Though cycling elitists consider $1,000 to be bargain-basement territory for road and mountain bikes, many models at that price will provide you with years of happy riding. If you're in the market for a city bike, you can land even more value for less.
The key is to be a smart shopper. Before heading to your local bike shop, contemplate whether you're planning to ride singletrack, log road miles, or commute to work. Also consider what other gear you'll need. Buying helmet, cycling shorts, and basic repair tools to fix a roadside flat can slice $150 to $300 from your budget. Next, find a retailer you like—one with helpful salespeople who can answer your questions.
"This should be the beginning of a long, happy relationship, so don't go looking solely for the best deal," says Mike Goodman, owner of Intown Bicycles in Atlanta.
Once inside the store, find bikes with the best fit. Manufacturers match each other closely on price and components, especially on entry-level bikes, so mostly what sets bikes apart is fit and feel. Plan to test-ride at least a couple of different bikes to get the one that seems the most comfortable, and remember that a few minor adjustments can almost always improve any ride. You'll pay at least $150 for an extensive fitting, but if you buy a bike, the shop staff should help you set your saddle in the right position and determine the correct stem length.
Then consider the components: With road bikes, pay closest attention to frame material and size options; larger manufacturers such as Trek, Specialized, and Giant typically offer more frame sizes, which lets you find a better fit. Then look at wheels, the rear derailleur, and shifters, and prioritize frames outfitted with parts made by reliable brands like Shimano or SRAM. You'll also need to choose between a triple crank or a double with compact gearing. A triple provides easier gears for pedaling uphill, but adds weight. A compact crank works more smoothly and will give you nearly as many climbing-friendly gears, but you may not be able to go as fast on the flats.
With mountain bikes, focus on front suspension, wheels, disc brakes, and the drivetrain—in that order, says Troy Rarick, founder of Over the Edge Sports. Look for brands such as RockShox, Fox, SRAM, and Shimano, which have reputations for quality, even with their lower-tier products. This lets you make value comparisons. For instance, mountain bikes that cost about $1,100 are often equipped with either RockShox XC 28 suspension or the more expensive XC 30: One with XC 30 may be a better deal. Not sure which parts are tops? Manufacturers post component details on their websites, so you can compare bikes before going for a test ride.
If your ride will take you no farther than the coffee shop across town, find a comfortable one-speed cruiser and save your cash for later. Conversely, if you're planning to ride 5 miles to work and back every day, look for a city bike with racks, fenders, and integrated lights. A belt drive paired with internal gearing is also becoming a popular replacement for a standard derailleurequiped drivetrain. Models that place you in an upright position let you easily navigate traffic. Disc brakes are becoming more common on around-town bikes, even in lower price ranges. They add safety, especially if you ride in the rain.
Gearing is an important consideration for city bikes. Single-gear models require little maintenance and work fine on gentle climbs. But if there are sustained hills on your commute, choose a bike with at least five gears. Geared city bikes come with either a derailleur or an internal shifting mechanism. The former is typically less expensive and lighter, but requires more maintenance.
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And as with other categories, "don't buy a city bike based solely on price," says Civia Cycles sales manager Andy Lambert. There's added value in smart design features such as pavement-smoothing carbon forks, fenders and chain guards to protect you from the elements, a bell to help keep you safe, a rack to carry your briefcase, and a dynamo hub that powers front and rear taillights.
Most bike shops have sales in March or April that are perfect for bargain hunters, particularly if you want a common frame size (50cm to 56cm for road and city bikes; small, medium, or large for mountain bikes). You can also find discounts during the fall, especially if you're taller or shorter than average.
Finally, remember the most important part of the deal: finding something that you want to ride. No bargain is great if the bicycle ends up collecting dust in your garage.
Read the original article published on Bicycling.com.
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