Bike buying advice

Handy hints to help you choose your next beloved

Words - James Raison


We're very lucky to ride and test so many bikes and bike parts. We get to learn so much about a broad range of bikes. So we thought it was time to pass on some tips on how we think you can make the absolute best bike buying decisions.

YOU HAVE TO LOVE IT

First and foremost you should feel a tug on your heart strings when you think about the bike you're assessing to buy. We ride a lot of bikes across a broad spectrum so we are confident when we tell you how good we think a certain bike is. The love has to come from you though.

I'm thinking of the best all-round bike I've ridden (I'm not going to tell you what it is though). The one that ticked all the boxes for performance and value. Would I buy one? Nope. It just don't love it and I'd rather buy an inferior bike that I love more any day. This isn't idle banter, I've bought multiple inferior bikes since. No regrets, just love.

We'll high-five you every day of the week for buying a bike you really loved. We'll probably back away slowly if you bought one because the manufacturer claimed it has the best bottom bracket stiffness though...

 This was definitely motivated by love

This was definitely motivated by love

RESIST THE WEENIE

It’s taken a long, long, time but I overpowered my inner weight weenie and threw it off a bridge. I’ve finally accepted that a lighter bike is not necessarily a better bike. I can hear my carbon saddles judging me from the other room; “you’ve changed man…” 

Weight has become an easily understandable proxy measurement for bike performance and value. Lightness is lovely up hills but it’s not such a big deal everywhere else. Focusing on weight only could mean you overlook the spate of lightning fast aero bikes like the Canyon Aeroad or the fantastically good value aluminium bikes like the Cannondale CAAD12 or Specialized Allez Sprint

But hey, light bikes can still be fantastic! But the best bike for you could weigh 7.8kg (GASP!) rather than the magical 6.8kg. Open your mind to slightly thicc-er bikes.

LEARN YOUR GEOMETRY

Wrapping your head around the complex numbers and angles that make up a frame’s geometry is a brilliant way to learn about a bike before you’ve ridden it. Plus buying the wrong size is an expensive mistake. There’s two elements to understanding a bike from its geometry: how it will fit and how it will ride.

Reach and stack numbers are the best way to compare two different bikes will fit you:

  • Reach: the horizontal distance from the bottom bracket to the middle of the head tube at the very top. Generally this will tell you how long a frame is. Don’t forget to factor in your stem length.
  • Stack: the vertical distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube. It doesn’t factor in the headset cap or any spacers so don’t forget to include those in your comparison.

This can all sound abstract so there’s some great GCN videos to help you along (I'll embed them at the bottom of the page too):

For extra credit I highly recommend you read Beyond the top tube: Things to know when sizing up a road frame over on CyclingTips. BikeExchange published an excellent article called How to Use Bike Geometry Charts and What They Mean that's a great reference guide.

Now you’ve got a handle on the basics, it’s time to get geeky. I’ve been obsessed with a website called, appropriately, Geometry Geeks. It’s a geometry comparison tool with a growing database of over 3,600 bikes from 438 brands that expands with community contribution. Find your current bike - or add it if missing - and look over the numbers. Then look at a few others. Compare, contrast, note the similarities and differences. Just go nuts!

 This is the level of geekery on offer at Geometry Geeks

This is the level of geekery on offer at Geometry Geeks

We still recommend riding a bike before you buy it but that’s not always possible. Failing that, know your geo!

DON’T FOCUS TOO MUCH ON FRAME MATERIAL AND GROUPSET

Frame material and groupset tend to be the value determinants of bikes. Focusing too much on those, admittedly major, parts can distract you from other critical parts.

How many times have you heard something along these lines; “that’s way too much money for a bike with Ultegra” or “I’d never pay that much for an alloy bike.” Here’s the thing though; Ultegra is brilliant, and good aluminium can be a damn sight better than a lot of carbon frames.

 Don't let the groupset fool you, this is a great bike.

Don't let the groupset fool you, this is a great bike.

The BMC RoadMachine I reviewed is a great example. I initially balked at the $10,000 price tag for an Ultegra specced bike but the frame and the all of the finishing kit was brilliant. Changing to Dura Ace and sacrificing wheels, handlebars, saddle, and tyres to keep the price would have led to an inferior bike. That said, 10,000 is still a lot of money... we understand the reaction.

CHECK THE ENTIRE SPEC SHEET

The bike industry value wars have led brands to spec bikes with their own in-house bits n’ pieces to bring down the price. Things like bars, saddles, stems, wheels, and even tyres. Some of that stuff is great - Giant, Canyon, and Cannondale have impressed me a lot with some of their kit. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of mediocre parts getting bolted to bikes to bring the price down. This can be a problem when you've got a budget to work with. 

 These are some excellent bars from Canyon

These are some excellent bars from Canyon

Your $3,000 bike was great value! But the saddle feels horrible, the handlebars are the wrong shape, and the tyres capitulated all their grip at the sight of some road moisture. Suddenly it’s a $3,500 bike and your mortgage is casting some judgemental glances at you.

This does feel a little churlish to complain about, given how good and cheap modern bikes are. But being aware of these little things can save you some money, and the headache of trying to sell things in the wasteland of jerks that haunt bike buy and sell Facebook groups.


Do you have any advanced bike buying tips? Leave them in the comments below!

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