How to buy a bike (part 1)

As anyone who has ever found themselves in the fortunate position of shopping for a new bike will confirm, this glorious state of affairs can easily descend into a dangerous spiral of self-doubt and indecision. With a whole world of bikes to go at  you could, if things go badly, end up with a bike that you don’t love, for any number of complex reasons.

You may even find yourself the proud new owner of a bike which you like a little bit less than the one you bought it to replace; not one of the world’s great pressing issues admittedly, but sad, in it’s own small way.

What follows is Part 1 of my guide to the kind of questions you need to find answers to before maxxing out the credit-card, dipping into the life savings, or leaping willingly into the open arms of a 0% finance credit agreement with your local bike shop.

Bike Shop - have you thought this through? (Image: www.geograph.ie - CC)
Bike Shop – have you thought this through?
(Image: http://www.geograph.ie – CC)

Is there an indefinable reason why I want it?

If you’re shopping for a three grand bike, you’re entitled to assume that all the bikes you’re considering buying are well above acceptable standards of quality.

So what’s the tie-breaker?

When you’ve satisfied your head that a particular bike is the piece of finely crafted art (or lump of carbon fibre, depending on how pretentious you are) to spend your money on, how do you separate it from all the other racy little numbers which have managed to turn your head?

In other words: once you’ve convinced your head, how do you convince your heart?

The answer is…you don’t.

It’s either the bike you want, or it isn’t, and no amount of mental gymnastics will change that simple fact. It’s like DNA, the Ten Commandments, or the UCI pro-cycling road race ranking system; pre-coded, set in stone, and difficult to explain.

The trick is that once you’ve whittled down a whole internet full of bikes into to the four or five you’ve deemed worthy of blowing your savings on, simply disregard all others and jot the chosen few down in a list (use pictures too, if it helps). Next, imagine what It would feel like to own each one of them in turn.

At the same time, imagine spotting all the others, as owned by the friend/enemy of your choice, lined up outside your favourite café.

Which one of this gallery of dream machines would, in the knowledge that it was owned by someone else other than you, provoke little pangs of jealousy?

Go and buy that one.

Wilier Zero 7 - this could be the one! (Image: glorycycles - Flickr CC)
Wilier Zero 7 – this could be the one!
(Image: glorycycles – Flickr CC)

Does anyone else own it?

When a new bike catches your eye and becomes logged as a possible purchase, this is the next question that requires an answer.

I’m no bike snob (well, OK, maybe a little), but I don’t want to own the same bike as a friend, family member, or even that fella who stops mid-ride at the same café as me riding that rather swish Italian number.

Suppose you own identical bikes and said friend, family member or casual acquaintance proves to be a far more talented rider than you (without the mitigating factor of the mis-matched quality of bikes you are riding). Or perhaps they’ll prove to be far more adept at maintaining the bike in pristine shop floor condition, making you look sloppy and amateurish.

They might even, dare I say it, look better on the bike than you.

Different bikes provide vital room for manoeuvre when it comes to all manner of potentially embarrassing comparisons; as long as you’re never comparing apples with apples (or Colnago’s with Colnago’s, perhaps), an explanation can always be found.

But there’s also the simple matter of style and originality.

If every man and his dog owns a Giant TCR – and why not; any number of reviews will tell you they are fantastic products – do you really want one?

Could you really love one?

I think i could love a DeRosa Merak (Image: 21begun via Wikimedia CC)
I think I could love a DeRosa Merak
(Image: 21begun via Wikimedia CC)

Can I afford the matching kit?

If you’re anything like me, any piece of cycling kit you’ve bought in recent years has been purchased in line with your current colour scheme of choice.

If you have a red and black bike, the vast majority of your kit will no doubt be red, or black, or red and black. Occasionally you can get away with a bit of flouro yellow, or white will obviously work fine, but something different – sky blue, perhaps, or bottle green – is all but impossible to simply slot into the cycling wardrobe.

On this basis if I go ahead and buy a new bike in royal blue, or orange, for example (just for the record, I won’t be buying an orange bike, I’m just making a point), I would immediately have to budget for an entire new colour scheme of new kit.

Depending on your point of view (and the depth of your wallet) this is either a huge inconvenience, or a fantastic opportunity.

I’m not suggesting that it’s not a good idea to buy a new bike in a completely new and as yet uncoordinated colour scheme, just that there are financial (and wardrobe enhancing) implications.

Or is this why everyone ends up wearing black?

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11 comments

  1. quite right about the love thing – if it’s got two wheels and somewhere to put your squash bottle the rest is just detail – as bruce lee once said, although possibly not when discussing cycling, when buying a bike it is definitely a case of ‘don’t think, feeeel!’

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  2. Oh, go on, get an orange bike! I keep hearing that orange is the new black! (Which I take it to mean that it goes with everything.) 🙂

    And, no, you would not want the same bike as a friend, family member or an acquaintance. Or, at least, not the same colour scheme.

    So, we’re back mulling an orange bike, aren’t we!

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  3. I’m only just getting into cycling, but I’ve been a musician all my life. I feel it’s almost a bit like choosing a guitar… sometimes you buy something knowing it’s probably not the best thing you could get for the money, but just because you almost fall in love with the thing. Any suggestions of a good beginner bike though for around £400?

    On a side note, Mike Franchetti, our head cycling contributor at thesportspace.org has recently written a post on the five best cyclists of all time. We would love to hear your opinion on the topic here:

    http://thesportspace.org/2014/11/26/five-of-the-best-classics-riders-in-cycling-history/

    Thanks, and happy writing!

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    • Thanks Ollie. £400 budget? Thats pretty tricky. Personally i would try and pick up a decent 2nd hand bike for that, which is ok only if you know what you’re looking for. With a new bike at that price you’re really compromised around the quality you’ll be able to find. Best advice is probably try and spend a little bit more and avoid the major brands where you are paying a bit extra for the name. In the uk, something like an alloy framed Ribble perhaps, or a Mekk, which i hear feature good quality frames and decent upgrade potential.

      Thanks for pointing me towards the best classics riders piece, ill definately take a look at that.

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