Real story: what to consider when buying a bike

Whether you’re new to riding a bike or a veteran cyclist, buying a new bike is exciting – but can be overwhelming. There are many different types of bikes, and some styles are better suited for certain environments and uses.

Ali Whittier after bike packing across the State of Georgia.

“I knew very little about bikes when I bought my first one,” says Ali Whittier, a BlueCross employee who is also an ultra-endurance bike racer in Chattanooga. “I was fresh out of college and didn’t have a lot of money, but my friends who already had bikes told me I needed to get the right type for my needs if I was going to enjoy it.”

Since buying her first road bike over a decade ago, Ali and her husband, Spencer, have bought and sold dozens of different types of bikes.

“There will always be new and improved technology as time goes on, but there are a few basics that we’ve always asked ourselves before buying a new bike.”

Here are 3 things Ali recommends asking yourself before shopping for a bike

1. What are my current needs?

“It’s important to answer this question first because getting the right type of bike will give you a more comfortable and enjoyable experience – and help you narrow down your options,” Ali explains.

Ask yourself: 

  • Am I looking for a bike to cruise around my neighborhood or one to commute around town?
  • Do I want to ride on the road, trail or on gravel roads or paths?
  • Am I planning to use cycling to exercise or enjoy leisurely? Or do I want to participate in a bike event or race?

Consider talking through these questions with someone at your local bike shop. Thinking about what you actually want to use a bike for – and where – will help you avoid getting something that’s not suited to your needs.

2. What is my budget?

Once you realize what type of bike you need, you should think about how much you want to spend – and how flexible you can or can’t be when you decide it’s time to buy.

Keep in mind:

  • Price varies with different brands, models and features so consider visiting a couple bike shops and speak to shop staff about what you’re looking for and why.
  • Many shops offer bikes for rent or “demo” so you can try one out before buying it.
  • Used bikes can often be more affordable, but there can be risks buying from an individual you don’t know.

First-time bike owners should also consider setting aside part of their budget for accessories they may not have yet, like a helmet, lights or other safety equipment.

3. How might my needs progress?

“I hadn’t considered how my interests might grow when I bought my first bike,” Ali recalls. “I started riding casually on the road with a group of friends and tried a couple short triathlons with that same bike before my interests turned to off-road riding.”

Now, Ali and Spencer mostly ride longer distances on a mountain or gravel bike, so each year they set a budget based on what each of them might need.

“Even if your cycling interests stay the same, you may want to think about what you’ll need if you use the same bike for a long time,” she explains.

Think about:

  • What you like most about riding a bike and where that may or may not take you.
  • What upgrades or changes you may want to make as you progress – a more comfortable seat or handlebar, or maybe even different tires or wheels.
  • What parts you may need to replace if you end up riding a lot – your chain and other parts of the bike can wear out over time.

Taking care of your bike is important for it to last long and function well. You can do this by keeping your bike clean and dry after each use, storing it somewhere it will be secure and out of the weather. This makes sure your parts don’t wear out prematurely.

Here’s what to do next

After you’ve put some thought into your current and future needs, as well as your budget. It’s time to start shopping. Here are a few suggestions Ali recommends:

1. Visit your local bike shop

Especially if you’re a first time buyer, this is highly recommended. You may have additional questions for the experts or want to see different options in person. Plus, you’re contributing to your local economy when you shop local.

  • If your community has more than one bike shop, consider visiting all or a few. You may find different products at different shops (or certain staff people you prefer to work with) so it’s important to find the right fit.
  • Even if you don’t buy something from a local shop on the first trip, you’ll likely need to have your bike worked on in the future if you keep riding.

2. Buy from a reputable company, if you shop online

Online shopping is convenient, but can present its challenges, especially if you’re new to buying a bike and may not be sure what to look for yet.

  • Make sure you’re shopping from a reputable company and read through the product descriptions and reviews very carefully.
  • Be sure to reach out to customer service if you have questions that aren’t answered anywhere online.

3. Be cautious when buying a used bike from an individual

This route comes with greater risk, but buying second hand can be a great way to save money, especially if you buy a bike that has upgraded options that may be more expensive new.

  • Consider buying from someone you know or at least a friend of a friend to avoid being scammed by someone you don’t know or trust. Many communities also have bicycle cooperatives or “bike co-ops” that often sell used bikes and parts.
  • Trust your gut because if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, especially if the seller seems like they’re holding back important information or won’t agree to terms that make you both feel safe and confident in the sale.

Once you get the right bike for you, here are some accessories Ali also recommends

  • Wearing a helmet any time you ride to help prevent serious injury to your brain.
  • Using lights makes a difference when it comes to being seen at any time of day. Plus, Tennessee law does require lights if you’re riding on the road.
  • Wearing bright, reflective clothing – especially on moving parts like your arms, feet and head, helps others see you better, especially when riding in the dark.
  • Also, consider wearing active wear or cycling clothing, like padded shorts, that feel comfortable while you ride by providing added protection when you’re seated.
  • Packing mechanical supplies helps ensure you’re prepared in case you need to put air in a tire or make adjustments to your bike.

Christina Robinson

Christina joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2020. A recent graduate in public relations, she has experience in PR campaigns, event coordination, social media, and editorial. When she’s not a BlueCross, she’s looking for a new place to travel, cooking something tasty in the kitchen, or training at the gym or biking.

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