Complete Beginner’s Bike Buying Guide
Buying a bike can be really difficult. If you are just starting out or haven’t used your bike in several years, the choice may seem endless. The purpose of this guide is to help prepare you to make the right decision and choose a bike that you will enjoy for many years to come.
1. Why are you buying a bicycle?
The number of different types of bicycles available on the market today is huge and incomparable to what was 10-20-30 years ago. Later in this article we’ll cover the different types of bikes available, but first you need to answer one very important question – why do you really want a bike? This is crucial for choosing the right bike for the type of riding you want to do.
When choosing the right bike, answer the following questions first:
What do I want to do on my bike?
Whether it’s a weekend ride with the kids, commuting to work, or joining your local cycling club, the answer to that question is crucial and paramount.
Where will I mainly ride?
Is it on the road (comfortable bicycle path, asphalt) or off-road? City streets, canal paths, and even the beach? There are many places you can take your bike with you, but having a clear idea of how you want to use it will help you determine what type of bike you need.
How much time / skills do I have to take care of the bike?
Expensive bikes have high operating costs, which is not an expensive investment if you plan to service them yourself, but it can become so if you always outsource service to a professional service. On the other hand, something like a single speed bicycle has far fewer moving parts and will require far less maintenance.
What’s your plan for 6 to 12 months?
It is worth thinking about the future. The extra amount may seem like a big expense now, but it’s cheaper than buying a bike twice. If you plan on getting in shape and riding further, make plans to get a bike that can handle it. If you just want to take your bike to the store, you probably won’t have to spend more money.
Choose a bike for yourself that goes beyond your needs and allows you to “grow up” with it. This will allow you to constantly improve your skills and reveal your full potential.
2. Setting the budget
Buying a bike can be a real challenge without a budget.
On the one hand, as we mentioned at the beginning, the number of types of bikes and manufacturers is now so large that without a strictly limited quota framework, we may end up spending much more on the bike than we assume.
Also remember that you will have to finance more than just a bike. Extra costs such as a helmet, water bottle, outfit or gloves can add up very quickly.
3. Choosing a bike
Once you’ve decided on your budget and thought about what kind of ride you want to use your bike for, the coolest part begins – choosing a bike.
There are truly a staggering number of options, and if you’re new to cycling, you might be surprised at how complicated it is.
Even if you have chosen the type of ride you are interested in, the choice is still very large (though narrowed down). Therefore, the most comprehensive part of the guide now begins.
a. Choosing a bike – types and styles
Here’s the most important decision you’re going to make: what type of bike do you need? This is not an easy choice as there are so many different types of bikes that sometimes overlap. In fact, you can do almost anything with any bike. It is not without reason that bikes are designed for specific tasks.
This section is about trying to get a bike that you will like on the one hand and that makes the most sense for the ride you want to do on the other.
When you start out, your decision is likely between three types: road, hybrid or mountain bike.
Using a simple analogy, we can try the following:
A mountain bike is a 4×4 all-terrain vehicle – large, safe tire, good suspension with shock absorbers, resistant to mud, but not so neat and fast on normal roads.
Hybrid is a typical D segment – it can do a bit of any kind. It will go both in the field (as well as for business, it will even do great) as well as on flat asphalt. However, if you decide to take it into the mountains or set it up for a race, it will turn out to be by no means perfect.
The road bike is the equivalent of a sports convertible or a sports coupe. It is fast, light, agile, and makes great turns on dry and flat asphalt. However, it is enough to leave the main road and problems begin.
Mountain bikes are designed to be ridden off-road. They usually have front suspension or full and wide, grippy tires.
– Suspension, front only (hardtail) or full suspension.
– Thick tires
– Flat handlebars
– Generally heavier than road / hybrid bikes due to suspension and greater durability in rough terrain
– They usually have motorcycle style disc brakes for better stopping in muddy conditions
– Lower gear for climbing steep slopes
– Off-road driving
Do not buy if:
– You do most of your driving on the road
– You want to buy a bike with suspension just for your convenience. While the bike can absorb a few shocks, you will lose a lot of the power you put on the pedals through the suspension and you will be riding a heavier bike which will make you slower and less comfortable.
– The different hand positions of a road bike are much more comfortable on the road than a mountain bike suspension.
