Buying a bicycle - ROAD BIKE, GRAVEL BIKE OR MTB? The 10 most important QUESTIONS
1. What kind of bike am I looking for? How do I know which bike suits me?
Next, you should consider what you need the bike for. Are you going to commute with it? Are you going to race it? If so, what kind of races? On flat tracks or in mountainous terrain? Short criteriums or long endurance races? Do you want to be able to ride fast or sit in the saddle for many days at a time? What material should your bike be made of? Aluminium, titanium, carbon, steel or bamboo?
THE ADVANTAGES OF THE COMMON TYPES OF BICYCLES ARE BRIEFLY SUMMARISED...
- You can ride well on both asphalt and gravel, as most gravel bikes have sufficient clearance for wide tyres.
- With a second wheelset you have two bikes in one: You can choose between fast on-road and off-road riding
- You can easily attach bags to the bike, as many gravel bikes have extra mounts on the frame. If it is important to you that the gravel bike is robust, choose aluminium, steel or titanium. You can do almost everything with it: from bikepacking to commuting to training.
- It is perfect for races or long training rides on asphalt. You can participate in road races as well as triathlon competitions.
- Don't be afraid of short gravel sections, short sections can be ridden without any problems.
- You have the choice between very aerodynamic frames and more comfortable geometries for long distances (racing vs. endurance).
- Road bikes usually have a clean look, but this means that you usually don't have any mounting options for bags.
Photo: Fabienne Engel
- Straight, wide handlebars, wide tyres and thus good bike handling
- Hardtail = e.g. can be used for demanding, technical bikepacking trips
- Fully = for trails and technical rides
- Comfortable on demanding trails thanks to suspension
- Versatile sport (downhill, cross-country, marathon)
PRO AND CONS OF THE COMMON FRAME MATERIALS
After deciding what type of bike you want to buy, you need to decide on the material of the frame. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of aluminium, carbon and steel.
+ usually a cheap option
+ light wheels available
– rare in the high quality price segment
– little shock absorption
+ light and stiff
+ very flexible
– high price
– in case of cracks or severe damage due to transport (air travel, etc.) there is a risk that the frame may break
– can only be recycled with great effort
– comparatively short life span
+ robust and almost indestructible
+ good shock absorption
+ long lifetime
+ can be recycled
+ can be repaired well
+ high load capacity
– often somewhat heavier
2. What bikes do I get for my money?
Before you start buying a bicycle, you should plan your budget. How much money do you want to spend on the bike? The realistic price range is from 300 € to over 10,000 €. Keep in mind that the bike alone is not the only investment and that you will also need other equipment when you start cycling (more on this under point 7).
Here is our assessment of the existing price segments to give you an initial idea of where you are looking. The price segments should help you orientate yourself, but of course the boundaries are fluid and exceptions are there. In addition, the pandemic is currently throwing the market into confusion, as many manufacturers are unable to deliver.
300 to 900 €
If you have a small budget, it’s worth looking on the second-hand market first. You can find more information under point 6 “Buying second-hand”. If you have doubts about whether you enjoy cycling at all, the second-hand market is recommended. The purchase price on the second-hand market is often equal to the resale value. This means that there is no loss in value. The loss in value is usually higher when you buy a new bike.
900 to 1,400 €
This price range is very popular, as ± 1,000 € is often the pain threshold. With a little research, you can find a good bike in this price segment that you can enjoy for a while. However, you will probably have to make concessions in terms of components and weight, which can usually be of lower quality and heavier in this price range. The waiting time in lower price ranges is often long due to the very high demand. This is due to the ongoing demand and the supply bottlenecks of the manufacturers caused by Corona. You should also be able to find a reasonable bike in this segment on the second-hand market.
1,400 to 3,000 €
Many bike manufacturers offer high-quality bikes in this price segment. By this, we mean that they offer bikes that are equipped with reliable components. Mechanical shift groups and disc brakes are the standard here. In this category, it is also interesting to consider the quality of the wheels. Good wheels are characterized by light weight, quality of the grain and stiffness. This means that they have a longer lifespan, do not need to be serviced as often, and do not bent as quickly.
3.000 – 5.000 €
This price segment is relatively large, and accordingly you have a lot of choice here. You can make a lot more decisions about the quality and composition of the components. If you are looking for a race bike or just want to be sure that the bike is particularly light, this is the place to be. Most bikes with electronic shifting are also in this segment. It is important to compare the components and attachments directly. There are brands that are more expensive across the board, even though they offer the same equipment as others. It is worth taking a closer look.
Above 5,000 €
This is where the high-end range begins, with full carbon or titanium wheels including very precise shifting groups and performance wheels. You will also find custom-made bikes in this range. Here, too, pay attention to the equipment and compare what the individual manufacturers offer.
Very roughly, the price of high-end bicycles is made up as follows:
2.000 – 4.500 € for the frame
1.400 – 3.000 € for the group set
1.000 – 1.800 € for the wheels
plus assembly and other add-on parts (saddle, stem, handlebars, etc.)
There are hardly any limits when buying a bicycle.
3. What do I have to look out for when buying a bicycle?
Most bikes are sold as complete sets. However, in the end, the bike is made up of many components and therefore you have to make many decisions.
Frame: The core of the bicycle is the frame. It should be the right size, material and geometry for you and your plans.
Wheels: Beginners often pay a lot of attention to the frame, but neglect the quality of the wheels. Good wheels are just as important as a good frame. Although wheels can be upgraded over time, they should be considered at the beginning.
