Certainly, a solid bit of advice, though more complicated than taking your credit card to a bike shop.
I’ve made a video that I think would’ve helped me in my pre-mechanic/pre-bike ownership days.
Despite being 15 minutes long, I’ve actually only shared the basics. I don’t think anyone new to cycling wants to watch an hour-long video of me blabbing about the fine points of bikes. Besides, I’d rather make separate videos discussing these points in detail.
Please note that I’m Canadian, therefore when prices are mentioned, I’m referring to our rainbow Canadian currency. A fellow deaf bike mechanic based in London, UK–and superfriend–Ed, has slightly different opinions on bikes as the standards are different over there.
I mentioned in the video how hearing people are generally, uh, crappy when it comes to helping deaf customers. They don’t have the experience of finding a workaround for the language barrier and often skimp on the details.
Also, they’re often straight-up impatient. As a bike mechanic, I do my best to ensure that the customer understands the work that has been done on their bike. I want to send them off with information on how to keep their bike in good repair, but they’re not always stoked on communicating in writing.
Not much I can do about that.
I feel that it’s more beneficial as a deaf customer to come prepared: know what questions to ask.
First, figure out what type of bike you’d like.
Hybrid: The perfect commuter bike. Comes with a flat bar (99% of the time, anyway) so that you’ll have a more upright position. This makes it easier to do shoulder checks. Tires are wider than that of a road bike but narrower than that of a mountain bike.
Step-through: Commonly labelled “Women’s Bike”, which is ridiculous since their purpose is to make it easier for those who may have difficulty mounting a “normal” bike. This is why bikes for bike-share programs (eg. BIXI in Montréal, CBN in Toronto, and Mobi in Vancouver) pretty much all have step-through frames! It’s not because they only expect female riders!
IGH: I’ve mentioned Internal Gear Hubs as many hybrid bikes come with them because of how frequently I’ve seen them fail because the customer didn’t bring them in for regular maintenance. And how often those customers are upset when they learn how expensive a new IGH is. The idea that they’re maintenance-free NEEDS TO DIE.
Road: Drop bars, more aggressive riding position, skinny tires, and smaller cassettes. For people who love speed! Road bikes have smaller cassettes as they’re not meant to be ridden at cruising speeds. The smaller jumps between gears ensure a smoother cadence. Don’t expect an easy gearing for uphill riding because you’re supposed to work hard!
Touring: Hybrid bikes can handle light touring, but if your goal is to get into touring, you’re better off saving up for a durable steel touring bike with strong wheels. You will need eyelets for the installation of racks (rear and front). They typically have a more upright riding position for all-day comfort and so that you can soak in the sights.
Single-speed: Probably the cheapest bike to maintain, only because they have fewer parts. Without easier gears to choose from, going uphill can be more difficult, but they’re also usually lighter than most other types of bikes.
Gravel: Similar to a road bike, but equipped with wider tires for comfort rolling over gravel. I mention this type as many bike shops in Canada and the US will talk about their gravel bike line-up. They do work well as commuters but are typically more expensive than hybrid bikes.
Mountain: I’d want to do a separate video related to mountain bikes, as there are sub-categories such as Trail, Enduro, Downhill, and Cross-Country. Many people had a mountain bike as their childhood bike, so they often seek a mountain bike to use as a commuter, thinking that’s what they’re comfortable with. Mountain bikes from the 90s do make decent commuters, but I’d still steer people away from getting a mountain bike if they don’t plan on doing mountain biking!
Folding: I don’t believe folding bikes are as compact as people expect them to be. They’re a pain in the ass to carry, and all those folding parts can be fiddly. Some public transportation, though, only allows folding bikes on-board. If that’s going to be an issue, then you have my blessing to get a folding bike!
Beach cruiser: Cute-looking bikes that hardly deserve to be called a bike. The problem with many beach cruisers is that they’re made with shoddy parts. Upgrades often aren’t possible on those frames. Sure, you could get a good-quality beach cruiser if you get a frame builder to build one for you, but that’s $$$$.
The argument against department store bikes:
I spend a good chunk of the video dissuading people from getting a cheap department store bike or buying secondhand because of the hidden costs. In the long-term, they’re more expensive to maintain, and will likely end up in the landfill. As Yann (who is also a mechanic) says, “You can’t make chocolate from shit.”
I know lots of people don’t have a lot of money to spend: I get it. I used to be in that position.
After that bike I bought wholesale for $500 in 2007 got stolen, I replaced it with a bike that cost $1,000. I had this bike for five years, and managed to sell it in 2015 for $700 (it was well-maintained). $300 for five years of using that bike? That’s a way better deal than a cheap department store bike that you wouldn’t enjoy riding as much as a more basic bike from a bike shop!
The argument against buying secondhand:
I’ve seen many bikes on Craigslist advertised as “like new” or “hardly used”. Coming from people who don’t know much about bikes, those descriptors aren’t reliable.
Bikes that haven’t been touched in years can be trash if they’ve been stored outside–or in a shed–the entire time. Was it well-built to begin with? Did the seller ever replace any of the parts? EVER?
I advise against buying secondhand if you don’t know how to inspect a bike. Sure, you could email the seller with a long list of questions or ask them to meet up with you at a bike shop so that a mechanic can inspect the bike. Chances are, the seller doesn’t want to deal with all that and would sooner sell it to someone who doesn’t ask so many questions.
The argument against splurging:
One of the perks of being a bike mechanic is that I have access to parts at a reduced price, and can do the labour myself. This is why I own a bike (the Ridley) disproportionate to my riding level. Unless you are a professional rider, it is unnecessary to get one of the best bikes the bike shop offers.
If you have the money and want to spend thousands on a bike, knock yourself out. Just don’t expect it to give you superpowers.
If you’re not familiar with bike geometry, you’ll need to do a test ride to determine whether it’s the right size. You’ll want at least 1″ of standover height (your bits aren’t smashed into the top tube when straddling the bike), but you’ll also want to make sure you’re not overextending when reaching the bars.
A salesperson should be able to help you with sizing, but some of them may be tempted to sell you the wrong size to get rid of the last unit they have in stock. If you’re not sure the bike you’ve tried is the right size, ask to test the next size down or up.
Decide on which kind of bike you want.
Save up for a decent bike as it’ll be more budget-friendly in the long run.
Make sure you get the correct size bike!
Ask the salesperson or mechanic questions–especially if you’re deaf as they’re not likely to volunteer more than the bare minimum information.
I welcome questions but do not come to me for validation if you choose to go against my advice. I’ve assembled, repaired, and ridden thousands of bikes: I’m not going to change my mind because the bike is being advertised as “reliable” by the manufacturer.
You can’t make chocolate from shit.