Road bikes.
Mountain bikes.
City bikes.
Track bikes.

You want to buy a new bike, but don’t know where to start. A good bike shop can assess your needs and steer you to the right model at the right price. Our ratings of local bike shops will help get you cranking—including ratings for repair service, in case you want to fix a bike you already own. We also provide some background info to help you make good choices.

Getting Help Choosing 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”). (Click here for further description of our customer survey and other research methods.) As you can see, there were substantial differences in ratings.

Getting a Proper Fit

One of a bike store’s main services is to adjust your new bike 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. Here are some guidelines for getting a good fit:

  • Check the size of the frame. 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.
  • Check the position and height of the saddle by placing the bike in a stand and then checking the position of your legs as you move the pedals. For most riders, 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 should allow the leg to be just slightly bent at the bottom of the stroke when pedaling.
  • Check your reach. 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. 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.
  • 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 mountain bikes are ridden in the woods.

Getting to Try Before You Buy

More important than all the other information you can collect, advice from salespersons, and fit is simply how it feels when you ride it. Don’t purchase a bike until you’ve taken 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 bikes in a wide price range. You may find that you can get a thoroughly satisfactory bike for much less than you expected.

Getting a Good Build and Adjustments

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 slap on the remaining parts, the bike won’t work: 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 ratings don’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 90 percent of their surveyed repair-work customers. Because most shops use the same mechanics to assemble bikes as to repair them, it’s reasonable to assume that 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.

Getting a Good 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 $25 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. You’ll find even lower prices for accessories online.

We don’t recommend buying bikes online. Take advantage of a local store’s expertise with fitting and adjustments. Note that even if you do buy online, because the major manufacturers don’t allow online-only stores to sell bikes you’ll just end up getting redirected to a local store for the purchase and assembly. (For example, if you select and buy a bike on Trek’s website, your sale is finalized by one of its local dealers.) You may as well place your order through a local shop of your choice.

Finding a Spin Doctor

Unfortunately, even the perfect bike is likely to require occasional repairs and tune-ups. The customer survey ratings on our Ratings Tables for repairwork can help you find a good shop.

To make sure you don’t get taken for a ride, ou Ratings Tables also provide repair service price comparison scores. These scores show how each shop’s prices for four jobs compared to the average prices of all surveyed shops. The scores are adjusted to a base of $100. Thus a shop with a price comparison score of $110 had prices 10 percent higher than the average of all shops’ prices for the same jobs.

As indicated on the table below, although you won’t find big shop-to-shop price differences for new-bike sales, you will find very large price differences should you need repairs.

Our Undercover Shoppers Were Quoted Big Price Differences by Shops for the Same Work*
Description of job Low price Average High price
Complete overhaul/tune-up on a 2012 Trek Ion cyclocross bike $168 $245 $317
Basic/general tune-up on a 2009 Bianchi Veloce Mix Compact road bike $45 $68 $100
Replace the derailleurs on a 2011 Scott CR1 Elite road bike $118 $147 $185
Rebuild the cassette and chain on a 2013 Motobecane Le CHampion Ti Inferno road bike $125 $174 $215
* The descriptions of repairs are summaries; shops were given additional, detailed instructions. Although our researchers attempted to get quotes for exactly the same job from each shop, in some cases shops may have intended to do different work or use different parts.