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I'm not really a pro in bicycles, I barely know the basics about the construction itself, but I love cycling. I've been cycling on my old bicycle for 2 months now and I love it.

Unfortunately, my bike has broken down today, so I need to go to our local shop and buy a new one. I bike on roads, or on easier hills, sometimes on a rocky trails, but nothing really crazy or extreme.

What should I look for when buying a new bike, what should I want, or what should I not want?

I expect to spend about $500 and I really don't want to get ripped-off, or buy a bike I don't need for my trails.

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Welcome to Bicycles.SE. You've mentioned the surfaces you use, great! It'll be easier to help you figure out what to look for if we know what kind of riding you'll be doing with the bike. Commuting? Racing? Weekend riding on those rocky trails? –  Neil Fein May 7 '11 at 16:53

6 Answers 6

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I would go further than posipiet: find a good bike shop and do what they say. They know exactly what bikes are available and how those bikes work in your local area.

I suggest thinking very carefully about suspension. On a bike that cheap you will not get good suspension, so the question is whether you would rather have poor suspension or better parts. The money that goes into the suspension comes from the rest of the bike - everything else is a little bit cheaper.

Buying second hand is definitely a good way to save money. There's more risk of getting a bad bike, and you need to be careful about bikes that are cheaper than they should be - they're probably stolen. The difference between a bargain and a thief can be hard to tell. Checking the frame number with the Police is about all you can really do.

What type of bike do you want? The choice is between a mountain bike and a hybrid, I think, although you could get a cheap racing bike for $500. But if you ride offroad at all the racing bike will not work, so Iĺl ignore that.

The hybrid bike will have thinner tyres, a more upright seating position and be slightly lighter. You will go slightly faster on it, but off road it will not work as well.

The MTB will be lower, longer and have fatter tyres. It will be less comfortable but perform better off road.

Like suspension, disk brakes look cool and all the expensive bikes have them. But again, cheap disk brakes cost more than cheap V brakes so that extra money means everything else is a little bit cheaper. They will probably work better than V brakes, but cost more to service. But they might not need servicing as often.

Also consider spending some money on accessories. At least lights and a rear rack, possibly mudguards as well. Buying panniers is probably out of your budget, but those will make commuting a lot easier. The idea is to get your load off your back and onto the bike.

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I'm doubtful whether disc brakes fit a $500 budget: perhaps if it's second hand. My disc brakes were on a bike that cost $850 new (but slightly discounted), excluding accessories like mudguards. –  ChrisW May 8 '11 at 2:27
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@ChrisW: I've seen catalog shots of $500 bikes with disk brakes. They look awful, but they do exist. –  Мסž May 8 '11 at 21:59
    
I would say that a mountain bike with slicks would be as fast or faster than a hybrid. I think that the mountain bike gives better positioning to feed force into the pedals. I also feel much safer cursing fast down a paved hill on a mountain bike than a hybrid. You are right however that the hybrid will be more comfortable. –  sixtyfootersdude May 9 '11 at 19:02

As others suggest the main question is road vs. trail, thus I am introducing the idea of a cyclocross bike...there many advantages and trade offs, but it something worth investigating. It may get you enough of both worlds!

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I'd agree, except I've never seen any cyclocross bikes available for less than about twice his intended budget. –  freiheit May 9 '11 at 20:24
    
Ebay & Craigslist! –  GuyZee May 10 '11 at 15:40

Here is my process for buying a new bike:

  1. Make a list of the requirements for your new bike.
  2. Go and buy a cheap used bike. The bike should be relatively inexpensive (relative to your target purchase) and should retain it's value well so that you can resell it.
  3. Ride the bike. See what kind of riding you are doing (where? How agressive?)
  4. Update your list of requirements. If you are confident that you now know what you want go drop the big bucks. I still recommend buying used because then the bike will have a better resale value and it is somewhat inevitable that sometime in the future you will be upgrading to a new bike. If you still don't know what you want return to step 2.

I recently decided that I wanted to get into road biking. Last summer I dropped $20 on the shittiest road bike you can imagine. I used the bike for about two months (I could never unseize the seat post). I shopped for bike #2 for a couple months. I knew where I would be riding and what features I wanted from bike #1.

The Norco I bought (Bike #2) was also a used bike but it is awesome. The fit is perfect (learned from bike #1). It is reasonably light weight, has better components and not a spot of rust. After making some repairs on bike #1 I am confident making the same repairs on a bike I love. I also have all the parts from bike #1 in my basement ready to sub in should something break or help out my friends when they need some parts.

I know now that I love the road. I am thinking about turning the Norco into a commuter and investing in a newer lighter road bike. After I get bike #3 I will begin evaluating it and planning for bike #4.

Key points:

  • Trial and Error is the best teacher. There is no way that you (or anyone else) can know what kind of bike you should get until you have messed around and gotten your hands dirty.
  • Buy used if you don't like it you can resell it again for about the same price as you bought it for (more if you put some love into it).
  • The evaluation process is fun and you will have a beater bike until you get your new one. Once you get the new one you can use the old one for parts, turn it into a beater (rain, groceries, rack and fenders etc) or resell it.
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Good explanation. And I like the system. –  Мסž May 9 '11 at 1:27

I suggest there may be quite a difference between roads and rocky trails. I bought a bike recently for commuting, that I love:

  • Harder tires (so quite fast): 35 mm wide, pumped to 85 or 100 psi ... these are not the thinnest tires though (I think racing tires are more like 23 mm)
  • Robust (not too light-weight, not a racing bike), so the wheels don't break if it hits a pot-hole.

It has done pretty well getting me home on snowy roads (i.e. non-ideal surface). But for an unpaved road you might prefer lower-pressure, wider "mountain bike" tires (e.g. pressurised to only 40 psi): which, if you have them, would be quite a bit a slower on paved roads.

Perhaps you should include some photos of what you mean by "rocky trails"? For example if "rocky" means "crushed stone" see http://forums.teamestrogen.com/showthread.php?t=29727 (which might be managed with a road or hybrid bike) but if "rocky" means natural/actual rocks that's something else entirely (perhaps requiring suspension).

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You should be able to get a solid entry-level mountain bike or hybrid (or "comfort" or "fitness" bike for your 500 bucks. Likely not a decent roadster.

As well, there are a number of "city" bikes on the market now which are basically mountain bikes with smaller, street-tread tires. Very practical for many riders.

What do you want to do? Bash the trails? Commute? Cruise the bike trails in the local park? Rails-to-trails riding?
For many riders, the hybrid type is quite practical. They are not efficient for fast-long-distance road riding, but for casual riding they are simple to operate and reasonably comfortable. If you plan to go off-road a mountain bike is more appropriate.

There is frankly little difference between major brands at this price-point. You're going to be looking at a Chinese-made frame with various name-brand components bolted on. Important thing...Make sure it fits. You will never be happy on an ill-fitting bike.

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Check your shop's reputation.

Consider buying used. Maybe police, town or rail services are holding an auction soon? You might be able to grab a good bike there.

Think about your old bike. What would you have wished? Make a list of your plans and wishes, and decide about the suspension first. Gearing. Equipment.

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I don't think that RiMMER will be able to get suspension for under $500, or at least not suspension that's of a good quality, unless it's a used bike. –  Neil Fein May 7 '11 at 17:34
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@Neil: Suspension forks seem common near that price range, but definitely not worthwhile full suspension. –  freiheit May 7 '11 at 21:48

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