How to avoid the pitfalls.
Buying a bike online and the savings can be as big as the pitfalls, so here’s a guide to picking the best bike, the right size, and the ultimate options.
We’re not going to open up the whole bike shop versus mail order debate here. If you’re reading this then you’ve already made the choice to go direct.
Buying a bike online
Here’s some handy advice on how to do it and what to watch out for.
Step 1: Choosing your bike and model
OK, so you want a 140mm trail bike with 650b wheels and a Pike fork… but do you want XO1 or XX1 with that? And what about the brakes, Formula T1 or Shimano XT? These decisions and many more are both agonising and enjoyable but as long as you’ve got the general attitude of the bike right you can’t go far wrong.
With regards to spec, focus on the fundamentals. The things that don’t wear out. Things that are expensive to replace/upgrade. So, don’t get overly distracted with shiny drivetrains or tyres; they wear out. Concentrate on suspension forks, rear shocks, wheels, dropper posts and disc brakes.
Similarly, things like stems, bars and saddles quite possibly won’t be to your taste or ergonomics, so don’t be overly swayed by bling bars or swish saddles; you may not get along with their shape and will need to replace them anyway.
Be warned: the top spec models will always look the best. They’ll have the shiniest bits and the best decals and colourways. Bike designers know what they’re doing. But do your best not to choose your bike with your eyes or heart say, use your brain. You won’t regret it.
Look on mbr.co.uk for bike reviews to help you — we’ve tested the YT Jeffsy, Canyon Strive and Vitus Escarpe, to name just three of the Usual Suspects.
Step 2: Demo it if you can
Actually demoing a mail order bike is no longer an impossibility. The more clued-up direct sales bike brands put on numerous demo events around the country pretty much all year round (although there are more in the summer months).
Riding a bike is the best way to see if it’s for you or simply to find out what size model to go for. Rose, Canyon, YT Industries and Vitus all have, or are working on, regular demo dates. And as of this year, mbr ourselves are putting on expansive mbr demo days featuring numerous direct sales bikes.
If you can’t get to a riding spot also check out the bike shows – londonbikeshow.co.uk or the cycleshow.co.uk – where you can at least sit on a bike for sizing assessment if not ride it in anger.
Step 3: Find your fit
This is the tricky one — assuming you can’t act on step 2, you’ve got to take careful measurements of your body (get a friend to help) and feed that into the brand’s modelling system to recommend you a bike.
Some brands like Vitus have sophisticated modelling that takes into account torso length and even arm length. Others rely on outdated inside leg length to try to match you up.
Do your own measurements to double-check the size. Top tube length is a poor indicator of whether a bike will fit you because it’s affected by seat tube angle and head angle. Instead, look for the bike’s reach measurement, buried in the website’s geometry page and compare that with your current bike (providing that it fits!).
To get the reach on your old bike measure between the centre of the BB to where it intersects with a virtual line dropped from the top of the head tube (it’s tough to measure so use a homemade plumb line).
Step 4: Pick up the phone
Just like a bike shop, the sales people are there to make you happy. Tell them the bike size you’ve worked out, what kind of riding you want to do and whether you’ve got one leg longer than the other.
Ask lots of daft questions, they won’t mind and you’ll come to understand the bike more.
You could ask for things like a decent length stem and wide bar, better grips, and for the tyres to come tubeless ready with the proper valves in.
Step 5: Unbox and admire
One of the most exciting moments in life is unboxing a new bike but first make sure the packaging looks undamaged. Inside the bike will be set up and pre-assembled, although you’ll probably have to fit the wheels, turn the bars, set the sag and possibly drop in the seatpost. But first check the bolts and axles are tight.
Next, jump on the bike and see if it feels right. How does it feel compared with your old bike? Does the cockpit feel roomy enough? Is the standover height good enough to lean the bike over in a corner? Is the seatpost and saddle in the right place?
Step 5a: What if something’s not right?
If something doesn’t feel right you can send the bike back unused and get a full refund, or swap it for the correct size. Act fast. Don’t be tempted to take it out for a proper ride. Get in touch with the company right away and start communication.