There are other variations specific to certain riding styles that are listed under “other bikes”, but you are unlikely to buy them as your first purchase.
If you feel like most of your riding will be off-road with a bit of road (commuting, for example), you can buy mountain bikes with a lockable shock absorber. This can be a good compromise.
A hybrid bike is exactly what the name suggests, a meeting of two worlds of cycling. Hybrid bikes are built around a spectrum, some of which are much closer to road bikes and others much closer to mountain bikes. They take the pieces of each one to create a bike that can handle many different situations.
From a road bike:
– Narrower, generally slippery tires
– Higher gear ratio for higher speeds
From a mountain bike:
– Higher position, making them ideal for observing cars in traffic and faster reactions
– Flat handlebars
– A more comfortable position with less pressure on the shoulders
– Sometimes they have a shock absorber
– Easy-to-install accessories such as fenders
– The tires are narrow, but are usually wider than the average road bike, meaning you can ride at a lower pressure for extra comfort.
– City driving
– People who choose the terrain mix
– Driving with the family
– Running around shops etc. (usually it’s the cheapest type of bike)
Do not buy if
– You are going to be seriously going off-road
– You want to do long road rides. The lack of hand positions and the extra weight make them far from ideal.
The risk of buying a bike, which is a real treasure in all industries, is that it is not 100% adapted to any thing. If you tend to ride on or off-road for most of your ride, engaging in either mountain or road bikes is almost certainly the right decision.
With narrow tires, stiff / light frames, and a sloping handlebars, these bikes are designed for one purpose: getting on the road quickly with the least possible effort.
– Narrow, smooth tires (usually 23-28mm)
– Lowered steering wheel that allows multiple hand positions
– Rigid frames enabling greater power transfer (e.g. we do not lose energy for the shock absorber)
– Gear ratios with large ranges that allow you to move quickly on flat terrain
– Road driving
Do not buy if
You are planning to go off-road – nevertheless, if you want to combine asphalt riding with off-road riding, consider getting a gravel bike.
Even on road bikes, there are different model types (as we mentioned – it’s not easy to pick the right one) – with more aggressive frames that let you lower down, and more aerodynamic for racing, or other extreme frames with a free geometry for longer rides or tours.
Other types of bicycles
These bikes are on a separate list as they are less likely to be your first purchase. Most of them are more specialized bikes designed for a specific purpose.
Based on mountain bikes:
A mountain bike variant designed specifically for downhill racing
A mountain bike with extra wide tires designed for riding on uneven surfaces such as sand or snow.
Jumping bikes fit somewhere between a mountain bike and a BMX, and are designed specifically for tricks.
Based on road bikes
Cross-country bikes are road bikes that can hit a wild trail. They typically have bump tires, disc brakes, and stronger frames to cope with the extra load when riding off-road.
A gravel bike fits somewhere between a road bike and a cyclocross bike, and is designed for areas with a lot of road without asphalt. They tend to be slightly taller at the front than road bikes for added comfort with wider gear ratios for easy off-road riding.
Time trial or TT bikes are specially designed for time trial races. They have aero sticks attached to the front to allow the rider to get the most aerodynamic position for the highest speed.
Electric bikes have a built-in motor that can be recharged to give the rider an extra boost. They are widely used in cities and make hilly terrain less daunting for inexperienced cyclists.
City bikes are designed for short city rides. They often have very few gears and are equipped with accessories such as baskets for practical travel. Riders typically sit upright and the rounded handlebars rotate for extra comfort.
BMX stands for Bicycle Motor Cross. These are small bikes designed for off-road racing and stunt riding.
Recumbent bikes allow cyclists to recline while riding. They are designed for comfort and reducing tension and fatigue, especially in the upper body.
Folding bikes (colloquially: folding bikes) are intended for commuting and are often used by people traveling by train. Their small size and easy portability make them ideal for short journeys.
Single speed / fixie
Single speed bikes and fixed gear bikes receive a slightly different category as they can be applied to many different types of bicycles. Usually these are variations on mountain / hybrid bike frames. They are simple machines with no gears and the difference is that single speed bikes are able to spin freely (the rear wheel spins when you stop pedaling), while a bike with a tight gear only moves when you pedal.
The main advantage of these types of bikes is the reduction of maintenance time and money as there are fewer moving parts that can be damaged and broken.
b. Choosing a bike – material
Bikes are made of many different materials, and your budget and the reason you ride will determine which one is right for you.
