How to buy a bike

So you want to buy a bike ???


Karsten answers your questions before you have asked them…….


Most people who asked me about buying a bike are beginners. They want to go on a weekend ride around Paris, but would also do a few cycling sportives. Some would like to do their first triathlons, some dream of climbing the Alpe d’Huez.

This is an opinionated summary of the key points for those aspiring cyclists.

Usually, the first step is to set a budget for the purchase. If this is your first bike, keep in mind that you may need some spare budget for pedals, cleats, shoes, clothing, gloves, helmet, glasses, and a bike computer. All that could easily go into 300-500 euro range.

A broad simplification would be a breakdown like this:

Under 1000 euros: basic used bike or very basic new bike, probably on the heavy side, or needs work – quality can vary wildly.

1000 to 1500 euros: decent quality materials and components – you can expect pretty much all the same level of quality

1500 to 2500 euros: great quality that should last you many years – you now start to look at design and isolated, specific features, like internal cable routing or aero seat tube.

Above that: no worries, they are all very, very good

There are two schools of thought on spending money: one says to spend your budget to the hilt, because the better the bike, the greater the pleasure it will bring you. The other thought is spend just enough to get rolling (let’s say spend 800 euros and save the rest) and learn about bikes and cycling as you go. After a year or two you’ll know what you want/need and you’ll be able to add that money saved to the second purchase. You must decide what’s right for you


When you buy a bike, you have three options:


  1. New from a store
    • Advantage: where you can get advice and try a bike; you can build a relationship with the store (often referred to as LBS, or “Local Bike Store”) and so have a go-to person if you need bike help,  get free checkups for the first year, and learn more about biking (at least in theory – I’m not sure that’s how bike stores in Paris operate)
    • Drawback: advice only on the brands/models the store carries, and since you deal with humans you may get all kinds of advice, god/bad/conflicting; some stores in Paris are not willing to let a buyer try a bike (!);  I found some stores to be arrogant or incompetent (see below)
  2. Used via Online portals like Troc-Velo or Leboncoin
    • Advantage: potentially great deals for the money
    • Disadvantage: you need time, and you need to know a bit about bikes to narrow the offers to likely candidates, then to talk to the seller and find out more details, and finally when checking the bike out to see what’s really going on, might not be the right size for you.
  3. New via online sellers or manufacturers, like Rose, Canyon, Ribble Cycles, Planet X
    • Advantage: since they don’t have the overhead cost of a dealer network, the value for money they can offer is the best; Rose and Planet X have lots of options for women’s bikes
    • Disadvantage: you can only try the bike once it has been delivered (often after a wait time of several weeks or months), and if you don’t like it, you need to ship it back for a refund (estimate 50 euros shipping plus your time)


What kind of bike?


Be clear what you want to use the bike for. For example, a bike used for weekend rides and the occasional sportive should be different than one that’s also used for commuting in winter weather. The former should be as light as possible, and for the latter you’d need a way to attach mud guards and possibly a luggage rack.

Triathletes: If you need to read this beginner guide, you probably don’t want to purchase a special time trial bike, even if you want to do lots triathlons. Practically any roadbike can be used in a triathlon, and you can attach clip-on pedals later.

You can break a bike down into three groups: frame, components (shifters, brakes, saddle, etc), and wheels.


The main question I get is: “do I need a carbon frame?” My answer is no – aluminium is going though a bit of a renaissance and there are some very good frames made of that material. Carbon tends to be lighter, but also more expensive. If you’re fishing in the 2500+ euro market, you’re most likely going carbon, and that’s totally ok. In the lower price ranges, aluminium is a good choice, not a second or lesser choice.

The NYT ran an article on the dangers of carbon, and was promptly rebutted by the tech editor of the largest cycling publication in the US.


Shimano, SRAM, Campagnolo are the main players – and all three are equally good. Shimano has the biggest market share and is most commonly used. I’d avoid the lower level group sets (Sora and Tiagra), but that’s often a budget decision. If possible, I’d avoid non-branded components, especially for the brakes.


weight and materials are the key points here. 1500 grams for the set (front and back wheel without tires or cassette) is good, lower is great. If mountain passes are your thing, you want to consider aluminium rims over carbon for their superior braking properties. If you’re a big guy, and/or spend most of your rides on flat or rolling terrain, carbon wheels with a higher profile (around 50mm) might be your ticket. Triathletes are often drawn to those, too:

Disadvantage of these deep profiles is that they are more susceptible to crosswinds. As mentioned above, the braking power of carbon is not yet on par with aluminium.

Here is a good article covering the basics on frame materials, components, wheels, and fit. Some good reader comments, as well.

They also have a couple of Buyer’s Guides for bikes in different price groups:

Under 1000 GBP (1200 euros):

Between 1000 and 1500 GBP (under 2000 euros):

In the higher price ranges you may come across bikes with electronic shifting. While cool, I don’t think there is enough benefit to outweigh the drawbacks. I’d stick with the standard cable shifters for now.

One possible exception is heavy triathlon use: you can fairly easily get shifter buttons set up on the aero bars, so you can shift without reaching down to the brake hoods.

Here is a Slowtwitch article, covering that topic in detail.

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