Brakes: The most common brakes for gravel, mountain and road bikes are rim brakes and disc brakes. Rim brakes brake directly on the rim of the wheel and you can easily change the brake pads on the go. Disc brakes brake on a disc that is mounted in the centre of the wheel. With both rim brakes and disc brakes, the brake pads can wear and damage the rims or brake discs. They must be checked regularly. With disc brakes you have the choice between mechanical or hydraulic brakes. You can find out more about disc brakes here.
4. How important is sustainability?
Cycling is not automatically sustainable. A variety of factors play a role here: production, material, longevity of the bicycle and components, the possibilities of repair, as well as current trends and preferences. Carbon is a material that is used a lot, because it is light and flexible in its shape, but it breaks very quickly if handled incorrectly or when crashed. Aluminium can withstand much more, and steel and titanium last a lifetime with good care. Then there is the aspect of recycling. Unfortunately, this is almost impossible with carbon. The most sustainable option is, of course, to buy a used bicycle, which is not always easy, depending on the individual requirements and size.
5. how do I find the right frame size?
The right frame size is very important when buying a bicycle. If you have standard proportions, your stride length and height will give you a good guideline. If the frame size fits, the bike can be individually adjusted via the stem length and the handlebars. Note: Many off-the-shelf bikes come with wide handlebars. If you have narrow shoulders, you should also use narrower handlebars. The length of the handlebars depends on your height and the length of your inner leg. The current trend is towards shorter cranks, as the smaller radius puts less strain on the knees.
Test rides are always a good idea, of course. You should also consider whether it is worth investing in a bike fit to have yourself professionally measured and find the right measurements.
6. What is important when buying a second-hand bicycle?
The second-hand market for bikes is huge. In addition to bicycle flea markets on Facebook, there is also a wide range of bikes on Ebay. Often the bikes are much cheaper than new bikes. If you are looking for a bike online, ask not only about the dimensions of the bike, but also about some technical aspects, such as:
- Equipment and functionality of the bike (gears, brakes, integrity of the frame, etc.).
- Kilometres ridden
- Age of the bike
- Crash/fall (especially with carbon)
- the condition of the group set and brake cables, the sprocket set and the chainrings
- You can use a chain gauge to check whether the chain needs to be changed soon.
It is also worth asking for the purchase invoice to make sure it is not stolen goods and to find out the age of the bike.
Also, expect to incur additional travel costs if you cannot find a bike directly in your neighbourhood.
When buying second-hand, take the time to test ride the bike to get a feeling for its fit. Sometimes you might panic that the bike will be sold quickly, but it should not only look good to you, it should also fit your body type and feel good when you ride it. So arrange a short test ride. You can also test whether the gears work and have the previous owner explain the bike to you.
Very important: look at the bike very carefully, and examine the frame in particular. Small damage to the paintwork can indicate that the bike has been knocked over or damaged. Paint scratches are, of course, normal on used bikes.
7. Note that you need more than just a bike
The bike is bought, and theoretically you can ride off in comfortable clothes. However, there is important equipment for your new bike that you should not forget. We recommend that you at least equip yourself with a helmet and repair kit, as well as a pump, so that you are also prepared for a small repairs on your first tour. You may also need suitable bags or a different saddle or pedals. You can find more useful tips for your first rides in our article about your first solo bike ride.
8. don’t be fooled when buying a bicycle
It sounds harsh, but it has happened to nearly every one of us that we have not been taken seriously in a bicycle shop. This can be due to a variety of reasons and can mean that going to get a consultation can be an effort. Not all bicycle salespeople are experts in every field. So be clear about what kind of bike you are looking for and what you want to do with it in order to find the right advisor.
If you are seeking advice, do your own research first. Be sure to ask questions if you don’t understand something. If you have time and there are several bike shops, go to 2-3 bike shops to get advice and then make up your own mind. If you have a friend who knows a lot about bikes, they might be able to accompany you and help you to buy a bicycle.
Excursion about bikesplaining
Bikesplaining means that someone explains something to you without asking and makes you feel incompetent. This can happen in many situations. From buying a bicycle to your appearance on social media or with friends. Don’t let it make you feel insecure. No cycling pro has fallen from the sky and buying a bicycle can be just as much fun as riding a bike.
9. feel good on the bike
As with buying second-hand bikes, a test ride is also very useful for new bikes. First, you can easily find out if you feel comfortable on the bike and if the size fits. You can also familiarize yourself with the brake and gear levers. These can be unfamiliar at first. Take your time and ask all the questions you have to better understand the bike.
Part of feeling comfortable is wearing the right clothes, including cycling shorts, saddle, cycling shoes and helmet. Read our article with exciting info for more on pedals and cycling shoes. To find the right shorts, it’s worth trying out different brands. Brands with women’s specific cycling clothing are for example: Veloine.cc, I-ris.cc, Velocio.cc or kama cycling. The same applies to the saddle. There are specific women’s models. You can find out how wide your saddle should be by measuring your sit bones. In general, cycling should be pain-free. So if something hurts, do some research and try to find a solution.
Bonus tip: Where can I find cheap/good workshops?
Last but not least, we would like to give you a bonus tip. Because not only the bike is a big investment, but also the maintenance. In addition to conventional workshops, we recommend that you also look for do-it-yourself or self-help workshops in your area. You can certainly find a lot via Google, Facebook groups or similar. Whether at the university or the local cultural centre, there are often ways in which you can get access to a workshop with a large selection of tools, with the help of others.
The good thing is that the repairs are cheap, and you can learn to repair your bike yourself at the same time. We also recommend that you look for repair workshops. This may not sound appealing at first, but it is surprisingly satisfying to be able to repair your bike yourself.
The road from the decision to buy a bicycle to the final purchase is a long one. We hope that we have been able to give you a little support and that you will find your dream bike, with which you will experience countless adventures on the road or off-road. Have fun searching and riding!
Photo Header: Björn Reschabek