do this work carefully. 

Reliability 

Find a shop that will not only help you pick out a good bike but also do everything it promises. If it has to order the size or model you need or do extra prep work, you need to be confident that it will deliver. If it promises you a year of free adjustments and to promptly repair any product defects, you want to be sure it means what it says. 

Our customer survey ratings on “reliability” and “promptness” of repair service provide insight on such questions. 

Price 

Along with quality of service, price is another important factor. Unlike most retail businesses, however, prices for new bicycles vary little from store to store. Because bike manufacturers maintain strict pricing controls over retailers, even a $5 difference for major name brands is rare. 

On the other hand, the market for bike components and accessories—ranging from handlebars to clothing to car-top carriers—is less stringent, with some stores charging half as much as their competition for a particular item. 

The price index scores on our Ratings Tables show how each shop’s prices for a sample of accessories compared to the all-store average prices for the same accessories. We’ve adjusted the scores so that the average across all stores equals $100. A price index score of $110, for example, means a shop’s accessories cost 10 percent above average. 

Online and mail-order sellers offer an important alternative for components and accessories. Table 1 shows how prices from a sampling of online retailers compared to the average prices at local shops. The items at local shops, on average, cost about 15 percent more than at the average online store. With expenditures on components and accessories representing close to 50 percent of bike-store volume, the online alternative can produce considerable savings—as long as you can install and adjust your own equipment. 

We don’t recommend buying bikes by mail order or online. Take advantage of a local store’s expertise with fitting and adjustments. 

Table 1—How Prices for Accessories at Local Stores Compare to Online Retailers’ Prices

How Prices for Accessories at Local Stores Compare to Online Retailers’ PricesKryptonite U-Lock–Evolution series 4 standard model #999348Topeak JoeBlow Ace floor pump model #TJB-ACEGiro Indicator Sport helmetYakima SuperJoe 2 bike trunk mount rack model 8002616NiteRider Lumina 500 headlightSelle Italia Lady Gel-Flow seat, standard sizeKinetic by Kurt Road Machine indoor trainer model #T-002ICatEye Strada double wireless cyclocomputer model #CC-RD400DWMinimum order to get free shipping
Lowest prices quoted by area bicycle shops$40$89$40$80$94$119$315$90 
Average prices quoted by area bicycle shops$70$145$42$101$114$147$355$103 
Highest prices quoted by area bicycle shops$100$190$45$125$150$169$410$130 
Airbomb—www.airbomb.com $135 $95$93$112  $149
Alfred E Bike—www.aebike.com$54$120 $95$102$107$339$90$75
Amazon—www.amazon.com $96$32$67$84 $339$87$25
Back Country—www.backcountry.com   $113$110 $370$100$50
Bike Nashbar—www.nashbar.com   $95   $90Varies
BikeSomeWhere.com—www.bikesomewhere.com$63$104$30$86$93$125$340$90$50
Cambria Bike—www.cambriabike.com   $80$93$112 $90$49
Colorado Cyclist—www.coloradocyclist.com      $340$92No free shipping
Excel Sports—www.excelsports.com $95  $110$110$330$69No free shipping
Modern Bike—www.modernbike.com$55$85 $95$93$110$339$76Varies
Moose Jaw—www.moosejaw.com   $85    $49
Performance Bike—www.performancebike.com  $35 $110$120$340$90No free shipping
Price Point—www.pricepoint.com    $110$115$340$90No free shipping
REI—www.rei.com$75 $40 $110$149$339$100$50
Richard’s Bicycles—www.rbikes.com$75$150$40$95$150$150  No free shipping
Sunrise Cyclery—www.sunrisecyclery.com $108    $339$115$50

Getting Reliable Repairs 

Unfortunately, even the perfect bike is likely to require occasional repairs, tune-ups, and adjustments. 

Except for the free adjustments offered with purchases, you don’t have to go to the store where you bought the bike for repairs. The customer survey ratings on our Ratings Tables can help you find a good repair shop. In addition, our Ratings Tables provide repair service price index scores that, like the price index scores for bicycle accessories, show how a sample of each shop’s prices compared to the average shop’s prices. Differences in repair prices are larger (in percentage terms) than differences in prices for new bikes or accessories (see Table 2). 

Table 2—Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted by Bike Shops for Illustrative Repair Jobs

Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted by Bike Shops for Illustrative Repair Jobs
Description of jobLow priceAverage price High price
Complete overhaul/tune-up on a 2005 Cannondale Adventure 800 mountain bike$130$211$274
Basic/general tune-up on a 2009 Bianchi Veloce Mix Compact road bike$30$67$90
Replace the derailleurs on a 2008 Trek 2.3 road bike$105$206$260
Rebuild the rear wheel on a 2008 Specialized Rockhopper mountain bike$144$187$260


Go to Ratings of 29 Boston Area Bicycle Repair/Stores Back to top