Choosing the right bike may not always be simple, but it shouldn't be confusing. If you are looking to purchase your first bike or you are an experienced cyclist, this helpful guide should make that next bike purchase a little bit easier.

Decide What Kind of Riding You'll Do

This will help to narrow your choice to one of four basic bike types including road, mountain, comfort, and BMX. 

  • If you're an avid cyclist, you may prefer a conventional road bike for longer endurance rides or road racing. Road bikes are usually lightweight and put the rider in a more aggressive position for fast riding on pavement. However, road bikes these days can cover a wide variety of riding styles including pure road, gravel, and cyclocross.
  • Prefer dirt over pavement? Mountain bikes are a great choice for the adventurous. These bikes feature aggressive tires and varying degrees of suspension for smooth off-road riding. Whether you enjoy exploring your local trails, chasing after endurance records, or simply desire all out downhill speed, there is a mountain bike to fit your needs.
  • Looking for a leisurely ride on flatter, more paved roads? A comfort-style bike may be more your speed. These bikes are offered in many shapes and sizes, but their main goal is rider comfort, which is typically accomplished through an upright riding position and comfortable saddle.
  • Wanting something a little less conventional? A BMX bike may be all you need. Inspired by motocross, BMX bikes offer durability, simplicity, and pure fun. Whether you hit big jumps or want to compete in all out sprints, BMX bikes are offered in a variety of styles and sizes.

The Right Bike Shop Can Make All the Difference

If you think all you need to look for is the right bike, think again! The bike shop you buy from will likely be just as important of a decision as the bike you are buying. Sure, you'll probably pay a bit more up front at a bike shop than at a department store, but we think you're more likely to be satisfied, especially in the long-run. Bikes from big-box stores might not be properly assembled or sized properly to your body. Some bike shops, like us, even offer extended service when you buy from them (we've been providing Free Lifetime Tune-ups on every new bike purchased since 1996).

Bike shops, like us, will help you make the right purchase by figuring out what your goals or intentions are regarding your bicycling needs. We actually talk with our customers, it's crazy! We can also help you customize an out-of-the-box bike to suit your exact needs. Prefer a different saddle, stem size, or wish to accessorize your bike? No problem, a good bike shop can help with that.

Test Ride, Test Ride, Test Ride

Before you buy any bike you should always get in a decent test ride. Ride it far enough to make sure that the brakes and shifters are easy to use, the fit is comfortable, the gears can go low enough for climbing hills, and the frame and suspension adequately smooth the bumps. By doing this, you not only help eliminate buyer's remorse down the road if the bike isn't what you expected, but you also gain a valuable understanding of what you do or don't care for in a bike. We recommend everyone to test ride any bike they intend to purchase, including those from bike shops, department stores, or Craigslist, etc.

Avoid Cheap Bikes

Inexpensive bikes—those selling for less than about $200, often in big-box stores—may seem like good deals, but we advise looking elsewhere. A good entry level bike from a reputable bike shop or even a good quality used bike will likely be a better choice. Why? Because you'll get a lot more bike for your buck.

Mass-market bikes have cheaper construction than higher-priced bikes and can weigh significantly more. They are very limited in sizes, and often come in only one size, so you're not likely to get a great fit. And mass merchants can't match bike shops for quality of assembly, expert advice, and service.

Adults should consider inexpensive bikes from a department store only for the most casual use, and stick with a front-suspension or non-suspension model, which is likely to be better than an inexpensive full-suspension bike. You might want a mass-market bike for kids who will outgrow a bike quickly or handle it roughly, but keep in mind a good quality bike shop bike will hold its value much better.

Consider These Extras

  • A good bike helmet is essential.
  • Special cycling shoes and cleats can ease your pedaling.
  • Fenders—or mudguards—will protect your backside and bike from muck,
  • Gloves will absorb vibrations and help to protect your hands in a spill.
  • ‍Polycarbonate glasses can shield your eyes from bugs and errant pebbles.
  • A water bottle is handy to have on long, hot-weather rides.

This guide has been adapted from the Consumer Reports Bike Buyers Guide.