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I am a complete newbie in the cycling world but I want to learn to cycle and use it to explore the city and the places yonder. I also intend to use it to ride daily to office gradually.

So my question is that should I buy a cheap/used bike to learn to cycle first, or buy the bike I like such as a Trek DS or similar?

I ask this question as I might be overlooking the wear-tear or other points before I make a hasty purchase. I am in my mid-twenties (yes, you can shame me for not knowing to cycle) and I live in a bike friendly city on the east coast of the United States.

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    Personally i would start off with a used hybrid or cyclocross bike, as they are versatile options. In this time you will not only learn to ride, but also learn what type of riding you like and what features are important to you. You may find the bike you think you want now isn't what you actually want at all. – Andy P Apr 8 '19 at 15:11
  • When you say you're a complete newbie, do you mean that you've never ridden a bike before? Or did you ride as a child, for example? – David Richerby Apr 8 '19 at 16:19
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    A borrowed bike would be best, if you can do that. – Daniel R Hicks Apr 8 '19 at 18:08
  • Nobody can answer this question for you - we have no idea how much space you have to store a bicycle, how much money you make, whether you have somewhere to store it at work, etc. If you're rich and have to lock the bike outside, you might not care about the risk of having a $1k bike stolen - if you have to save for three months to buy the bike and have nowhere to store it safely, then the answer changes entirely. If you're not sure about how much cycling you may end up doing, spending now on the expensive bike may also not be a smart plan. We can't know how committed you are likely to be. – J... Apr 8 '19 at 18:44
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    Can you hire a bike? Some cities have rental schemes. Do you have a friend to ride with? – Criggie Apr 8 '19 at 20:17

11 Answers 11

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I learnt to ride in my 20s. I couldn't find a big enough bike second hand, except by spending several times the price of a cheap new bike. So I bought a cheap new bike and learnt to ride on it (a steel so-called mountain bike but really a hybrid with knbbly tyres). Even that was actually only just big enough. I didn't really get confident in bike handling until I bought a much nicer hybrid that fitted me properly.

If you can possibly get a decent hybrid or hardtail mountain bike second hand that fits you that's the way to go. This will help you find what features you want, as well as being something to learn on; you may even find that this is a good commuter long-termn and you get something nicer/more specialised for having fun.

There's no shame in learning to ride as an adult, in fact quite the opposite - good for you.

7

Buy the bike you like and learn to ride on it. The Trek DS or something like it is a good bike to start on.

Any bike in the pricing/style zone of the DS will last years.

Welcome to cycling, it's a great sport with an amazing machine.

Edit - adding some reasoning for my suggestion.

Types of bikes
If you think about the range of bicycles, in my mind they range in functionality from:
- high end racing bikes to high end off road bikes.
The bike you have chosen falls into the middle of the functionality range and in the less expensive to reasonable price range.
- This is what defines a good starter bike, a wide range of functionality at a reasonable price. You have chosen well.

This bike will provide you with the experience to base future functionality and pricing decisions on.

  • While riding this bike you may find that you enjoy riding on trails and develop trail skills that go beyond what this bike is capable of.
  • You may find that you focus on street riding and want something faster.
  • Or, you may find that the bike you have fits the kind of riding you want to do.

The experience you gain on this bike will inform your decision making in the future.

On Used Vs New
You can pay less by buying a used bike. This route is great for people who know what they are looking at and know what they want.
Getting your bike from a shop that is willing to coach you on your journey (they are out there) and provide technical support along with the fun of having a new bike is worth a little extra money.

  • Agreed, the Trek DS looks like a nice bicycle. Unless OP wants to get into road bikes (or gravel/cyclocross/randonneur) it’s a great choice. I’d pick one of the FX instead of DS models unless the front suspension is really important (e.g, regular use on cobblestones). – Michael Apr 8 '19 at 17:21
  • depending on the climate, mudguards can be useful too – Maarten Fabré Apr 9 '19 at 7:25
  • On the used bike point I would like to emphasis the know what you want part. The second hand market is wildly random with some really good deals and lots of average and bad deals. Often the seller doesn't really know what they have and if they used it they probably didn't look after it well. – Qwertie Apr 10 '19 at 5:42
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I'd suggest getting a used bike because you can resell it for less of a loss if you find it doesn't meet your needs. You still may want to buy it from a reputable dealer rather than an individual to ensure it's mechanically sound. Ask about a warranty, and get it in writing.

