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Where Should I Buy a Bike From?

Places to buy a bike...

Be sure to read the Beware the "Bicycle Shaped Object" page!
There are a number of different places you can buy bikes, but not all of them are good:

Catalogues...

This is where you buy a bike unseen, from a mail-order catalogue company or one of the big catalogue stores. The bikes arrive disassembled and packed into a box. The bikes are generally pretty cheap, as the company does not need to hire anyone to assemble, check or fix the bikes - you do that for them. Warranty problems can be tricky, though, as you are often dealing with a company a long way away which does not have any bike experts on its staff.

Spot the un-deliberate mistakes...

A big problem with buying a bike from a catalogue is that you are expected to assemble it yourself. How would you cope if your new car arrived in a crate, and you had to fit the engine and brakes yourself? The situation is the same with bikes.

These picture come from the catalogues of 2 major suppliers of catalogue bikes - it looks as if the photographers were given the bike in a box, and subsequently made a common mistake when assembling them.

Spotted it yet? The forks on both of the pictured bikes are fitted back-to-front. This will make the steering very unpredictable and the brakes will not work properly.

Note: the company names have been edited out to save embarrassment.

There is nothing wrong with the manufacture of these 2 bikes, it is purely the assembly that has made them potentially dangerous. One of the two bikes is, as you can see, NOT a cheap bike, and yet it still would arrive in a condition that would require mechanical skill to correctly and safely assemble it.

Each of these two images will expand if clicked.

Non-bike stores...

These are places which do not specialise in bikes, for example garages, department stores, toy stores and supermarkets. Like the catalogue companies, they do not have any bike experts on hand, and usually your bike comes packed in a box. If it has been assembled, ask yourself: does someone who has been trained to stack boxes of cornflakes have the skills to make sure a bike is safe? The only advantage with buying from these companies over the mail order catalogue type companies is that when you do have problems you can go complain in person.

Chain bike stores...

These are companies which have a chain of stores selling bikes, usually alongside other things like car parts. They do often have trained staff, and your bike should be properly assembled and safe.
These stores can afford to keep large stocks of the most popular bikes and parts, but are not always particularly cheap.
Their staff, while trained, do not usually have the breadth and depth of experience needed to deal with the more complicated problems some bikes raise.
It is worth mentioning that the quality of service available at these types of outlet varies dramatically. Some stores have very good, keen personnel, but sadly the majority are staffed by chimps.

Internet Only Bicycle Dealers...

With the increase in popularity of internet usage, a number of specialist online sellers have emerged.
The number of places where you can buy a new bicycle on the internet is on the increase and these range from sites which only sell bikes and accessories to those with a wider product range.

Many real bricks and mortar stores have websites from where you may purchase, but in addition to these there is an increasing number of internet only bike shops. The service these sites offer varies in quality, with some being operated at an extremely professional level with genuine stock holdings and dedicated staff, but there are also a number which are operated more like hobbies, often from somebody's bedroom.

Talk to a real live person to ensure that you will be getting what you pay for. Also be prepared for the possibility of dissatisfaction resulting from possible damage caused by delivery companies! The single biggest issue when comparing bikes bought from the internet and those available in local stores is the condition in which you will receive your bike. Again, standards vary, but ensure if you are buying on price alone, that you are comparing like with like.
It is incredibly difficult to ship a bike to a customer 100% fully assembled and "ready to ride".
Indeed, some assembly will almost certainly be required when you receive the bike.
The best online only suppliers send out bikes such that all you will be required to do is to turn the handlebars, tighten the stem, screw in and fit the pedals and adjust the saddle height. Unfortunately, many don't and send out bikes pretty much exactly as they receive them from the manufacturers/importers.
A skilled bicycle mechanic will, on average, take around 1 - 1 hours to fully assemble and make a bike safe for the road.
Now whilst we wouldn't try to claim that assembling a bicycle is like rocket science, it isn't something that you should undertake lightly. You could take the bike to a local bike shop, but expect them to charge very heavily for the privilege of having your bike set up correctly. Many bike shops may even refuse to set the bike up for you.
Consider the costs of assembly and the possibility of the bike not being roadworthy when you compare online prices with in-store prices.

Independent Bicycle Dealers...

These are independent companies and can range from your small local bike shop to large companies with several stores. IBDs generally have the best-trained staff, with years of practical experience. Larger companies have huge stocks of bikes and parts, not just the most popular ones. Smaller IBDs do not have the space or finance to have huge stocks of bikes or parts, but most are very willing to order something in for you if you ask. Many IBDs specialise in niche markets, selling bikes and parts that no-one else does. For more information on finding a good independent bicycle dealer, have a look at the Good Shops page

Online Auction Sites...

Ebay is a quite staggering phenomenon and it looks set to continue to grow. But should you buy a new bike from it?

Before you do, consider a few key questions...
  • Who is the seller? Check out their feedback for sales of same or similar items.
  • What if something goes wrong? Do I have the same rights as if I bought from a real shop?
  • Is the bike actually brand new in mint condition? or is it a factory return, shop soiled or damaged in some other way.
  • Will it be fully assembled when you recieve it or will there be some level of assembly to carry out... and how much?
  • What are the origins of the bike? Is it a known brand name or one which you can only find on ebay?
  • Does the bike meet BS6201?
  • Does the bike use standard equipment that you could replace when things wear out in the future?
  • Does the "bargain" remain a bargain once carriage/shipping costs are added? Many ebay sellers apply high postage and packing charges in an attempt to reduce the fees they have to pay to Ebay, making the product look cheaper than it really is.
  • What is the REAL price for the item? Check how much it costs elsewhere online or locally before bidding. What you think to be cheap might not actually be cheap.
There are some genuine bargains to be had via Ebay... many real bike shops sell on Ebay and use it to clear out obsolete stock, but there are also cowboy operators from whom a purchase would seem like a trip to hell.

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