7 Steps to Buying a Bike on a Budget
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Before opening Bike Friday in 1992, Co-Founder Alan Scholz owned and operated a few bike shops, and spent time as a national level racer. Here are his expert tips on how to spend your money wisely when buying a bike.]
By Alan Scholz
Here are the basics I learned long ago about buying a bike on a budget, in order of importance.
1. Make sure you get a good frame in the right size. Get help making sure the frame fits your body by someone who is knowledgeable about fitting. Look for the best frame you can afford for the right type of riding you plan to do. Nothing else matters as much if you are on a budget. Everything else can be upgraded later if you are short on funds. Good designers, cyclists, and shop employees know this. It’s a good test of their basic knowledge.
2. Ride the saddle if it came with the bike just long enough to see if you can put up with it. If the bike does not come with saddle and pedals, thank the designer. That means they invested that money into the frame and wheels for you! Get a saddle that works for you — it is worth the individual focus. Price and weight are not good criteria to use to choose a saddle. You need to test ride a number of saddles and buy one that is acceptable.
After you have been riding a while, you will be ready to trade up to a better saddle. When your butt is new to cycling, an acceptable saddle is as good as it gets. When you can ride 15-25 miles a day regularly get a nice saddle if you feel you need a different shape. Don’t believe anyone who says “this is a men’s saddle, or this is a women’s saddle.” Get one that fits and feels good. Ignore the rest.
3. If you can afford it, get a good set of wheels. After getting a frame that fits, wheels that are relatively light will give you by far the most bang for your buck.
4. If you are pushing your budget, buy cheap heavy tires. You will be replacing tires eventually, and then you can get some good tires. Wearing out tires will happen sooner than you think. That’s when you can buy better tires. You will be best served to really enjoy your bike, although frame and wheels will do the most toward that goal.
5. Next change your steel stuff out for entry level alloy if you must limit funds. Steel chainrings, brakes, seatposts, and derailleurs are a dead give away that they are sub-standard for someone who wants to be a real rider and can afford more than the minimum frame and wheels. They may work fine but they were put there to save money and they are heavy. Your motor cannot be changed. Weight matters. Used parts are often a good choice, but you need to really know parts design. Brand is not always a clear indicator. Ask a knowledgeable friend or expert consultant.
6. If your ship has come in, you can be picky but not arrogant about parts and prices. People who ”buy” into the sport usually do not become good nor happy cyclists. The most pricey and light gear will not perform for you out of the box if you have not already gained top level skills to utilize and appreciate them. From the experience in my shop days starting hundreds of folks to cycling, it takes as a minimum, three progressively better bikes as an adult to get to the top level, best for you. It doesn’t matter how much money you have.
7. Full Custom is usually not available or understandable to you until the third level of bike and thousands of miles. Small custom builders must charge 2-5 times as much as off the shelf mass produced bikes. If you do not know that they still mostly make less than minimum wages doing so, you will not appreciate their output anyway. Your best choice then is to buy an off the shelf imported bike and think you got a good deal. All small manufacturing concerns, one person to 60 people are squeezed by this math. Imports are cheaper because the factories are larger and they have the economies of scale. But they often also practice a lack of respect for good design that a small custom builder will have. Inexpensive or dear, a bike can serve you well if you take the time to choose. Take a ride with the local bike club and you will find there are far more important skills than a full wallet to keep up.