Buying a Bike, Pt. 1: Assessing your Needs & Options


All of us at Cosmic Bikes are big believers in human-powered transportation. Many of our customers rely on their bicycles to carry them safely and dependably all over the city. This is why we are discriminating about our choice of products. Some bike manufacturers race to the bottom, in an effort to out-compete online bike resellers, and, it can be tempting to lure customers with bike prices that stand up to internet competitors. However, our 20+ year experience has taught us plenty about the point of diminishing returns: a certain quality level below which long-term enjoyment and satisfaction are sacrificed. 

That's why, when we decide which bike models to stock each season, we look for a certain set of features that a bike must have. Most of the bikes and gear we sell have been rigorously field tested by us, and represent the best quality and value that our vendors have to offer.

Price vs. Value & Longevity
If you have not shopped for a bike in a long time, you may find yourself overwhelmed by choices, and confused by the range of prices. What we consider a "basic" bike may carry a price tag of $400-$500, and many models are priced considerably higher. It's worth pointing out that, in our era of planned obsolescence, the majority of bikes offer a surprising level of durability and longevity. If a recent trip to a bike shop has given you sticker shock, consider that even that modestly priced $400-$500 bike is quite likely to last a number of decades with basic annual maintenance. Can your smartphone do that?

Assessing Your Biking Needs
Most bikes are not priced higher simply for prestige. The differences between several models in a line-up may not be obvious to an untrained eye, and that's why as a bike shopper, you'll want to put yourself in the hands of trustworthy bike shop personnel. Generally, they should be able to explain to you what upgrades in frame materials and construction, wheel construction and components you get as you go up the price ladder, and what the benefits of those upgrades are to you as a rider. You, in turn, need to honestly assess your riding needs, and evaluate if those upgrades are simply icing, or indispensable for your demanding commute, any planned competitions, long-distance touring, or other riding requirements.

What About Department Store Bikes
Bike shop personnel have a reputation for sometimes looking down their noses at mass-merchant bikes. Yet the reality is that mass merchants put bikes within reach of people who could not otherwise afford them. Any bike, really, any bike can be used for commuting. But before you buy any type of bike, take the time to honestly and thoroughly evaluate whether the apparently low price offers real value, taking into account the frequency and distance of your planned bike trips, potential savings over other transit options, maintenance costs, accessories, etc. If you go through this process, you may discover that the initial savings on a department store bike are more than offset by higher maintenance cost over a couple of seasons of use.

Why Buy from Reputable Local Bike Store?
Mass merchants are great at selling commodity goods at low prices. Specialty bikes are great at, well -- selling and servicing bikes. But, of course, not all bike shops were created equal. Depending on where you live, you may have to visit a handful before you find one where you feel really comfortable (more on that in an upcoming post).

With a good independent bike retailer in your local area, it makes no sense to buy your new bike online or at a big box retailer. Any apparent savings will quickly be offset by maintenance costs within the first year. Despite what the marketing literature says, even bikes that are "pre-assembled" come as a collection of moving parts in a large box, and require the expertise of a competent mechanic to ensure proper assembly for correct functioning, rider safety and longevity of the bike. When the bike is purchased from a professional bike store, the bulk of the maintenance cost will be covered for a period of time.

For example, buying locally in Chicago from Cosmic Bikes has the following advantages:

  • Thorough consultation about your riding needs prior to purchase.

  • FREE test-rides.

  • Assistance with modifications to ensure fit and comfort, including handlebar height and position, saddle style and position, and more.

  • Assistance with choosing accessories and upgrades to get the most out of your biking experience.

  • FREE included expert assembly on all new bicycles purchased from us.

  • FREE included 100-mile check-up, to verify that all adjustments are holding.

  • FREE included one-year new bike maintenance package.

  • FREE flat tire repair for one year.

  • Extended 3-year maintenance agreement for additional 3 available for within the first year after purchase.

  • FREE labor on approved modifications and accessory installation or upgrades.

  • Significant savings on labor costs over the life of the bike.

The anonymous experience of buying a bike from a department store may be a little less intimidating, especially if you're new to biking. After all, there is no one there to size you up and ask those rather personal questions about comfort and fit. But, believe me, if you'd like to get the most out of your biking experience, you have to get a little touchy-feely with your friendly bike shop. The reason for this is, that if you really intend to use your bike, the bike purchase itself is not the end of the line. Rather, it is a beginning of a relationship, and it should be one you enjoy.