How to buy a bike

May 6, 2011

Some things are as easy as riding a bike — but oddly enough, buying one isn’t one of them. Within the range of styles, there are thousands of models; there are local shops, online sources, big-box stores and secondhand retailers. There are also service costs, warranties and equipment purchases to factor in. Grown-up thoughts such as these can siphon away the childlike joy of cruising along a shady path on a warm afternoon, but not to worry. Although buying the right bike is a significant investment, it doesn’t have to be one you regret when the ride is over.

THE BASICS OF BUYING:
Think of buying a bike like buying a car — you want the right bike for your lifestyle and the best value for your money. To get both, you should decide what kind of biking you want to do: commuting, trail riding, casual weekend jaunts. “If you want to commute to work and you need fenders and a rack, having a $3,000 carbon race bike is like having titanium picnicware,” says Jill DiMauro, owner of Proteus Bikes in College Park.

Traditional mountain bike: Designed for single-track, downhill and cross-country riding, a mountain bike’s suspension makes it ideal for riding over rocks and roots. “If you want to truly go mountain biking, you’ll spend about $800,” says Anne Mader, owner of the Bike Lane stores in Burke and Reston. If you’re intrigued, but not ready to invest, Mader suggests an entry-level mountain bike, at between $400 and $500.

Hybrid/urban bike: Bikes geared for faster speeds with straight handlebars are ideal for an urban setting, since you’re riding at a faster pace and steering around pedestrians, cars and more. These relatively light, multi-speed bikes are ideal for getting from A to B. “You can put a basket on it and take it to the grocery store or farmers’ market,” Mader said. The starting price for a new hybrid/urban bike is about $450.

Coffeehouse bike: “These are the bikes where you’re sitting upright, waving at people,” DiMauro said. They go for $400 at bike shops; at big-box retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart, they start as low as $80 and max out around $300.


Road bike: Made for fast-paced cycling on paved surfaces, road bikes feature lightweight frames with narrow tires and dropped handlebars. Prices for a good-quality bike start at $900.

DO’S AND DONT’S
Determine the type of bike you need first, before considering price points. Then do some comparison-shopping to determine a realistic price range for the bike you want and start saving to meet that goal. “When you have the ballpark budget, then you have all kinds of choices,” DiMauro said.

Join the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, since roughly 90 bike shops in the area offer a discount — ranging from 5 percent off bike purchases to 10 percent off parts and accessories, or both — when you show proof of membership. A one-year membership is $35 to $45.

If you’re buying a bike secondhand, skip Craigslist and visit one of the area’s bike co-ops. The Arlington-based Phoenix Bikes co-op offers a variety of mountain, road and cruiser bikes, most of which cost between $120 and $240. Find a local co-op on the WABA Web site at waba.org.

Choose carefully if you take the big-box route. “It’s possible that all bikes are a good value, because you’re saving money on gas,” DiMauro says, “but if you buy a $50 bike, you’re getting $50 worth of metal and rubber.” Local bike shops usually offer a year’s worth of free service.

Ask your employer about the Bicycle Commuter Act, a tax incentive that went into effect in 2009. Employees who bike to work can be reimbursed up to $20 per month for bike-related expenses.

Don’t take the DIY approach unless you know how to assemble a bike. If you purchase a bike online and want to have it put together in a bike shop, expect to pay between $50 and $75 for the service. Some national retailers offer free assembly, especially around the holidays.

LOCAL DEALS
Although there’s no specific sale season, bikes — like cars — have model years. So the best way to get a deal is to wait for the next year’s models to arrive, usually in the fall, and watch for discounts as shop owners try to clear out past-year models. Below, some current offerings from area bike shops:

Revolution Cycles’ Georgetown location has 2010 models currently discounted. Sale includes entry-level bikes (priced at $300-$400) up to high-end road bikes ($2,000 and up), and discounts range from $50 to $500. 3411 M St. NW, 202-965-3601, revolutioncycles.com.

City Bikes participates in WABA’s discount program, offering 5 percent off bike purchases and 10 percent off accessories. Gin Armstrong, store manager at the Adams Morgan location, notes that 2012 models arrive in October and November. 2501 Champlain St. NW, 202-265-1564, citybikes.com.

Spokes Etc. plans a June sale timed to the Tour de France, where Trek bikes, road bikes and hybrids will be discounted. 1545 N. Quaker Lane, Alexandria, 703-820-2200, spokesetc.com.

Capitol Hill Bikes offers an end-of-season sale with discounts on 2011 models at the end of August. 719 Eighth St. SE, 202-544-4234, capitolhillbikes.com .

Proteus Bikes’ annual sale occurs after Thanksgiving, according to DiMauro. 9217 Baltimore Ave., College Park, 301-441-2928, proteusbicycles.com .

The Bike Lane offers discounts at the beginning of biking season — usually in March and April — and again in July. Mader notes that bikes are often discounted during and after the winter holidays, as well.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Buy a bike based on what you want it to do, not what you want to spend. Visit bike shops to experiment with different styles. If you want a new bike, set a realistic budget based on current prices; if you want to save more, buy a secondhand version at a bike co-op. Sign up for club memberships, newsletters and mailing lists to make small discounts add up in the end. Maintaining your own bike will save you more down the line, so take advantage of free or discounted maintenance workshops.

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