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I am planning on purchasing my first nice bike ($500-$1000, nice to me is not a walmart bike) and am cautious due to the Dunning Kruger effect.

I have never had a bike not from walmart before, and while there are buying guides out I still feel uneasy. I have spent hours researching bikes and the parts, but I know there is some knowledge that only comes with time and experience. I just don't know what that experience is.

Here are some general questions that I haven't found answered online yet.

  • What are things on bikes you now consider a gimmick/weighted too heavily in your bike choice? (Brand?)
  • What aspects do you prioritize less? (Type of brakes?)
  • What aspects do you prioritize more? (Mounting holes for addons?)
  • What do you regret or surprisingly like about your purchase?

I am sorry if this is opinion based/not a specific question. With my lack of experience I do not know what questions I need to ask.

1-Year Update

Here is a brief update on my thoughts after buying a bike. For those curious it is a 2015 Trek DS 8.3 (Mix between road and off-road)

  • Biggest mistake: I wanted a bike that could do everything so that I wouldn't end up limiting myself in the long run. While what I bought works rather well as an everyday road bike, I always have the front suspension locked and don't need the disk brakes. It works well enough as a road bike, but in hindsight I should have focused solely on a road bike instead of something that was just good at everything instead of great at what I use it for 99% of the time.
  • Biggest plus: The DS 8.3 has a lot of mounting options for fenders and racks. This has proven very valuable as I am now in the position to be able to bike to work and it gives me plenty of options to add racks for my lunch and computer. I value mounting options a lot now as it allows me to highly modify my bike if I want without needing a new bike.
  • Biggest surprise: While better bikes perform better in general, they have much smaller tolerances and thus need more detailed care. I needed to learn to do a lot of the maintenance and upkeep again as what I knew was too vague to do it well. This also means that the day to day upkeep is slightly more. This may not be a surprise to many, but it was something I hadn't thought about at all.
  • Shifters, Derailers, and Brakes: When I was shopping I was initially overwhelmed by trying to decide which components were better than one another. In the end I don't have strong feelings for any of my components, they all work fine. I have ridden other bikes with different components and while they perform slightly differently, in the end they have never affected my enjoyment.

TLDR My advice from the experience is get a bike that is really focused on what you will be doing, not what you are considering doing. Find a bike that has mounting holes that will support varying uses down the road. Don't worry about all the details, find one that you like as a whole. Finally learn to take good care of it and be prepared to spend more time maintaining it.

closed as too broad by jimchristie Mar 27 '15 at 0:43

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Let's narrow it down. What sort of bike are you looking at? Do you mainly ride on road or off? – Mike Baranczak Mar 26 '15 at 1:37
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    Don't spend all you money on the bike. Think about clothes (Padded shorts, Cycle shoes etc) and spare tube, pumps, lights and other accessories. – mattnz Mar 26 '15 at 2:11
  • @mattnz I am starting to realize I need to factor more of that into my budget. I know this may vary a lot based on needs, but about what percentage of your costs were bike/equipment? – FreakyDan Mar 26 '15 at 15:14
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    I think if you're certain it's the Dunning Kruger effect, then it's not the Dunning Kruger effect. I'm not certain though. – Mooing Duck Mar 26 '15 at 17:53
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    If you can find somewhere to hire a bike of the class you want to buy, give it a try - even better more than one bike. Hire shop bikes tend to be heavy, sturdy and reasonably specified and will be a much closer match to what you're thinking of buying than a Walmart bike. Borrowing is an option of course but needs friends of the right size with the right type of bike. – Chris H Mar 28 '15 at 15:54
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Prioritize more:

  • Tires -- the bike must allow me to use the tires I want to use. I used to have a road bike that did not allow any tire wider than 25mm. Any bike that cannot use 35mm tires is useless to me. Some people are still under the illusion that narrow tires are fast, wide tires are slow; there is a bunch of research that indicates this is not true for tires up to 40mm, and at the relatively low speeds most people ride (<25mph). Wide tires allow you to ride on all surfaces without worrying about gravel, bumps, railroad tracks, bridge grates etc.
  • Fenders -- if it's too hard to install decent fenders, I am going to hate riding when it's wet.
  • Gearing -- if your highest gear is a bit too low, you're not giving up much. In the rare case (downhill+tailwind) where you could use a 53x11 gear for a few seconds, you'll just go a bit slower. If your lowest gear is too high, there are some hills you can't climb, and other hills that you can climb only with great difficulty. To me, this suggests that overall lower gearing works better.

Prioritize less:

  • Weight -- if a bike weighs 0.5 pounds less, but is uncomfortable on longer rides, that really limits my enjoyment.
  • Pretending to be a racer -- unless you are actually going to use the bike for racing, resist the temptation to pretend you're a racer and need the lightest wheels and the shortest wheelbase. In practice, this is not useful for most people (heavy riders end up damaging superlight wheels, etc.) Before you decide that compact cranks are for wussies and get a 53/39 crank, think about how much you're really going to use that 53/11 top gear. How fast would you have to go for that gear to be useful ?