The starting point is usually steel, moving to aluminum, carbon and then titanium. Remember that this does not necessarily mean that the materials are quality ordered.
Let’s start with steel. While the cheapest frames may be steel, that doesn’t mean they’re the worst choice for bicycle material. A well-made steel frame is more comfortable than aluminum, more durable than carbon fiber, and may be the perfect option for you. Likewise, carbon fiber may be the lightest and most aerodynamic material, but at its starting price, it may be flimsy, so you might be better off going for aluminum.
Price will be a key factor in deciding which material to start with.
As you get higher in prices, you will be making choices for a variety of reasons, and the reason you ride will dictate the best material. Road cyclists will want the stiffest bike available for the highest speeds, while off-road cyclists will seek comfort and durability. While all of these materials can partially work on these fronts, some have advantages over others. Let’s analyze the three most popular materials.
Steel is a traditional material that has been used in bicycle construction for many years. Steel frames are famous for their comfort, strength and durability. Steel can also be easy to repair as you can forge dents or bends. It is a very affordable material to use, especially when compared to carbon and titanium frames.
– Perfect for sightseeing and long trips (it’s easier to find someone who welds a steel frame around the world than a carbon specialist)
– Good for heavier riders as it is generally a very strong material.
– Steel bikes are famous for their comfort because there is a bit more play in the frame.
– Steel can rust much faster than aluminum, so if you live in a humid climate this may not be the best choice.
– Generally heavier than aluminum or carbon fiber.
This material is naturally light and stiff and will not rust. It is a reliable choice, although the extra stiffness of the frames compared to steel means they can be less comfortable. They often have wider pipes than steel frames because the material is generally weaker.
– Less prone to rust, making it a good option for a touring or winter bike.
– Stiffness means great power transmission through the frame.
– At the lower end of the price range, a decently priced aluminum frame is almost always better than cheap carbon fiber.
– Generally stiffer and less comfortable than steel or carbon fiber (but not always the case)
– Adding a carbon seatpost or forks can improve comfort and is common on many top aluminum bikes.
Carbon fiber (carbon)
It is a very light and stiff material. As a non-metallic use of carbon fiber for building bicycles, it has enormous design advantages. The material can be manipulated into aerodynamic shapes and fine-tuned to increase stiffness and strength in specific areas of the frame. Carbon fiber bikes are becoming more affordable now, especially at the entry level.
– Light (just 700g!) but still incredibly strong.
– Aerodynamic frame shapes as molding is much easier.
– A carbon frame can last a lifetime if well maintained, while manufacturers say aluminum has a lifetime of 5-10 years.
– Repairs are great, but where the metal frame bends and dents the carbon fiber frame can crack and needs to be repaired before reuse.
– It’s not cheap, although over the years it becomes more and more affordable
– A cheap carbon fiber frame is rarely better than an equivalent aluminum frame.
c. Bike selection – frame size
This section may be the most important part of this guide.
You wouldn’t consider buying a pair of running shoes three sizes too small and going jogging – the same logic applies to bicycles. Riding something too small or too big is not only uncomfortable, it can lead to serious and long-term injuries.
Knowing your measurements
The key information you will need is your height and the inner size of your leg. They will help you choose the bike that is right for you.
Frame size selection
Now that you know your dimensions, you can start looking at frame sizes.
It is worth supporting yourself with calculators available on the Internet, such as https://calcoolator.pl/rozarówka_ramy_rowerowej.html
Remember that simple frame size charts should be considered as a general aid. On the other hand, frame manufacturers sometimes have small size differences (as do clothing manufacturers). The differences are not big (usually 2 cm on the length of the frame, but as we mentioned before – size does matter).
d. Choosing a bike – components and specifications
Components and specifications are the last important things to consider when purchasing a bike. When you build the bike from the frame upwards, these are the extra parts that need to be added to make the bike useful. These will cover everything from the seat post to the handlebars, from the chain type to the saddle.
To keep this section as simple as possible, we will focus on 3 things; gears, brakes and wheels. These are the items you’ll likely be able to choose from when purchasing a bicycle. The brakes and gears are usually combined into one “group set”, which is a collection of parts that includes, but is not limited to, a rotor, cassette, gears, and levers.