Having acquired the bike, please be sure to not only learn the basics like balancing, braking, shifting, etc., but also how to ride in traffic. I'm pretty sure that most of the cycling organizations in major U.S. cities offer some kind of confidence-building classes. In Washington, DC, the best resource is the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. If you cannot find one of these classes that fits your schedule, pick up and read a copy of Effective Cycling by John Forester. I read it when I had 20 years of city cycling under my belt and still learned from it. Classes or no classes, bicycling clubs are a good way to meet people who are passionate about biking and can answer all kinds of questions.

I hope you find bicycling to be an enjoyable experience.

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If you don't know how to ride a bike yet, then you don't know what kind of bike you'll enjoy riding yet. So I wouldn't commit too much money up-front. In fact, if you have a friend who has a spare bike they'd let you learn on, I'd just borrow one for now and learn on that so you can start figuring out what you like/dislike/need. Failing that, I'd get an old beater on Craigslist.

Once you've got all that figured out and are ready to get a "real" bike, test ride a bunch of bikes and take note of what you like and dislike about each of them. If you've got a good bike shop, the folks at the shop will be able to help you refine your choices based on that feedback.

I'll also mention that becoming a competent cyclist is an ongoing process, and there's always room to improve one's skills. As you develop those skills, your wants may change further.

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Don't overlook the third option: buy a good used bike from a dedicated bike shop.

Cheap $100-$200 (USD) bikes sold at supermarkets and Wal-Mart type stores have a pretty bad reputation for being made of substandard components, being poorly assembled, and breaking down easily. I haven't ridden one of those since I was a child, so I can't vouch for those claims, but a lot of other people will.

I can say from experience that a good drivetrain will make a big difference in how much effort you have to put in to get moving. So while I certainly wouldn't recommend that a beginner put down $1500 on a racing bike that would add $200 to the price in order to save 20 grams of weight, the difference between a quality entry-level bike and a quality mid-level bike is noticeable. As such, a used bike that originally sold for $600 and is now going for $350 is quite likely be a better deal than a $350 new bike. (n.b. I'm guessing at those numbers; it's been awhile since I bought a used bike and even then, I didn't bother asking how much it went for new. But it is possible to buy a decent used bike for ~$300, and the difference between a $450 and $550 bike is noticeable.)

The trick will be finding a good used bike. You should try to find a local bike shop that sells used bikes. In my experience, most only have a small selection of used bikes, but some have a considerably larger selection. And in either case, they're a lot more likely to have been properly tuned up recently than one you get off of something like Craig's List. The employees will be able to make recommendations based on how and where you want to ride, and will frequently let you ride it a bit in the parking lot to see how it works for you.

  • The cheap ones also put horrible tyres on in many cases, and upgrading the tyres would cost almost as much as the bike. This further adds to the extra effort – Chris H Apr 9 '19 at 12:57
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Unless the used bicycle is falling a part, have breaks all worn down or the fame is bent. There is absolutly no difference to learning how to ride a bike on a used vs a new bike.

If you are not sure if you are going to bike for years to come, get a used bike. If you know you are going to ride for many rears, buy a brand new.

By bike is over 20 years old and runs just fine, even though it has a bit rust here and there.

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Welcome the dilemma of getting a starter bike when you are not sure what kind of bike you want and don't know if you will actually like cycling or will keep it up. The problem of course is that you don't want to spend too much money on something you might end up not using.

The advantage of buying new is that you can go to all the local bike stores, get advice and test ride lots of different bikes. You can take your time choosing what you want and you'll be much more likely to get the bike that suits you in the size that fits you.

Buying used means paying less, but you have to know what you are looking for. If you don't know how to evaluate your fit on the bike you could end up with a bike that does not fit you well. You also need some idea of how to evaluate a bikes condition. A worn drivetrain can make the bike inefficient, badly adjusted derailleurs can make shifting gears a pain, and poorly adjusted brakes can be downright dangerous.

The other problem with used bikes is there are far fewer bikes to choose from at any given time. You have monitor spaces where used bikes are offered for sale (Craigslist and Facebook marketplaces seem to be the best options) and act on anything that does come up that matches what you want.

Many people in this community would recommend against buying a cheap bike from a big box store or department store (or anywhere that does not sell bicycles specifically). The lowest end bikes have the lowest quality components and hence the poorest shifting and braking, and weigh a ton. You will very like not get good size recomendations, and there is a chance the bikes are not assembled correctly.

