It's an incredible time to buy a bike; there are more bike choices than ever. In addition to figuring out what type of bike you want, there's also the question of whether you buy from a bike shop or online.
Back in the day, you simply went to a bike shop, tried out a couple bikes, and off you went. But in the mid 90s, everything started getting shaken up by this confusing, maybe-too-good-to-be-true thing called the internet.
Ever since, buying products online has become an increasingly popular option. It's not hard to see why – the ease of shopping at home, the seemingly lower prices, and delivery right to your door.
Buying at the local bike shop – pros and cons
Knowledge and fit are the biggest advantages of buying from an actual, physical shop. Good bike shops live and breathe bikes so their advice might clue you in on something you didn't know and they can help you make sure the bike's size is correct.
For example, Trek's Domane SL5 Disc is available in six sizes, and for most people more than one size could possibly work. Getting the right fit is dependent on a variety of factors: height, flexibility, leg and arm length, even personal preference. There's little that can compare to actually riding the bike and having a trained eye there to look at you and analyze the bike fit.
Another benefit to buying from a bricks-and-mortar bike shop is its service department. Almost all new bikes come with a complimentary tune-up or discounted service. And if anything does happen to fail or go askew, warranty issues are more easily dealt with by returning to a shop, and can sometimes be handled right there, depending on the part, of course.
Downsides basically center around having to pay more, at least up front (we'll get more into that below). The other negative is that, unfortunately, really excellent bike shops stocked with the inventory you desire can be quite rare. The sad truth is a lot of bike shops were started by people with passion, not business savvy, and the turnover for employees is typically high, due to low wages and long hours.
Buying online – pros and cons
Buying a bike online can be done two ways. First, there are manufacturers, like Canyon, YT, and others that ship bikes straight to customers. Typically they have a team in each country for technical and warranty support.
Then there are online shops with their own bike brands, like Vitus from Chain Reaction Cycles. You'll also find some sites with exclusive deals with certain manufacturers, with those bikes only being available from that retailer (exclusive partnerships).
Other online retailers act like a bike shop, selling the same brands as the bike shop, but often previous years' models at a discount.
Whether it's the direct-to-consumer model or an online site blowing out X-Small frames, the number one reason they exist is price. Simply put, there are less layers to the end purchase, so less margin has to be made. This results in a nicer bike for less money or stretching your budget up a level in components.
For example, compare the Canyon Endurance AL 6.0 and Cannondale CAAD Optimo Disc Tiagra at the same price – the Cannondale sports disc brakes and is a nice machine for the money, but the Canyon has a better drivetrain, nicer wheels and also weighs less.
Sounds awesome, doesn't it? Well, there are downsides to buying a bike from your couch. Unless you snag a ride on a demo day or have a friend with the bike you want, you're spending a good amount of money without a test ride. This, of course, can be less of an issue if you know what numbers you need on a geometry chart.
The savings you were so stoked on might not be there in the end, either. If the bike shows up with a kinked cable, or disc brakes need to be bled, or the wheel got tweaked in transit, that's extra time and money to get those issues resolved. And you'll likely have to go to your local bike shop for the parts or the repair. Plus, depending on the company and where you live, you might have to pay for shipping.
The other downside is warranty work and repairs. Whereas a local bike shop will do their best to take care of you (their paying customer), when going direct it's on you to call or email, explain the issues, box and ship the bike or part back, and then wait on the response.
Last but not least, some bike brands just aren't available outside of the bike shop. Also if you live in an area with only one bike shop, and it goes out of business, a last minute tube or other ride-saving part purchase can't happen immediately online. Then there's also the argument about keeping your money in the community where you live and supporting the business that likely helps with bike activism, events, and trails.
It comes down to how experienced you are, what brands you want, and ultimately, your budget. If cycling is new to you, or you don't have a super solid, confident grasp of what all those lines and numbers mean on that goofy chart, visit a shop for your new bike. The online guys offer great advice and knowledge, but the reality is phone calls, emails and Skype chats can't compare to direct face-to-face communication and butt-on-saddle experience.
On the flip side, if you've been into bikes for awhile, know what you want, and have the mechanical know-how to build and fix things, going online might be the right call. Online pricing is tough to ignore as is the convenience of having your new bike delivered to your door. Do keep in mind, though, buying online does have its compromises as well.