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What is a good method for finding a bike which matches my riding style, body measurements and bank account size when not able to actually go and try the given candidate bike model(s) in-person?

In my particular case, I live in a corner of the world where the type of bikes carried by almost all dealers (large and small) are in no way what I want: I want something akin to a classic "randonneuring" bike, but there is only one shop which "carries" anything close to that-- the shop has a single Kona Honky Tonk, and their solution would be to e.g. add fenders, racks, etc. Perhaps this is in fact a good solution, but I would like to have more than one available to me.

Manufacturers/models

Obviously, I can do research on the Internet to find appropriate manufacturers/models (e.g. Kona, Surly, Salsa), but I would need to actually get one of these bikes, and they don't always deliver (I am outside the US, and it's even harder to find local brands which make similar bikes because everyone wants a bike suitable either for Grandma or for Lance Armstrong despite still riding in their Lycra more slowly than I can walk in ski boots).

Fit/sizing

However, even after finding a potential choice for me, how can I even know if it fits me?-- I'm not a freak or anything (180cm and ~67kg), but I do know how differently even different road bikes "feel", and so the idea of ordering a bike online sounds like a bad idea to begin with.

Maintenance/repair

Although many bike components are more or less standardized to some extent, might I still not need to get some components which are "exotic" to my location, given that the bikes themselves are not sold here?-- having to mail-order a replacement for something which broke unexpectedly would be a tad annoying.

So, is there a reasonable non-local solution here for me, or might the best solution to simply be to do as the Romans do?

Thanks for the advice.

  • Often times, the shop can special order a bike. If they have Kona though, presumably they can order you a Sutra or something. Where is "here"? – Batman Apr 10 '15 at 11:41
  • "Here" is Germany, and, considering the different experiences searching the web l for this stuff in English vs. in German, it seems that the biking culture in the US is (ironically?) way ahead-- despite that (comparatively) hardly anyone bikes there. – errantlinguist Apr 10 '15 at 11:48
  • I would not recommend ordering a "serious" bike -- one that you plan to spend hours on -- by mail/internet. You really need to ride the bike before you buy it. – Daniel R Hicks Apr 10 '15 at 12:01
  • Not every LBS has every model in store. Not sure they are going to purchase one just so you go ride it around the block. – Carson Reinke Apr 10 '15 at 17:06
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    I'd be surprised if you couldn't go to a major city in Germany and find something that you wanted. Its not like you're in Siberia or something. – Batman Apr 10 '15 at 17:27
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I would suggest a serious conversation with your local bike shop(s).

Do your research, identify what you want, and ask them to do a bike fitting and order the correct size for you.

The idea is to encourage them to invest in you while you invest in them. They may want a deposit up front. But if you can convince them to get what you want, you have started a relationship, and can expect benefits such as service when you need it.

If you just buy from mail order or the internet, then when you have a problem that you cannot solve, you'll be stuck. Shops can be a little less helpful when they know the online origin of the bike.

If the first shop wont do it try the next, and play one against the other. If there's only one shop then work on your relationship with them before you "pop the question".

BTW your weight and height are similar to mine - not unusual - but arms / legs / body sizes differ so do get a proper fitting.

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Competitive Cyclist has a lot of information on fitting your bike including an interactive measurement calculator. - http://www.competitivecyclist.com/Store/catalog/fitCalculatorBike.jsp

A more in depth fit guide is here. http://www.stevehoggbikefitting.com/bikefit/2011/11/knee-pain/

Educating yourself is important, but you probably need to have a good foundation in being mechanically inclined to go "shopless" but there's a lot of information out here on the web that can help. Resources like manufacturer web sites and if you google "Sheldon Brown" you'll be able to learn a lot.

Reputable online dealers will have return guarantees, though it might be a hassle. Two international sites include Chain Reaction cycles, which in my experience has been exellent to deal with, and Wiggle.com which has been horrible. These two UK based retailers won't have some of the things US customers are used to, such as tracking a shipment, duty fees calculated up front, and exact delivery times.

Whether you do it yourself and buy online, or go to an LBS you should fully educate yourself. Read trade press mags, and start discussions on MTBR.com. Either way, nobody will look out for you like you. Shops are the same either online or local. There are good ones and bad ones. Good luck!

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