So you’ve decided to buy a bike for getting around town, but where do you start? New or used? Online or at your local bike shop? Which bike!? People are asking me these questions all the time, and every time it involves too many messages and complications. Strap in and get ready for a simple guide of for all the different ways to buy a commuter bike.
What Kind of Bicycle Do You Need?
I could talk all day about all the different kind of bicycles, but here are a few commute worthy versions. Usually I tell friends to get a hybrid bike since it’s the most versatile (mentioned at the end of this list). Bikes Online also has great categorization of their bike offerings that you can check out. If you plan to ride with other people, it’s good to have the same type of bike so you’ll go similar speeds.
- Commute is short and not too hilly? Get an upright dutch-style or other “city/urban” bike. I ride my Public C7 around San Francisco and it is so chill. The 7 speed gear cluster with a super low gear allows me to tackle San Francisco hills with ease, although maybe I’m just used to it (and I know the low elevation routes!).
- Wanna go fast? Get a road bike, but make sure you get a version that can handle a rear rack for carrying stuff…otherwise you may leave it at home the moment you have a real errand to run. I go much faster on my road bike and have an easier time going up hills, but it comes at a cost of less comfort if I’m trying to ride chill.
- Have a lot of rough roads or wanna hit the trail on your commute? Get a gravel bike or a mountain bike. If the trail is really rough a bike with suspension will help.
- Serious hills to climb? Get an e-bike. Big long hills should no longer be an obstacle preventing you from riding a bike to and from your house. Get an e-bike and cruise up those big hills! Ride1Up & RadPowerBikes are some of the best value e-bikes, but you can likely find nicer pricier ones at your local bike shop or at Bikes Online.
- Can’t decide? Get a hybrid bike/fitness bike. These bikes aren’t really road bikes, aren’t really upright bikes, and aren’t really mountain bikes, but they do ok at all of that (except real mountain biking they don’t do well at that). This is often the bike type I recommend to people if I don’t know their specific situations. Wirecutter recommends the Marin Fairfax 1 as their top pick for a hybrid commuter bike.
And a few things to note as you buy a bicycle:
- Weight really doesn’t matter that much except for carrying your bike up stairs.
- Don’t worry about gender specific bikes. If it feels right a bike is a bike.
- Thinner tires won’t make you go faster.
- Wheel size doesn’t matter that much.
- Rim brakes may not be as nice as disc brakes, but they still work. I have them on all my bicycles, and yes I ride in the rain 🌧 and the snow ❄️.
Should I Buy a Used or New Bicycle?
I always recommend a browse of the used market first to see if the perfect bicycle is already out there set up and waiting for you. You can get great value from used bikes, here’s why:
- The bike has depreciated from its new price with no loss in utility value.
- The bike has already been broken in, so no need to worry about manufacturing defects or any extra maintenance as the components settle into place.
- Used bikes can have a lot of “extras” that people have added to the bike that add up to be worth a lot of $$$. Think rear rack and/or basket, bike lock, upgraded components, and even helmet, lights, and a bag if someone is selling the whole commuting outfit. (be wary of using a used helmet though)
- “New” things have more unseen consequences for the planet and society at large. If you can get what you need used, why not?
Of course sometimes a new bike has exactly what you’re looking for, is easy to purchase at stores or online, and can have better warranties and support, so go get a new bike if that’s what you want!
If you’re still not sure, I wrote a post on the pros and cons of used and new bicycles.
Where Do I Buy the Bike?
Buying Used Bikes
First off, you’ll want to know what size bike you need. Visit your local bike shop and have them help you with that, or there are some online resources.
- The easiest way to get a used bike is to go to a local bike shop that sells bikes on consignment (the shop selling bikes on behalf of individual sellers, taking some proceeds). You can easily take different bikes out for test rides and this guarantees you’ll have a quality, maintained used bike. If something breaks in the first week or so the shop will likely take care of it. An example of this is Columbus Cyclery in SF.
- Sometimes a company will be selling off a fleet of bicycles that it no longer needs. For example, I saw some bike rental companies selling off some of their fleet because of Covid. Usually there are a bunch of hybrid bikes up for grabs at cheap prices.
- Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, or any other used good marketplace.
- Bring a knowledgeable friend and/or prepare yourself on how to evaluate the used bike. Here are some good resources.
- Bicycle Blue Book can help you figure out a bike’s value, but these numbers are often inaccurate since upgraded components and high demand can push prices significantly higher (for good reason).
- Ebay also has local used bikes if you tweak your search settings.
- Don’t forget to ask your friends or some local bike groups if anyone has used bikes for sale. Some people might have something in their garage they’ve been too lazy to list!
When buying a used bike from an individual, make sure to check serial numbers against the bike index to make sure the bike isn’t stolen.
Buying New Bikes
With local bike shops, direct-to-consumer bikes, and other big retailers in the game, there are a lot of new bike options.
- The first place to look is your local bike shop or a reputable bike/outdoors retailer (like REI). You can meet some knowledgeable people who can help you find the right bike size, type, and everything else. Often the shop will offer free maintenance on a bike bought there, sometimes forever! Buying local also helps to keep these local bike shops existing into the future! Some things to watch out for:
- Not every local bike shop has a wide range of commute friendly bikes. Some shops are geared more towards recreational riding on a road or mountain bike, and don’t have many commuter friendly options. This is especially true in locales that aren’t yet bike friendly.
- If the shop is in an expensive neighborhood, the bike shops are likely paying high rent and high wages and may only be able to stock higher margin expensive bikes. This can limit the available selection, so if bikes at your local bike shop are out of your price range don’t get discouraged.
- If you’re looking for cheaper bikes, you can get a bike online direct-to-consumer via wholesale retailers or via the bike manufacturers directly. Any kind of bike bought online will require some assembly (and some don’t come with pedals!), so you’ll have to do that yourself or ask your local bike shop if they can help. Here’s a list of some websites to find direct-to-consumer bikes (some links are affiliate):
- Department stores and big box retailers like Walmart, Target, etc. are notorious for having cheap bicycles with cheap components, but they’re still bicycles! YouTuber KevCentral does big retailer bike reviews where you can learn more about his experience.
- Lastly I’ll mention Amazon, which has a mix of quality depending on what you’re buying, so read some reviews. (If you decide to buy on Amazon, using my Amazon affiliate link can help support Bike to Everything!)
When you’re buying cheaper bikes, know that they might be a good starter bike, but they could also make you hate biking if they break down easily or aren’t the right size!
There are many choices and many decisions to make when buying a bicycle. Talk it over with your friends and remember you can always sell it and try a different bike. Over time, you may find you need more than one bike depending on what you’re doing with it!
Once you get your new (maybe just for you) bike, make sure to get some good locking accessories so you don’t have to worry about your bike as you do your errands!
If you have more questions, post a question to the Bike to Everything facebook group!