This past month represents my 7 year anniversary of buying my first “real” bike. Although there was that time in 7th grade when I used the money I earned from processing chickens with my Grandma all summer to buy a purple Huffy 10 speed, that bike wasn’t sufficient to race on 10 plus years later. I believe that’s a story for later.
1. Find a good local bike shop (LBS). Even if you decide to scrounge Craigslist or find a steal on EBay, you cannot underestimate the value of establishing a good relationship with your LBS. First of all, in order to even consider looking somewhere else, you need to know what size you are which requires that someone take your measurements. Sizes often vary by manufacturer and individual model, so having your measurements will help to ensure you buy a bike that fits you properly. That being said, I’m a huge proponent of buying your first bike through your local bike shop. It’s a great way to establish a relationship with people you can ask questions later on. I had a ton of questions after I bought my first bike, and my LBS never treated me like I was stupid.
3. Consider buying a road bike over a tri bike as your initial purchase. Yes, tri bikes look faster, and there are definite advantages to using a tri bike, but most beginners won’t honestly notice a difference. Tri bikes tend to be a bit more expensive and aren’t as forgiving with respect to gear ratios as road bikes – an important fact to consider since most beginners don’t have powerhouse legs. You can always buy a pair of clip-on aero bars (usually around $50-100) down the road.
4. Take a look at last year’s model. This time of year, many bike shops have a few models left over from the previous year and are looking to clear them out of inventory. You can usually save several hundred dollars by buying the previous year’s model new. Your salesperson should be able to tell you the difference between the years. While occasionally there’s a major upgrade, often the differences are minor, such as color or decal changes.
5. Know which accessories are essential. You’ll need at least one water bottle cage (maybe 2), a portable bike pump or CO2 pump, a spare tube, tire levers, a patch kit, a helmet, a floor pump, a small pack to hold your emergency supplies, a multitool, and the knowledge of how to change a flat. At least one pair of bike shorts are probably a must – trust me on this one. I would also argue that toe cages are a must if you aren’t buying bike shoes and clipless pedals right off the bat. Some bikes come with them, but if the one you are eyeing doesn’t, your LBS may be willing to add them for free. I used toe cages with my running shoes for the first few months I had my bike. Although they aren’t as efficient as bike shoes, they allow you to take advantage of the full pedal stroke. Keep in mind that you don’t have to buy all of these accessories from your LBS. You can often find great deals on these small items online.
6. Know which accessories can wait a few months if your budget is really tight. You can get by for a little while without a bike computer, especially if you already have a Garmin. Websites like Mapmyride.com can at least show you the distance you’ve traveled. Bike shoes and clipless pedals are something to look at soon after getting your bike, but as mentioned above, you can get by pretty easily with just toe cages (unless you have really big feet). I actually liked getting to know the handling of my bike before locking my feet into position and having to learn clipping in and out.
7. Know which accessories you can save up for after your credit card cools off. Aero bars are definitely nice. They offer improved aerodynamics and comfort, but they can wait a little while. If you do buy a tri bike, you’re already covered here. Bike jerseys are great. You can often find them on clearance, and the pockets are really helpful for longer rides. However, you can get by with an athletic shirt that doesn’t flap in the wind if you need to.
Good luck on your search for your new bike or in helping a friend find one!