Should You Buy a Bike on the Internet?
I am an owner of a brick and mortar bicycle store, so my opinion is perhaps not entirely objective.
I would recommend buying a bike on the internet only in the following cases:
The bike you want is unusual, not available through any local dealers within reasonable distance, and no other bike shop in your area is willing to order it for you.
The bike you want comes from a reputable dealer or manufacturer outside your immediate area (but preferably not another continent), and that dealer is willing to stand behind the product, no ifs ands or buts.
Otherwise, get your bike from your local bike shop. Here is why you should avoid buying a bike on the web:
Low price. An attractive price next to some artful lifestyle shots on your computer screen do not necessarily translate into an excellent real-life experience with the product. If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
You are new to cycling. Internet companies that advertise low prices on bikes target precisely those consumers who are not well-versed in biking lingo, and possibly intimidated by the prospect of a bike shop experience. We get it!. In the long run, you’ll come out ahead if you take the time to find a shop you like and can work with, and let them help you navigate the road between a $200 internet special, and a bicycle that will provide lifetime value.
Assembly will cost you. Regardless of what the internet description may claim, any time a bike is shipped, it will require professional assembly upon its arrival. (How hard can it be? Click here.) Unless you are a skilled bicycle technician, you will have to pay for the service at your local bike store.
You cannot try before you buy. I can't tell you how many times customers come in armed with information about a particular brand of bike, and convinced that they want to buy it, only to change their mind completely once they start test riding all the options. Computer pixels tell you nothing about how the bike will fit and feel when you take it out for a spin.
You have little recourse if the bike doesn't fit. You can usually send it back, but it's costly and inconvenient. Finding suitable replacement might take a lot of trial and error. On the other hand, your local dealer can help you find an alternate size or model, and trade out some key parts to make sure the bike fits you an the way you ride.
You have to pay your local dealer for any follow-up service. Most local shops offer a complete care package with any bike purchased. For instance, our follow up service at Cosmic Bikes includes free 30-day checkup, a tune-up at the end of one year, free tube and labor on flats for one year, free labor on anything related to the regular maintenance of the bike, and on installation of any accessories. If you didn't buy your bike through the shop, this follow-up care can easily add up to a couple hundred dollars.
In case of problems or warranty issues, you may be on your own. Getting compatible replacement parts for a conventional internet bike can sometimes be tricky. With anything more complex, like a $999 e-bike for which you can’t find a replacement battery, you could end up with a very expensive door-stop.
What if you just can't find a bike you really want locally? First of all, if it is a standard upright bike, and you simply like a particular brand and model that your dealer doesn't carry, go ahead a try comparable bikes that they do sell. You may find they are just as nice, and meet your needs very well. Very often people call us asking if we carry Trek, but what they really want is a decent, affordable city bike.
If the bike is a highly specialized brand, or something unusual, like a recumbent, an adult trike, an electric-assist bike, or a folding bike, don't assume your local shop can't get it for you. Go ahead and ask! If there really are no local dealers of that product in your area then no one has protected territory, and the manufacturer should have no problem sending one to your local shop. If one shop isn't willing to do it, try another.
More about shopping online for bike parts.