Bike Shop, Mail Order or Used?

Bike Shop, Mail Order or Used?

Your next bike will come from somewhere

We’ve long been proponents of buying a new bike from your local bike shop. In fact, for many years that was the only way to buy a bike—unless you were willing to do a sketchy deal in a back alley with a guy who tried to convince you the serial number got scratched off “in a crash.” Nowadays, in a world that can deliver virtually anything via website in a matter of hours, many riders are beginning to rethink the notion of heading to a brick- and-mortar store. There are pros and cons to every option for buying your next bike, and we’ve experienced most of them firsthand. Whether you buy your next bike from an eager-beaver bike-shop salesman or fly solo and buy your bike direct, we can give you advice on how to make that purchase the right one—the first time.

NewUsed4Buy new: Whether you’re choosing to go to your local shop or buy from a consumer-direct brand, buying new is the best choice. If you’re going to spend the money, have some assurance that you’re getting the most from your money.


Internet sales of bikes are growing. Brands such as Fezzari, Canyon and YT now offer high-end bikes at drastically reduced prices that are made possible, for better or for worse, by cutting out the middle man—the bike shop.

Online brands have worked hard to overcome the stereotype that bikes purchased online aren’t “bike-shop quality.” They have redesigned their frames to look more modern and have increased quality while maintaining their incredibly affordable prices. The price difference between a bike sold online and the same bike sold at a shop can be as much as 40 percent, which on the high end makes for substantial savings.

Direct value: Consumer-direct brands are popping up more and more as buyers are becoming more tech savvy. Bulls has been offering riders quality bikes at a drastically reduced rate.

Shopping online suits people who like to do things themselves. A bike needs to be carefully built and tuned by an expert mechanic before it’s ready to hit the trail. If you aren’t mechanically inclined, it will cost some extra coin to take the bike into a shop to have it dialed in. Consumer-direct brands generally send out bikes that require very little assembly, but if you are buying from an online retailer, your bike might come in multiple pieces and require a full professional build to get going.

newUsed5.IMGL5553The unicorn: If there is one brand that Americans are eagerly awaiting, it’s Canyon. The German-based consumer-direct company has created a solid reputation for itself overseas.


It’s no secret that we at Mountain Bike Action respect bike shops—and we have spent a fair amount of time working in them. We have seen firsthand the best and worst that shops have to offer, and we understand why some would want to shop online to avoid their local shop. But, you can’t deny all the benefits of a local shop. Not all shops are good, but some are great.

casino 1Beyond the call: Bike shops around the country are reaching out not only to gain more customers but more importantly, helping out our new generation of mountain bikers. Casino Bikes in Hemet, Ca has volunteered endless hours of tech-support, mechanical advice and numerous chains, to the SoCal High School Cycling League.

Your experience at a local shop is largely determined by the sales staff, and this personal contact only happens at brick-and mortar stores. An Internet chat room just isn’t the same. Shop employees can provide great advice—although they may also be guilty of a certain amount of bias towards the brands they carry. Finding the right shop is key. You want a helpful, friendly staff member who offers good advice and will encourage you to purchase your bike elsewhere if they don’t offer what you need but will still support you with good service.

NeworUsed2It could be a big deal: Buying a new bike gives you confidence that you aren’t getting a machine that has been trashed. New bikes come with warranties and more than likely a couple tune-ups if purchased from your local shop.

Internet sales are mainly driven by price, but there may be some hidden costs down the line. Shops have to charge more for parts and bikes since their overhead is higher and they aren’t dealing in large quantities like Internet businesses. But, keep in mind that all new bikes have a break-in period during which they will need to be adjusted. Most shops include these tune-ups in the sales price, along with the time it took to actually build the bike for the showroom floor. Amazon might have great deals on parts, but they don’t sell labor.


Purchasing a used bike is a gamble. There’s no other way to put it. Unless you have a very keen eye, it’s extremely difficult to know whether or not you’re being sold a worn-out hunk of junk. We’ve fallen for it ourselves. We’ve purchased a shiny bike off a site like eBay, only to have a tattered box land on our doorstep with a bike that’s filthier and in worse shape than a car that’s been through a demolition derby. Used bikes can be a giant mechanical mess that will suck hard-earned cash from your wallet. We understand the temptation. There’s nothing like the thrill of hunting down that one amazing deal, or steal (seriously, it might be stolen), on the used bike market.

NewUsed1Keep it local: Your local shop is more than a place to buy bikes and parts; it’s a hub for culture and testing the knowledge of those you are committed to riding. You can’t order expertise on the Internet.

If you’re going to shop used, you need to know what to look for. Check the suspension bearings and make sure they are all tight. If a description online says “hardly ridden” but the pivot bearings are loose, you can bet this bike was ridden harder than the seller is letting on. Look for excess oil around the seals of the fork and shock. Suspension is the most expensive and difficult part of a bike to service. If you purchase a used bike that needs the suspension serviced, you could find yourself in way over your head financially. Check the drivetrain and make sure that the cassette and chainrings won’t have to be completely replaced. Excess tire wear is also a good indicator of just how much the bike has been ridden.

NewUsed7Double check: Drivetrains can be expensive to replace, and this is one area that needs to be thoroughly gone over before purchasing used. Check chainring wear and make sure the teeth are still good. If the chainrings are shot, chances are so are the cassette and chain.

Since used bikes don’t have warranties, you are also liable for any failures that may occur in the frame or parts. Every bike has a serial number on the bottom bracket or inside the head tube. Check this serial number with your local dealer to make sure that the bike wasn’t stolen or wasn’t already part of a warranty claim. Some frames on the used market were actually replaced on a warranty claim, but instead of being destroyed, they were sold to unsuspecting buyers. This happens way more often than you think and can be catastrophic.

NewUsed6You never know: It’s tough to know just how hard a bike was ridden when buying used. There can be strong indicators that it was ridden much harder than the seller is claiming. Check over the suspension to make sure everything is clean and not leaking excess oil.

Your next bike is out there; it’s just a matter of finding the right one for you. Buying a new bike is always going to be a safer choice than buying used. New bikes come with warranties, and you will have the assurance of knowing that the bike wasn’t ridden on a Red Bull Rampage course.


Mountain Bike Action is a monthly magazine devoted to all things mountain biking (yes, that’s 12 times a year because we never take a month off of mountain biking). It has been around since 1986 and we’re still having fun. Start a subscription by clicking here or calling (800) 767-0345.

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