The best places to shop for a new bike are close to home

Surprise: You probably won’t save much money buying a bicycle online, study finds
woman ride on bike on summer beach
Once you’ve found the style of bike you want, make sure you have the right size and fit, too. Mike_Kiev / Getty Images
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By Herb Weisbaum

Shopping online is usually a money-saving move, but that's not necessarily the case with bicycles.

Prices at brick-and-mortar bike shops are comparable to e-tailers, according to a recent report from Checkbook.org, published by the Center for the Study of Services (an independent, nonprofit consumer organization).

It’s always important to shop around — to make sure you’re getting a good deal — but don’t be surprised if you find very little price variation with bikes.

“Our undercover shoppers checked prices for 20 different popular models at a dozen local bike shops, plus online retailers, and found very little price competition,” said Kevin Brasler, Checkbook’s executive editor. “Bike manufactures maintain strict pricing controls over their products, so you won't find big price differences at all from store to store or online versus in person.”

Even when we found price variation, it was rare to see more than a $5 difference from store to store, even for bikes that cost $1,000 or more.

Kevin Brasler

For example, Checkbook found that at all but two of the 12 stores surveyed, the price for a Trek Dual Sport 2 hybrid bike was $670.

“Even when we found price variation, it was rare to see more than a $5 difference from store to store, even for bikes that cost $1,000 or more,” Brasler told NBC News BETTER.

It makes sense to use the internet to see what’s available. But if you do buy online, you’ll have to pick up the bike from a local retailer or take your shipment to a nearby bike shop for assembly (unless you can do it yourself) — which could cost up to $100.

“So, you might as well go to a local store that can show you a lot of different models at different price ranges and offers you really good advice on what to buy and what not to buy,” Brasler said.

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Your local bike shop can offer a personal touch

Walking into a bike shop can be intimidating. There’s such an assortment of models to choose from, including road bikes, touring bikes, sports bikes, mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, power-assisted and folding bikes, just to name a few. Prices range from a couple of hundred to several thousand dollars.

The test ride is critically important, whether you’ve owned a bike before or not. Taking the time to compare two or three models will help you find the one that’s right for you.

“When a person comes in, the first thing we do is evaluate their needs. We talk to them to see how they're going to ride the bike,” said Mike Judkins, owner of the Bicycle Center of Issaquah (just outside Seattle), who’s been in the business for 35 years. “There's no point in selling them more bike than they need, because they're not going to appreciate that in the long run. And you don't want to sell them less bike than they need, because they're not going to be happy with that either.”

The test ride is critically important, whether you’ve owned a bike before or not. Taking the time to compare two or three models will help you find the one that’s right for you.

“We feel that a test drive is more than a loop around the parking lot, so we encourage people to go out and ride the bicycle,” said Alex Obriecht, owner of Race Pace Bikes, with seven stores around Baltimore, Md. "If they want, we’ll ride with them. We want them to be comfortable with every aspect of the bicycle they’re considering.”

Obriecht, whose been in the business for 42 years, says once you’ve found the style, make sure you have the right size and fit.

“It’s more than just standing over the bicycle and making sure you have an inch-and-a-half clearance over the top tube. Size is being comfortable on that bicycle when you’re riding it,” he said.

Repair costs vary greatly

Every bike needs occasional repairs and tune-ups. Checkbook found significant price differences for service after the sale. Some shops charge four or five times as much as their nearby competitors for the exact same repair work.

A few examples:

  • Quotes for a basic tune-up of a 2016 Cannondale Trail 5 mountain bike ranged from $50 to $200. The average price was $85.
  • Quotes to bleed the hydraulic brakes on a 2015 Specialized Tarmac Disc road bike ranged $20 to $100. The average price was $69.

“Don't assume that low-cost shops do lousy work; we didn't find that at all,” Brasler said. “You can get good prices from high quality shops.”

Rating bicycle shops

For its report on buying a bike, Checkbook rated bike shops in seven metropolitan areas. These results are limited to subscribers, but as a courtesy to BETTER readers, Checkbook is making the results available by using these special links until August 5, 2019.

Checkbook’s Bike Buying Guide is available to everyone.

SHOP SMARTER AT:

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