Surprisingly like:

  • Internal cable routing -- I can attach a Revelate "Gas Tank" bag to the top tube, put it on any kind of bike carrier on the car, and easily carry it on my shoulder without cables on the top tube getting in the way
  • +1 especially for the tires (though my bike won't do more than 28mm and I don't regret it). The first question to ask is "How are you going to use the bike?" That drives the bike you want. – Ross Millikan Mar 26 '15 at 4:01
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    Always thought internal cabling was just a gimmick, never thought of it like that! And what bike spec specifies the widest tire that works with it? With regards to fenders which I would like to get, is it reasonable to assume I can mount a fender on the front wheel even if it has a fork brace/arch? – FreakyDan Mar 26 '15 at 14:55
  • @FreayDan - usually it's not in the bike spec, you have to see it in person and measure how much clearance remains beyond the installed tire at various points in the frame, also near brakes. Caliper brakes tend to have the least clearance for larger tires. With a fork brake/arch I'm not sure but generally you can't have normal fenders on a suspension fork. You can get a mtn bike fender that connects only to the point where the fork legs meet the steerer. – Nik Mar 26 '15 at 16:21
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    +1 to internal cable routing. I want this on every bike after having the pleasant experience of getting a bike where there were no exposed cables. – Benzo Mar 26 '15 at 18:41
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    Just to expand on the fenders...my bike isn't even drilled for fenders, which means it is also not drilled for a panier rack which is a real hassle because I can't buy just any ol' fenders/racks. – Brad Mar 26 '15 at 19:51
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The key is to know your intended use. Knowing what you don't want also helps. But also a bike has a wide variety of applications, like a car.

Main (non BSO) adult bike types (people are always trying new ideas, or marketing approaches, so this is intended as an overview)

  • Road (racing) bike. For those who want to ride as fast as possible (for them). The least comfortable and most twitchy if you're not used to it. No mudguards (fenders), and no room to fit them. No luggage capacity. Two chain rings and 10 or 11 speed cluster. "Clipless" pedals.

  • Road bike. A sturdier, cheaper version of the above, probably with wider tires. A more general purpose bike with more relaxed angles, meaning it's less twitchy. Often used for commuting. May have mudguards (fenders), or room (and lugs) to fit them. No luggage capacity. The current CX fad is in this category (CX fans please write you own answers :-)

  • Touring bike. Like the road bike but definitely has mudguards (fenders), and lugs to fit panniers and pack racks for luggage capacity. Many have three chain rings. Some use internal gear hubs. Some have flat handlebars.

  • Hybrid. A combination of road bike and touring bike, with flat handlebars. Usually two chain rings. Some have disk brakes. Good general purpose bikes. Often used for commuting.

  • Mountain bike. A tough machine intended for riding in tough and rough conditions. Often have three chain rings. Usually have disk brakes.

  • Dutch (shopping) bike. Has a step through (ladies) frame with flat handlebars that curve back toward the rider, a shopping basket on the front, and a chain guard. Has has mudguards (fenders) and a guard to stop one's skirt being caught in the rear wheel. A very comfortable upright riding position.

There are more kinds; some people might put CX bikes in their own category, some might insist that fatbikes or 36ers should be in the list. But I digress.

Bikes, like any consumer item, lose a lot of value the moment you pay for them and take them home. So when you have tight budget or are not sure what you want / need, buying a used bike is a sensible option.

The more you use it, the more uses you can find. It's OK to own more than one bike.

As with any significant purchase when you're not sure of the technical details, I recommend reading up (as you have done, and this question is part of that). Then shop around, asking every question you can think of, including ones you think you know the answer for. Ask open questions, where the salesperson has to explain, not "I want to use it for shopping, so I'll need panniers, right?". This way you can cross-check their answers with their competitors and your own knowledge. When there is a difference, ask more to work out if they just have a different opinion to the last person, if they know more than you or the last person, or they are full of bull. I'm looking for a good price, but mainly good service. When I need assistance I want to know where I can get it, which is why I recommend a local bike shop (not online).

So this doesn't answer all the details of your question. Each kind of bike has it's intended use, and does that pretty well. Each kind has drawbacks when you go beyond it's intended uses. You can get too deep into details, such as tire width, number of gears, type of brakes, frame geometry, blah blah. My advice is to be clear on you want it for, and get a bike that matches that. If you're not clear on the use, then you need a more general purpose bike.

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    +1 for used -- 500-1000 gets you something pretty nice on the used market these days. – Batman Mar 25 '15 at 23:11
  • +1 for ask every question. I didn't realize how many assumptions I went into bike shopping with and how many are wrong. Liked your version of the bike types :) – FreakyDan Mar 26 '15 at 14:59
  • Just a note, 'Dutch bikes' have both male and female versions (and the male version does not have a ladies frame :P), though both indeed have a very upright riding position indeed. Definitely +1 none the less. – David Mulder Mar 26 '15 at 19:25
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One of the most important things is to know what you like in a bike, no matter what others need. I have a secondhand omafiets which was probably cheap when new, and I have tried riding friends' superbikes. I still prefer mine. I love the hub gear, I use the backpedalling brake a lot, and the upright seating position, anything else gives me back pain. But I only noticed it after I had tried bicycles which did not have these features.

The best way to understand what you like in a bike is to ride others' bikes and note what bugs you on them, or, on the contrary, what feels like a breeze. And this means not just taking a shop's bike for a test around the street. Find a friend with a bike which is either very different from yours, or is very close to your current purchase favorite, or both. Go on a day tour together where you swap the bikes, or swap for a workday and commute on the other bike. This is the way to notice what is really important to you, and choose accordingly. If you get a bicycle with high technical quality but not suited to your riding preferences, you'll regret it.

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