Titanium or Carbon, Shimano or SRAM, Compact or Standard and we have not started on color choices yet. So there are a billion bikes out there and in order to help you select your perfect ride I have outlined 10 easy steps.
1. Go to Costco…get a case of Corona’s…do not consume
2. Borrow a friend’s bike and ride it a few times. Repeat this step if you have willing friends. You want to get the feel for the frame, the responsiveness of components and your desired body position. Reward your mates with some Cervezas
3. Figure out your size by using on-line tools (competitive cyclist) and getting measured at your LBS (local bike stores such as Pacific Bikes, Mike’s Bikes, Sports Basement). Key measurements are inseam (floor to crotch but not the standard slack size), torso and arm and key outputs are top tube length, center-to-center seat tube and reach. Evaluate bike geometries – comfort (tour, general road) vs. aggressive (tri, race)
4. Rent at least 2 different bikes (Blazing saddles rents Kesrtels and Pacific Bikes rents Giants) and ride them for the day, preferably from the store that you may end up buying your bike from (most places will apply your rental fee toward your purchase)
5. Narrow down your search to a handful of bikes and components. SRAM and Shimano shifters are very different. Where you are in the Gruppo (hierarchy of components within a brand) will significantly impact price. Shimano 105’s may suffice for you in which case you do not have to spend an extra $1,000+ just to look cool with a full Dura-Ace kit. On the other hand perhaps you only want SRAM red because you just love the way it feels
6. Read forums (Harris, bikeforum, cyclingforums) and reviews (bikereviews, Bicyclying) on the short listed bikes and the different components but only to get a sense of what to test for. Almost all reviews are based on personal preference and will probably NOT apply to you. This is a very personal decision. For example (warning: lame vanity excuse coming up) I am unable to own a Giant or a Trek. I know, I know, most of the bikes in the world are Giants and a number of super cyclists ride them, but imagine this phone call. Tribaby calls his uncle in India
Tribaby: Hi Chacha (uncle in Hindi), how are you? I got a fancy new bike!
Chacha: Why beta (son in Hindi), can you not afford a car? You know your cousin is doing very well at Infosys and is about to be manager of 5,000 staff. He drives a Mercedes S class with built in nav and Bose speakers. Should I have him send you some money?
Tribaby: Ummm, no no, I am doing fine, I was only laid off for six months but I have a great job now…
Chacha (interrupting): you were fired! Oh my goodness, I knew you should have gone to Stanford and not that silly state school….
Tribaby (interrupting): Anyway, I have a car and a new iPhone 4 so I am doing ok, I bought a new bike for my triathlon race
Chacha: An iPhone 4 Oh, okay! What bike did you get?
Tribaby: I got a $3,300 Giant TCR2 Carbon frame with Shimano Ultegra…
Chacha (interrupting): Your cousin bought his Giant at a garage sale for $15 and my new Giant in India cost me Rs. 500 (about US$10), perhaps we can all ride our bikes together when I come visit. But why did you pay $3,000 for it, you should talk to your cousin about how to negotiate…
7. Go to your bike shop in full gear and test ride each of the bikes on your short list for no less than 10 minutes and make sure there is a climb. This step is an all day or multiple day event. Dispense a couple of beers to the shop staff to make sure they do not get annoyed at you taking up all their time
8. Fine tune your selection and sizing and repeat step 7
9. Come up with your final short list and research prices/components. On line stores (bikesdirect) may have better prices than shops but be careful of shipping, needing a fit ($150), tune-ups ($90), replacing minor things like stem ($100), warranty and repairs
10. Haggle (c’mon, I am Indian afterall), then drink and haggle some more. When the beers are finished pay for the bike and go home with a big smile
Although not highlighted as a step, probably the most invaluable resource in your bike hunt is a solid group of advisors and a supportive family. Your family will put up with you as you obsess for weeks and months over a single purchase (little do they know that this is just the beginning). While your advisors will help you with each one of the ten steps above and also help you make sense of the jargon, for eg. “my crotch to floor is longer than yours but your top tube is bigger than mine but at the end of the day we both just need a good stiff ride.”