The largest part of the purchase, right after the frame, is the components. By choosing better quality components, you can add thousands of zlotys to your bike. Take, for example, the mid-range Shimano options. The full Ultegra groupset is about PLN 950 more than the 105 set. Add a better set of wheels and the difference between the two models can be PLN 1600 or more. Manufacturers sometimes mix components from different assemblies to reduce costs.
But better doesn’t mean the same for everyone. Higher quality also means more expensive, expensive spare parts and complex components such as batteries that need to be recharged more often. The costs go up as you reach a higher level, incurring huge extra costs for a few grams of weight saving. This may be exactly what you are looking for if you are a professional cyclist with a team of mechanics around you taking care of every part. But if you’re an amateur weekend cyclist, we suspect you’ll be looking for something a bit different.
Does the number of gears on a bike really matter? The short answer is no.
What matters is having the right gear ratios, which usually include a low enough lower gear for you to climb uphill and a high enough upper gear to reach the desired speeds without pedaling too fast. Some bikes have no gears at all. Fixed gear and single speed bikes run on a single tooth, which means the only way to generate extra power is to pedal harder.
Most of you will be looking at bikes with gears, so how do you choose gears when buying a bike? Most bikes will have a front disc and a rear cassette. The front chainring varies from one to three gears (known as triple gears). The rear cassette is typically 10 or 11 speeds, although many different variations are possible.
The key element of the transmission is not the number but the gear ratio. This is the difference between your largest ring at the front and the smallest cog at the rear, and vice versa. This can get complicated very quickly so I’m not going to try to explain it all here.
The decision you make on most bikes will be quite limited. If you have already decided on a model, you will be very limited in what the manufacturer offers. You can always retrofit a different set of gears, but this can be complicated and costly. Depending on the answer to our first question “why do you want a bike?” This will help you make some decisions about your gears.
Are you planning to travel long distances and want to easily climb the hills? Perhaps you’re looking for a compact 36-tooth cassette rear crankset that will give you a little extra range in the lower range. Are you planning to race short distances? You can opt for a single chainring at the front and a very narrow range of gears on the cassette at the rear to provide very small jumps between gears to maintain power. The possibilities are almost endless, but it’s worth your while to think about it.
Brakes are broadly divided into two types: rim brakes and disc brakes.
Rim brakes are traditional over-wheel brakes. There are two types: a caliper, which is one single bolt mechanism, and cantilever brakes, which have two arms mounted on each side of the fork.
Disc brakes are located close to the center of the wheel and can be compared to motorcycle brakes. They have long been found in mountain bikes, and have recently been introduced into road bikes.
While this is an important part of the bike, it is seldom a choice you make for specific models. Bikes are designed for rim or disc brakes and therefore require different mounts, fork and wheel clearances. On some road bikes, disc brakes are now an option as you go up the range, but that comes with an added cost, not a simple swap.
The advantage of disc brakes over rim brakes is seen as follows:
– Close to the center mounting
– Placing them further away from the tire means they are less exposed to mud and gravel.
– Disc brake discs are made of stronger materials than the rims, which means the pads can be designed to last longer (although, due to the small footprint, this is not the case in all conditions).
– Stop the bike faster, especially in wet conditions.
– The wheels in disc brake systems can be designed to be lighter because the rims do not have to be thick enough to handle braking.
– Wheels with disc brakes tend to have a longer service life as the rims do not wear out and weaken the wheel.
With all that said, disc brakes are still not UCI approved for racing as sharp edges are seen as dangerous in an accident. Many cyclists still prefer rim brakes because they are lighter and more because they are used on more bikes which means it is easier to find a replacement in an emergency.
As with brakes, the choice of wheels has a greater effect on the model you choose, not the other way around. This means the bikes will come with a specific set of wheels and you will generally not be able to swap them out. Decide in advance if the type of wheel is important to you and take this into account in your decision making.
Below, we’ll cover the likely choices you’ll have to make on road and mountain bikes. The advice in the Road and Mountain Bikes sections applies to hybrid bikes.
As an aside, the choice of brakes and gears will also determine the choice of wheels. You will need a different hub to accommodate 10 or 11 gears and different wheels for disc or rim brakes. If you make the choices in the right order, the choice of the wheel for this topic will hopefully be clear by now.
