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How to buy a bike

Don't know what to ask: Here's everything you need to make the purchase nearly as much fun as the ride.

By Mark Riedy

With a transit strike looming last December, New York City's billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg did what any sensible urbanite would do: He bought a bike for commuting. Bloomberg dropped into Gotham Bikes in Tribeca and, after a carefully scripted photo-op, walked out with a shiny black Cannondale F300 mountain bike.

Great PR for Cannondale, but bad news for Bloomberg. Instead of buying one of the company's more commuter-friendly models (or the suave about-towner Bianchi Milano just behind him in The New York Times' front-page photo), Bloomberg selected a bike with knobby tires and a suspension fork, better suited for the trail than the street. "We offered to put some smooth, Specialized Armadillo tires on the bike," says Ismael Torres, who rang up the $550 sale, "but he thought the knobbies would be more durable."

Even the insanely rich and powerful can end up with the wrong bike. "We try to encourage people to focus on their needs instead of their wants," says Torres. "But, obviously, it's hard."

The Universals

Whatever your choice, your bike should have these features:

Sturdy Frame--With an Even Sturdier Warranty. Tell the salesperson you want the bike with the best frame you can afford. Components come and go, but the lifespan of the frame is essentially the lifespan of the bike. For most bikes, you should get a lifetime frame warranty--it lasts as long as you (the original buyer) own it. The exception: Ultralight, high-end racing bikes often come with warranties shorter than 5 years.

Quality Drivetrain. Shimano, Campagnolo and SRAM are the biggest, and most trustworthy, component brands. If the bike you're interested in has drivetrain components--derailleurs, shifters, crankset, bottom bracket, chain and cassette--that aren't from the Big Three, ask the salesperson for an explanation. Some brands, such as RaceFace or FSA, are high-quality boutique manufacturers; some are reputable house brands owned by the company that produces the bike; others, however, are lower-quality substitutions, placed on the bike purely to keep the price down.

Worthy Wheels. Besides the frame, quality hoops are the most essential element for a fast, fun ride. Never buy a bike with steel rims; aluminum is lighter and stops better. (Some high-end wheels have carbon rims.) Stainless-steel spokes, or those treated with a weather-resistant coating, improve durability. Tires that have a folding, or Kevlar, bead are lighter and more nimble than steel beads. To identify a Kevlar tire, read the writing on the label or sidewall, or ask the salesperson.

With a transit strike looming last December, New York City's billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg did what any sensible urbanite would do: He bought a bike for commuting. Bloomberg dropped into Gotham Bikes in Tribeca and, after a carefully scripted photo-op, walked out with a shiny black Cannondale F300 mountain bike.

Great PR for Cannondale, but bad news for Bloomberg. Instead of buying one of the company's more commuter-friendly models (or the suave about-towner Bianchi Milano just behind him in The New York Times' front-page photo), Bloomberg selected a bike with knobby tires and a suspension fork, better suited for the trail than the street. "We offered to put some smooth, Specialized Armadillo tires on the bike," says Ismael Torres, who rang up the $550 sale, "but he thought the knobbies would be more durable."

Even the insanely rich and powerful can end up with the wrong bike. "We try to encourage people to focus on their needs instead of their wants," says Torres. "But, obviously, it's hard."

The Universals

Whatever your choice, your bike should have these features:

Sturdy Frame--With an Even Sturdier Warranty. Tell the salesperson you want the bike with the best frame you can afford. Components come and go, but the lifespan of the frame is essentially the lifespan of the bike. For most bikes, you should get a lifetime frame warranty--it lasts as long as you (the original buyer) own it. The exception: Ultralight, high-end racing bikes often come with warranties shorter than 5 years.

Quality Drivetrain. Shimano, Campagnolo and SRAM are the biggest, and most trustworthy, component brands. If the bike you're interested in has drivetrain components--derailleurs, shifters, crankset, bottom bracket, chain and cassette--that aren't from the Big Three, ask the salesperson for an explanation. Some brands, such as RaceFace or FSA, are high-quality boutique manufacturers; some are reputable house brands owned by the company that produces the bike; others, however, are lower-quality substitutions, placed on the bike purely to keep the price down.

Worthy Wheels. Besides the frame, quality hoops are the most essential element for a fast, fun ride. Never buy a bike with steel rims; aluminum is lighter and stops better. (Some high-end wheels have carbon rims.) Stainless-steel spokes, or those treated with a weather-resistant coating, improve durability. Tires that have a folding, or Kevlar, bead are lighter and more nimble than steel beads. To identify a Kevlar tire, read the writing on the label or sidewall, or ask the salesperson.



 

 

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