What to look for when buying a bike
Where do you go? Well, first of all there are shops which sell bikes and bike shops. Is the difference important? Cyclists think it is. When a bike comes from the manufacturer it has to be finally assembled and adjusted in the shop by a bike mechanic. This is a skilled job and if the bike is put together by unskilled hands then more harm can be done than good. You may only find that out when you go out on the road. Good bike shops employ trained staff. They will offer you an after sales service and also put things right which go wrong. After a month they should take the bike in and give it a free service, checking various bits like the bottom bracket, brakes, gears, headset which can work loose. What should you look for?
- Check the frame. Make sure it is straight and true. Stand behind the bike and make sure the wheels are in line. Hold the bike by the saddle and wheel it around. If the frame or forks are bent it will veer to one side.
- A good bike shop will let you ride a bike before you buy it. Remember it may feel strange at first. However if the bike steers to one side when you are either holding the handlebars lightly or when you ride "no hands", then there is something wrong. A bicycle should go straight, in control, without pulling to one side. Reject any bike which fails these tests. A bike which will not track accurately is tiring and unsafe to ride.
- Check all the nuts and bolts are tight.
- Wheels should spin easily and when the bike is lifted off the ground the weight of the valve stem should pull the wheel around so the valve is in the six o’clock position.
- Wheels should be centred in fork arms or chain stays. If the wheel can be moved from side to side and there is a clicking sound, hub cones are out of adjustment.
- Side to side movement of the wheel should not exceed 1/8”.
- Pluck the spokes. All should be evenly tight and give the same “twang”.
- Brake blocks should hit rims squarely and not drag when released. Brakes should not judder and make a noise when applied. If they do they require toeing in.
- Gears should work smoothly with no slippage. Test first with the wheels off the ground and then on a ride.
- Pedals and chain wheel should spin easily but without side to side play. If they do the bottom bracket needs adjusting.
- What should you do if things go wrong after you buy the bike? All new bikes, whether they have guarantees or not, are covered by the Consumer Protection Act. Bike frames usually have lifetime guarantees. If you cannot get your problems sorted out try the Trading Standards Office. Good bike shops take pride in what they sell and in the service they offer. If they give good service you will go back. A good bike shop may often build wheels or their own frames. Having a frame made to fit you is not as expensive as you think. Finally take a cyclist along with you when you go to look at bikes if you don’t know what to look for. They will know the questions to ask.