Pedal Home on a Quality Bicycle (and a Full Wallet) with These Bike Buying Tips

By , dealnews contributor

Is the cost of fuel eating away at your summer vacation savings? Did you know that, according to Consumer Reports, you can save more than $1,600 a year in commuting costs by biking? And a great new bike doesn't have to set you back big bucks, either. Evan Holmes is a veteran employee of Chicago's esteemed Village Cycle Center and an avid cyclist himself who is full of tips for bike shopping in order to make the most of your summer riding.

Know Your Price Point

In the bike world, prices fluctuate as much as they would in any other product category. You could pay $30 for a used bike at a garage sale, or close to $6,000 for a 2011 carbon-frame Trek Speed Concept 9.5 Bike, which doesn't include pedals, by the way.

"My rule of thumb as a bike salesman and an everyday commuter is to start looking around the $500 price point for a combination of solid frame and durable, lightweight components," Holmes says. "It'll certainly be worth it in the long run to spend an extra $100 for a bike that will last for 10-15 years with minimal maintenance or replacement parts."

The Diamondback Men's Overdrive 29er Mountain Bike ($459.93 with free in-store pickup, a low by $90) is a sturdy bicycle build with 6061-T6 aluminum tubing, a SR Suntour XCR-RL 29 fork, Shimano 8-speed RapidFire shifters, Tektro Novela disc brakes, and more.

Match the Bike to the Terrain

Mountain bikes, like the aforementioned Diamondback bike have big knobby tires (its are 29") which are ideally suited for negotiating rugged terrain. Racing bikes sport much slimmer wheels that hug fast, smooth surfaces. Somewhere between the two — and great for many city commuters — are hybrid bikes which can negotiate those pothole-stricken streets with ease.

On the other hand though, if your terrain is smooth-sailing and you're just looking for an attractive style for leisurely pedaling, a cruise might be just the ticket. For the female riders, the Schwinn Women's 700c Wayfarer Bike ($162.44 via coupon code "KMART10PSAVINGS" with free in-store pickup, a low by $37) is a retro option that features a 7-speed SRAM Grip shifter technology so you won't break a sweat riding uphill.

Know (and Compare) Your Components

When deciding between two bikes you love equally, forget about their stylish colors, and take second and look at the components. A bike that looks cheap in price may also harbor cheapo components, such as frames, shoddy shifters and flimsy wheels.

Aluminum is lightweight, but notoriously rigid and needs help with shock absorption. Chromoly or steel frames sacrifice lightness but provide a much smoother ride. Then there's the allure of the sleek carbon frame which has a greater "vibration-damping ability than steel and are a fraction of the weight of aluminum frames," Holmes points out. That said, they're expensive: "Generally we won't see a stock carbon bicycle at under $2,000," he says. Carbon can also be more delicate, so it won't represent the best choice for a beater bike.

Shifters are especially key. "For hybrids or mountain bikes, Shimano Deore or SRAM X-5 components are great benchmarks for performance-level, low-maintenance shifting," Holmes says. "For road bikes, Shimano 105 or SRAM Apex is the place to start looking for competition-worthy performance." Additionally, brands like Trek, Cannondale, and Giant can give you the best of price and quality.

The pictured GMC Men's Denali 700C Road Bike ($169 with 97-cent s&h, a low by $23) boasts a 22" aluminum frame, 21-speed Shimano drive train, and a comfortable Vitesse seat.

Beware of Big-Box Stores Bargains

While buying a bike at a big-box store may yield great savings, like in the deal above, you have to consider whether that's too much of a tradeoff as there's no after-sales maintenance. One secret to making a great bike purchase lies in how the sales team outfits it for you. "Buying from a bike shop means that even an entry-level bicycle will be professionally assembled, and will come with free tune-ups or service packages," Holmes says.

Score Some Special Services

Many bike shops stand poised to make the sale by offering you gobs of special services worth hundreds of dollars. These might include tune-ups and flat-tire insurance, and some shops will even offer you a week-long "test drive" if you're gutsy enough to ask. But that's the key, Holmes says; If you don't ask, the salesperson might forget to offer these perks, especially a seasonal employee who's home from college and new to the job.

Learn to Lock

Whether you live in New York City or the sticks, bike theft is, was, and always will be a problem. Yet it's shocking how many people can't quite match the lock they need to the environment they ride in. For urban areas, choose a secure U-Lock, "which most shops will mount onto your frame at no additional charge," Holmes says. In relatively crime-free or quiet environs, a flexible cable lock might do the trick, though no one will scoff at you for using a U-lock there, too. The Kryptonite Evolution Series 4 Standard Bicycle U-Lock with Bracket ($52.71 with free shipping, a low by $4) is a standard 4x9" and is one of the highest rated bike locks around with its double deadbolt locking mechanism.

"It's best to lock bikes to bike racks, parking meters, or other posts that are actually cemented rather than bolted into the ground," Holmes cautions. "Last summer, Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood saw an ingenious string of bike thefts by a group of thieves disguised as city workers in orange vests. They drove a white van from sign post to sign post, unbolted posts from the ground, packed the bikes locked around them into their van, and drove off into the sunset."

Don't Forget the Accessories

Most folks learn how to ride a bike as a kid, but these skills don't suffice for big city riding. Former competitive cyclist Ross Kerber has two rules of riding: "Always use a helmet and always use a helmet." For one that suits your style, and fits your noggin, check out our bike helmet deals.

If you're riding at night (which, as reminder can set as early as 5 pm in the winter months) bike lights are essential for safety. A set of lights like the Blackburn Voyager/Mars Click Combo Light Set ($22.99 with $5 s&h, a low by $3) boast large lenses that magnify the LEDs in these clip-on bike lights. Now speaking of winter riding, it's important to gear up in the right clothes for biking in the colder months. What's more, you might want to consider installing a nice rear-mounted rack or basket for hauling your goodies. And because bike riding is not only cost-effective and healthy, but an expression of one's style, the BikeStache ($8.99 with free shipping via coupon code "dn-stache", a low by $8) is an amusing option.

No matter what type of bike (and associated accouterments) you decide to invest in, know that you are making strides to not only saving money, but getting fit. Be sure to check up on our daily bicycle deals for the latest deals on wheels.

Note that this feature has been updated since it was originally published last year.

Front page photo credit: Treadly and Me
Top photo credit: Buy a Fixie

Lou Carlozo is a dealnews contributing writer. He covers personal finance for Reuters Wealth, and was most recently the managing editor of, and before that a veteran columnist at the Chicago Tribune.

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DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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The bike helmet link does not work
Remember to always lock your bike!  My bike of 17 years was just stolen on Saturday right out of my own back yard.