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 its 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
readjustmentspreferably 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. Weve found
that prices for accessories from online/mail-order sellersbut not for
new bikesare often lower than prices at local stores.
If you dont 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
One look at your rusty 15-year-old bike and you decide its 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 thats right for you but doesnt break your
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.
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
In general, the more you plan to ride and to compete, the more the bike
The brief descriptions of bike types below might help, but youll need
to get hands-on experience to appreciate the differences by visiting bike
shops, trying friends bikes, or renting 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 versionsoften with smoother, narrower tires
for easier pedaling on road surfacesare 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
cant be pedaled as efficiently as touring bikes.
Road bikes have tires that are often less than an inch wide and pumped
to a very high pressure, drop (rams 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 arent suitable for rough terrain.
Still, some bolder cyclists love a road bikes ability to travel vast stretches
of open road at high speeds.
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
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
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 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.
In addition to deciding what type of bike you want, youll 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 whats
available is to visit several bike shops, but well touch on a few of the
major considerations here.
The centraland usually most expensivecomponent of a bike is its frame.
Frames should be lightweight, durable, rigid (so you wont 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 theyre made
of and how theyre put together.
The least expensive bicyclesgenerally found only in department stores,
discount stores, and other outlets that dont specialize in bikesare 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 tubes 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,
After the frame, wheels are a bikes 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, youll 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.
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
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.
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
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 stores main services is to guide you to the right bike and then adjust
it to fit. If a bike doesnt fit, youll 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 thats 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 riders 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, its 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 cant 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 shouldnt 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 cant 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.
More important than all the other information you can collect about a bike
is simply how it feels when you ride it. Dont purchase a bike until youve
had thorough test rides on several. For each bike, have the stores salesperson
fit you properly. Then observe carefully the smoothness of the ride, the
bikes responsiveness, how comfortable your body feels, the bikes 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.
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.
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 stores 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 47 percent for Performance Bicycle
on Halsted Street in Chicago to more than 95 percent for Koslow Cycle in
Lombard, Wheels of Northbrook Bicycle Shop, and Zion Cyclery.
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 thatattached. If shop mechanics do no more than attach
the remaining parts, you wouldnt 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 morepossibly spending two to four hours on assembly.
Consider, for example, the wheels. A mediocre shop will make sure wheels
dont 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
While our data doesnt 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 useand a shop with a good reputation for
repairs is likely to do this work carefully.
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.
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 accessoriesranging
from handlebars to clothing to car-top carriersis less stringent, with
some stores charging half as much as their competition for a particular
The price index scores on our Ratings Tables show how each shops prices
for a sample of accessories compared to the all-store average prices for
the same accessories. Weve adjusted the scores so that the average across
all stores equals $100. A price index score of $110, for example, means
a shops 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
savingsas long as you can install and adjust your own equipment.
We dont recommend buying bikes by mail order or online. Take advantage
of a local stores expertise with fitting and adjustments.
|How Prices for Accessories at Local Stores Compare to Online Retailers’ Prices||Kryptonite U-Lock–Evolution series 4 standard model #999348||Topeak JoeBlow Ace floor pump model #TJB-ACE||Giro Indicator Sport helmet||Yakima SuperJoe 2 bike trunk mount rack model 8002616||NiteRider Lumina 500 headlight||Selle Italia Lady Gel-Flow seat, standard size||Kinetic by Kurt Road Machine indoor trainer model #T-002I||CatEye Strada double wireless cyclocomputer model #CC-RD400DW||Minimum order to get free shipping|
|Lowest prices quoted by area bicycle shops||$49||$100||$35||$70||$90||$100||$299||$59|| |
|Average prices quoted by area bicycle shops||$72||$141||$43||$100||$115||$143||$362||$103|| |
|Highest prices quoted by area bicycle shops||$83||$180||$69||$130||$150||$170||$459||$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|| || || ||$90||Varies|
|Cambria Bike—www.cambriabike.com|| || || ||$80||$93||$112|| ||$90||$49|
|Colorado Cyclist—www.coloradocyclist.com|| || || || || || ||$340||$92||No free shipping|
|Excel Sports—www.excelsports.com|| ||$95|| || ||$110||$110||$330||$69||No free shipping|
|Modern Bike—www.modernbike.com||$55||$85|| ||$95||$93||$110||$339||$76||Varies|
|Moose Jaw—www.moosejaw.com|| || || ||$85|| || || || ||$49|
|Performance Bike—www.performancebike.com|| || ||$35|| ||$110||$120||$340||$90||No free shipping|
|Price Point—www.pricepoint.com|| || || || ||$110||$115||$340||$90||No 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|
Unfortunately, even the perfect bike is likely to require occasional repairs,
tune-ups, and adjustments.
Except for the free adjustments offered with purchases, you dont 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 shops prices compared to the average shops
prices. Differences in repair prices are larger (in percentage terms) than
differences in prices for new bikes or accessories (see Table 2).
|Description of job||Low price||Average price|| High price|
|Complete overhaul/tune-up on a 2005 Cannondale Adventure 800 mountain bike||$151||$229||$324|
|Basic/general tune-up on a 2009 Bianchi Veloce Mix Compact road bike||$52||$75||$109|
|Replace the derailleurs on a 2008 Trek 2.3 road bike||$170||$228||$290|
|Rebuild the rear wheel on a 2008 Specialized Rockhopper mountain bike||$144||$188||$259|