Most road bike wheels are the standard size of 622mm, often referred to as “700c”. So if size isn’t what we’re looking for, what options are there for road bike wheels?
Deep rim aerodynamic wheels are perfect for time trial riding, lightweight climbing wheels are great for mountains and longer distances, and touring wheels are usually stronger with more spokes to prevent mechanical problems. Often they will depend on the type of bike you are purchasing as manufacturers will change the wheels to match the type of bike they are selling. At the lowest tier of the bike market, you’ll basically get what you get, but they’re an easy item to upgrade in the future if you’ve got the money.
Secondly, you will have a choice between tubeless and tube tires. Tubeless tires are regular tires with an inner tube, while tubeless tires have a special rim, which means they don’t need an inner tube (like a car tire). It is unlikely that you will have a choice with a beginner bike.
The final point to consider will be the width of the tire. Until a few years ago, 23mm wide tires were standard, while now 25mm and 28mm are just as common. Wider tires can be much more comfortable as they run at a lower pressure, but they also reduce rolling resistance so they can be faster.
When it comes to mountain bikes, the key decision you’ll have to make is the wheel size. There are three sizes available, the most important benefits are listed below.
– The 26 ”wheels are the main wheels on most mountain bikes. They were the only size available for a long time.
– 29 ”wheels have become much more popular in recent years. The 29s’ key strengths are their ability to roll over small objects more easily, high ground clearance – keeping valuable components out of harm’s way – and are also very suitable for taller riders. On the other hand, they make the bike heavier, meaning they accelerate slower and are heavier for going uphill.
– The 27.5 ”(650B) wheels are even newer. They say they combine the best elements of 26 and 29 inch wheels.
e. Choosing a bike – it’s not worth worrying about
To conclude our section on choosing a bike, we want to cover a few things that may seem very important, but we recommend that you don’t worry too much about them.
Your body only connects to the bike in three places and the saddle is the most important of these! However, don’t put your hopes on the saddle that comes with the bike that’s the right one.
It is not uncommon to ride a few saddles before sitting on the right one. A saddle is a very personal choice and what suits one person may be completely inappropriate for another. You may be lucky to find that the saddle that comes with your bike is perfect for you, but if not, don’t let it be the deciding factor! They are easy to replace and (relatively) inexpensive.
Don’t necessarily expect your first rides to be comfortable: it will take a while to get used to sitting on the bike, so saddle up a few rides before reaching your final verdict.
The pedals are another easy-to-change part of the bike. Most will feature flat plastic pedals, though ironically the more expensive bikes don’t have pedals at all! This is because there are many different ways of fitting the pedals to different types of shoes with a system known as “no clips” (though, even more ironically, these actually clip on!).
So don’t worry about the pedals. You can upgrade them, opt for toe clips to fasten your shoes, play with clips or other options. Use what you got and change later.
A great bike can be a terrible color, and often you have no choice! Currently, you can easily return the frame to a color change. Pay attention to the time of implementation and the price of the color change – as it often depends on the season.
4. Purchase of a bicycle – key questions
Now you know what you want to buy and it’s time to arm yourself with a few key questions.
You may think that this only applies to in-store purchases, but don’t be afraid to ask these questions online as well.
We have included some important questions to ask when purchasing a used bike.
ABOUT THE BIKE
– Is this one for me?
– Do you think it will fit the type of riding I want to do?
– What other similar models are available?
– How does this bike compare to other bikes in the same price range designed for the same purpose?
– Would I get something much better if I spent “x” more?
– What would be the benefits?
– Would I get something much worse if I spent “x” less?
– What would I lose?
– Do you offer a test drive?
– Do you offer a bicycle assembly service for me?
– Can you make a deal?
– Would you throw in a few accessories to get me going?
– Do you offer a guarantee?
– Does this bike have a chance to be promoted soon?
– Will you install any accessories that I buy while checking the configuration?
– Do you offer permanent service?
– Are any of the parts of this bike really expensive to replace?
– What do you think I should learn basic tests?
– How many kilometers do you think the bike traveled?
– Has this bike had any breakdowns?
– Has the bike been serviced regularly?
– Are there any modifications to the bike?
– When was the last time the chain / crankset / disc was replaced?
– Do you know any problems with your bike?
– Do you mind if my local bike shop checks this first?
– Do you deliver, if so, what courier do you use and how will the bike be packed?