This will help to narrow your choice to one of four basic bike types including road, mountain, comfort, and BMX.
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.
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.
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
This guide has been adapted from the Consumer Reports Bike Buyers Guide.