When rookie bicycle shoppers walk into Bikenetic Full Service Bicycle Shop, Jan Feuchtner understands they might not know exactly what they want—or how to ask the right questions to get it.
“It’s difficult for people to know what to ask when they go into a bike shop,” says Feuchtner, the owner of the Falls Church store. So he starts with the same general script with every new customer: Where are you going to ride? How often are you riding? When was the last time you rode or bought a bike?
If you’re looking for a new bicycle, visit a few local shops and ask questions. Visiting several shops will not only help you see a variety of bikes and brands, but it will also help you find attendants you trust and with whom you can build a relationship. Considering they’ll be helping you make a potentially expensive purchase and learning about your daily routines and overall goals, feeling comfortable with your attendant is important.
From there, the attendant will walk you through the details based on the exact type of bicycle that you want or steer you in the direction of a unit that makes more sense for your life. Given the seemingly endless options out there now, Feuchtner advises leaving it to your attendant to “weed out the riffraff of things you don’t need to know” for your first bicycle.
But that doesn’t mean you should come to the bike shop unprepared. Here’s what to keep in mind as you buy your new set of wheels.
Figure Out Your Goals—And Be Honest with Yourself
The type of bicycle you buy will totally depend on the type of riding you’re looking to do, so be clear with yourself and your attendant about what your needs are. Are you looking to cut down on neighborhood car trips? A cruiser, hybrid, or road bicycle is sufficient for the job. Want to get in an off-road workout on one of this region’s many trails? Consider a model in the mountain bike family.
Think about your current level of fitness or personal health. If you’re not quite ready to tackle big hills yourself, an electric bicycle can give you the boost you need to get over one. Back problems? A recumbent bicycle might be a good option for alleviating lower-back stress.
But what you’ll want to do with the bicycle later is even more important than what you want it for now. Be honest with yourself and your attendant about how sustainable or abiding your current motivation is compared to your actual routines, fitness, and desire. Starting a new hobby or routine is thrilling, but it can also be a money pit if you buy all the gear for a more advanced rider without actually making sure you enjoy the basics.
So start small. If you haven’t ridden a bicycle since childhood, don’t go out and buy a BMX bike to do tricks or go off-road. Try something built for general road use first to make sure you’re even comfortable riding before you max out your leisure budget on something that will collect dust in your garage. And maybe consider a secondhand bicycle or a cheaper model if you want to explore the idea before diving in deeper.
Come Up with a Budget in Advance
Bicycles can come in many shapes and sizes—as well as many price points. So before you visit a store, come up with a rough number with which you’re comfortable. Be honest with your attendant about your budget, and stick with it.
“There’s almost no limit on how much you could spend on a bike,” says Mike Trumpfheller, a military veteran who founded a small business building custom bicycles in Arlington. “Probably somewhere around $15,000.” But that doesn’t mean you can’t purchase a suitable bicycle at an affordable price; it just means that every bell and whistle you add can amount to an expensive final price tag.
Don’t Forget the Gear
Whatever budget you settle on, that number needs to include safety equipment; it also might include any significant accessories, like a trailer to haul kids or groceries. And whether you’re riding for fun, intense exercise, or modest commutes, consider the cost of breathable clothing in which you can easily move while staying comfortable.
For safety gear, a helmet is an obvious requirement. Lights on both the front and back of the bicycle are also important for night riding; they should be able to both blink and stay solid.
You’ll also want to wear clothing that makes sense for the season and time of day. If it’s nighttime, wear fluorescent and bright colors. If it’s autumn, don’t wear dark brown shirts or anything that could blend in with the surrounding environment. Trumpfheller also suggests wearing gloves to reduce fatigue and to stay warm.
Eye protection is also crucial.
“I wear glasses or eye protection day or night,” says Trumpfheller. “There’s wind in your eyes all the time when you’re riding that will dry your eyes out and particles in the air that can injure your eye and make it hard to see where you’re riding your bike.”
Also consider lightweight tire-repair gear, like tubes and pumps, that can help inflate a wheel in a pinch. Trumpfheller suggests using carbon-dioxide cartridges to inflate your tires quickly and without the stress of physically pumping.
Outside of safety gear, don’t forget to think about how you’ll transport and store your bicycle. If you plan to drive out to state parks or trails, you’ll need a car rack if your bike can’t fit in your vehicle.
Looking for a more social experience? Consider investing in a cycling computer or a fitness app that will allow you to compare stats with friends.
“I think that makes it more enjoyable to do the rides—even if you’re riding by yourself, you know that your friends are going to see that you went on this ride, you took pictures of cool things you saw along the way,” says Trumpfheller. “It’ll tell you if you got a personal record on a hill climb and how you were relative to other riders that did that hill, so you can use it as a motivation to get into better shape.”
Take the Test Ride
One of the benefits of buying in-store is being able to test-ride numerous bicycle styles and brands. A comfortable bike is a bike you’ll actually end up using. Make sure that the bike is “right-sized” for you, meaning that the seat position makes sense for your body type and that you can stand over the bike with your feet on the ground without your body too far from the seat.
Some amount of discomfort is normal during a test ride, but your bicycle attendant can help you determine whether you’re experiencing an acceptable amount of irritation. The important thing is to make sure that the seat is functional and not painful.
“Admittedly, most people looking in a furniture store probably wouldn’t pick a bicycle saddle as the most likely candidate to sit on for hours on end,” says Feuchtner. “Even the best-fitting saddle for you might still not be what you would consider comfortable.”
Naturally, various types of handlebars have different feels, as do different seats, seat positions, and tires. Don’t be shy about sounding picky; ask about any specific changes you might want to make, and be candid about how your body feels riding the test bicycle.
Looking for a custom bicycle? A test ride is still crucial. Trumpfheller says he has numerous models for customers to test out so that “they have a point of reference” during the buying conversation.
Shopping for a Kid? Let Them Do the Talking, but Pay Attention
Just like for adults, a children’s bike needs to be right-sized for them. But because kids have smaller hands, it’s also important to make sure they can actually control the brakes.
“This sounds like a simple thing,” says Trumpfheller. “But I’ve seen parents get focused on a certain bike, and then they put their kid on it and say, ‘Oh, they’ll grow into it; it’s fine,’ but the kid wasn’t able to actually reach up to move the brake levers enough to stop safely.”
A pricey purchase for an adult whose body likely won’t grow taller or larger is hard enough, but Trumpfheller says “the challenge is that kids grow so fast … keeping them in one bike is kind of difficult.”
Make sure your children are active in the conversation with the attendant, particularly when it comes to comfort and fit questions. Have them do a test ride to gauge fit, especially if they might be shy or very young.
“You have to watch your kid ride the bike, because they might be so excited about the bike that they may not say that they can’t actually squeeze the brakes all the way,” says Feuchtner.
Think About Maintenance Early and Often
A Prince William County resident, Jason Riddle has over a decade of bicycle repair experience and owns a mobile repair company, 703 Cycles. He encourages all bicyclists to take advantage of any free tune-ups offered by the bicycle shop from which they make their purchase, but he also recommends that riders learn basic maintenance themselves to keep the unit in good shape.
Before ever getting on a bicycle, Riddle suggests you take a “quick visual inspection.” Pull the brakes to gauge the brake pads’ functionality, and look at the tires to identify and address any issues with those parts as soon as possible.
However, “the most important thing you can do is to keep your ‘drive train’ clean,” he says, defining that as the bicycle chain and everything it touches that propels the bicycle. “That’s where the friction is taking place and the moving parts are, and we want to keep that stuff as clean as we can to avoid undue and unnecessary wear to prolong the life of those parts.”