You don't need to be a semi-pro cyclist to buy a bike online, but there are some crucial things you should keep in mind before checkout.
Photo: Hero Images/Getty Images
Buying a bike can be daunting. There's the natural hesitation toward typically male-dominated bike shops or those that seem to only tailor to semi-pros with deep pockets. And even if you're considering purchasing one online, there's the legit fear of buying a big piece of equipment without testing it first.
But buying a bike online actually has its advantages: a wide variety of sizes, styles, colors, and prices, and the obvious convenience factor. Plus, companies are making it easier than ever to get you in the saddle with minimal hassle.
That said, there are certain things to keep in mind that could mean the difference between traveling on two wheels or letting a pile of metal collect dust in your garage. Follow this step-by-step guide to researching and buying a bike online so that you can feel confident in your purchase and excited to get on the road.
Step 1: Identify the type of bike that fits your needs.
There are tons of different bikes meant for a variety of activities—cruisers, commuters, hybrids, and road and mountain bikes. Having a clear understanding of how you want to use your bike will help immediately narrow your search and provide you with a happier outcome, says Mehdi Farsi, cofounder of State Bicycle Co. Do you want something to take you from point A to B? Are you planning to cover long distances (say 50, 60 miles) on the weekend? Do you want to be able to use your bike in mixed terrain? All of these are important questions to ask yourself so you can identify the right tool for the job, says Farsi.
Step 2: Be prepared to spend a little more than you initially thought.
Newbies will likely experience some sticker shock, as high-end road bikes can start at the thousand-dollar mark and can quickly double from there. But "you can find a bike that matches your budget," says Farsi. Is this going to be a hobby or a habit? Do you need all the bells and whistles or a single-speed that will take you where you want to go? Do your homework, read the reviews, and set a realistic budget, but know that total cost will end up being more than just the price tag on the bike itself. There will be additional costs for assembly (more on that important factor below), shipping, and gear (you're going to want those padded bike shorts for long rides). Another important thing rookies can overlook: The cheapest bike won't necessarily do everything you want it to do. "If someone ends up buying an inexpensive mountain bike and they're using that mountain bike on the street, that's going to really slow down their commute; it's going to be tiring for them," says Austin Stoffers, cofounder of Pure Cycles. (Silver lining: Working out could save you $2,500 a year.) You may also want to consider insuring your bike if it's not under a homeowner's or renter's policy, in the unfortunate case that your bike is ever stolen.
Step 3: Ask all the questions. Yes, even the "silly" ones.
You don't want to buy an expensive 16-speed road bike, only to realize four months in that all you really needed was a single-speed hybrid with flat handlebars. Asking questions digitally and actually getting answers from real people is easier than ever before with systems in place such as live chat, email, and social media. Farsi says that State Bicycle is constantly answering customer questions on social media. "Make sure there is someone on the other end to answer all your questions and concerns," he says. "You want someone who understands the product, can help you troubleshoot, help you customize, or, especially if you're new to cycling, give you the best tips on what to do next."
A benefit to buying a bike online is that there's no pressure to act like a pro or any stigma if you're clearly not. Many bicycle brands cater to the small percentage of riders who are essentially experts, says Stoffers. "Our mission is to get more people on bikes and the way we feel like we should do that is being accessible and open to everyone," he says. You can chat with live customer service representatives online at Pure Cycles, and the brand also posts YouTube tutorials that break down common aspects of a bike, plus maintenance and upkeep. "There are no wrong questions to ask—you should ask them, and you should feel extremely comfortable with your purchase." (Check out these 31 biking tips from elite female cyclists.)
Step 4: Choose the appropriate size and fit.
Yes, bikes come in sizes, and choosing the proper frame size for your body (online or in store) means the difference between an ergonomically smooth ride that you can take as far as you want or an uncomfortable position that sets you up for strains and pains after a few miles.
Usually, your fit is based on your inseam, says Stoffers, and is measured in centimeters—a size 51, for example, would typically fit a 5'4" woman. If you're not familiar with your appropriate size, this can seem a little tricky to tackle virtually, but most companies will have a sizing chart to help guide you. Bust out the measuring tape and follow the brand-specific guidelines. When your bike arrives, you can make adjustments to seat height and handlebar reach, which can also help customize the overall fit.
Step 5: Don't forget about assembly.
Sorry, but you aren't just going to pop on a pedal and start riding. Most bikes that you buy online are going to be shipped 80 to 90 percent assembled. Farsi says State Bicycles "always recommends professional assembly to validate the warranty and make sure everything's safe and secure." Plus, getting your bike professionally assembled, tuned, and fitted greatly extends its life span and will reduce the risk of injury from malfunction, says Stoffers.
Pure Cycles actually offers customers tiered delivery and assembly options at different price points: DIY (you assemble the bike; for riders who have education in bike building), Bike Shop Pick-Up (the bike is sent directly to a local bike shop for assembly and you pick it up; for riders who want the service and reliability of a storefront experience), and Fully Built Delivery (same as Bike Shop Pick-Up with the ready-to-ride bike sent directly to you; for the all-inclusive rider). Regardless of how you choose to assemble the bike, make sure to take this into consideration when thinking about price, delivery, and how quickly you want to hop on the saddle.