  • For an inexperienced bike buyer it might be useful to but a used bike from a bike shop. Large cities often have bike shops that specialise on used bikes. Many smaller binge shops offer used bikes on commission or as a side business. Such bikes are usually repaired and badly worn bikes discarded. – gschenk Apr 8 '19 at 19:03
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    @gschenk "binge shops" ? not sure if typo or jargon. – Criggie Apr 8 '19 at 19:34
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    @Criggie ‘binge’ bike shops specifically cater to riders with extreme N+1 syndrome. – Argenti Apparatus Apr 8 '19 at 20:12
  • @gschenk agree these types of shops can be a great resource if there is one near where you live. – Argenti Apparatus Apr 8 '19 at 20:13
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    @ChrisH Washington DC, although I'm actually English - so I guess you are talking about Halfords. Edited answer to warn about dept store bikes – Argenti Apparatus Apr 9 '19 at 12:45
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No, unfortunately I think not. It would be better for you to try to find a decent used bike to ride for a few weeks to ensure that your determination to cycle isn't just a passing fancy. Once you've reached a point where it looks like you're truly committed to cycling, then you can sell your used bike and purchase a new one.

As a bonus, this also gives you more time to figure out the features you want in a new bike and shop around for one.

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New or used, both have advantages. New you get what you want with the peace of mind it works, downside costs more. Used bike, you may save money, but also the risk it will need servicing, which could eat up any saving, or it might not. That said even if you get the wrong bike and it needs maintenance it is all an experience and a learning curve. Learning to repair and maintain your own bike, is part of the journey. I would say what ever you are looking at don't go too cheap, it will just be a pain and limit your enjoyment, in the UK I would look at £250 (used) to £1000 (new), as you really wont be sure what type of bike you enjoy or need, till you have put a few miles in. Then you will either be satisfied with what you have, or know you want a road bike, downhill bike etc. Type of bike hyprid/cross (faster), or hardtail mountain bike, more fun, more versatile.

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    I wouldn't spend £1000 on a [thing] if I didn't even know I was going to enjoy [that kind of thing]. – David Richerby Apr 9 '19 at 16:53
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Check on online marketplaces for used bikes. A friend of mine found an old road bike behind a dumpster, he fixed it up and used it for all four years of college. We were in Boston too, so the roads are full of potholes and in terrible condition most of the year and he did just fine with the road bike tires. If you're in the city, there's a greater risk of a nice bike being stolen. Also on a new bike, if it has nice newer parts it will be more expensive to maintain. If you use it heavily you will go through a lot of tires chains and brakes.

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    The cost of brake pads doesn't really change much based on how nice the bike is, and tyres last for ages unless you get fancy racing tyres that are trying to be as light (i.e., weak) as possible. – David Richerby Apr 9 '19 at 16:55
  • Disc brakes can be more expensive but you're right you shouldn't have to replace brakes very often. The one thing I had to fix the most was tires, all kind of glass and nails and sharp points all around the city. I had to replace the chain a few times, one time it snapped and the other it had a lot of rust. Had to replace a derailleur also (I think the derailleur is what cause my chain to snap). – jreese Apr 9 '19 at 21:12
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As David D said : "Buy the bike you like and learn to ride on it". But, how to tell you like the bike ?

There are several things you need to consider prior to buying any bike.

  • The position : As a beginner, you must find a bike you feel comfortable riding on. This is essential. If it is painful or physically too demanding , you won't ride it. The position should make you feel balanced and in control, whilst being bearable for more than 20 minutes. Riding in traffic can be challenging, a bike giving you confidence will help a lot when it comes to looking at blind spots. For these particular reasons, stay away from anything racy or too off-road.

  • The gearing : It can be confusing at first if you have too many. I would recommend finding a bike with a relatively narrow range of gears and ideally a bike with an integrated gears hub.

  • The weight : This is a matter of opinion, but I do think that a bike that feels too heavy is not as enjoyable to ride.

  • The price : As a beginner, you will probably get a lot less from a more expensive bike, no need to break the bank.

  • The aesthetics : Not everybody is sensitive to this, but if you are, get a bike whose looks you like, you will end up riding it more.

  • The quality : Probably harder to gauge when you are a beginner, but a reliable bike is also a bike you won't need to fix as often. For example, cheap tyres will puncture more often. If price is a concern, you better go for a quality second hand than a cheap new one.

  • Your long term goal : get a bike that will enable you to progress towards what you have in mind.

Finally, do consider taking a quick course. I live in London, where I moved from Paris. And even though I had been cycling for a long time, the change was quite radical. Having someone that can teach you the skills needed will boost your confidence. Good friend of mine took a course here, she told me how useful it had been to learn defensive riding techniques.

  • Note that the French word "sensible" corresponds to the English word "sensitive"; "sensible" in English means showing good sense, taking reasonable precautions, etc. (Edited.) – David Richerby Apr 10 '19 at 13:58
  • @DavidRicherby Thank you for the edit ! Funnily, I thought about it and ended picking the wrong one :-) – Stanislasdrg Reinstate Monica Apr 10 '19 at 16:56

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