Buying a Bike

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    Niner RLT Steel Gravel Bike

It’s been a long time since I’ve really wanted to ride my bike consistently.  I turned my old TT bike into a single speed and I’ve ridden it around.  I’ve been on my mountain bike a few times.  But outside of those instances, I haven’t had a real desire to log consistent mileage.  I could go into the reasons but to summarize – I just got burned out.  Especially burned out from riding a TT bike. 

In the last six months, I’ve been thinking about riding – actually wanting to ride but my bike choices weren’t appealing.  My buddy Scott suggested I get a gravel bike which is basically what happens if you store a mountain bike and a road bike in the garage together – nature takes its course and you get a gravel bike.  But which gravel bike?  He immediately pointed me to the Niner RLT Steel – because “steel is real, bro”.  The steel RLT is slick and I was immediately in deep like with it based on the pictures I saw on Niner’s web site.

When I was down in Fountain Hills for the Javelina Jundred last year, I needed to kill some time the day prior to the race and I wandered into a local bike shop.  As luck would have it, they had the steel RLT in stock.  The “like” I experienced from looking at pictures turned into love when I saw the bike in person.  Not that there were any other bikes on my list to check out but now, the Niner, was at the top. 

Scott being Scott made a few other recommendations but as I considered my options, I started shying away from completely disposable bikes.  What I mean by that is this – if I buy an entry level bike and I ride it like I could ride it, the bike will end up in the trash.  Pondering bike choices, my goal was not to get too heavily invested but to avoid the throwaway bikes.

I narrowed my options to 3 or 4 bikes and that’s when this post turned into a coaching site post instead of a personal site post.

In addition to riding bikes, I’ve gone to bike mechanic school, and I’ve also gone to bike fitter school.  So I know a bit more about bikes other than just riding them.

I think everyone should get a bike fit.  It’s an educational process and if you pay attention to the actual process, you can learn a few things.  That being said, a bike fit, as taught in class, is also a way of putting the bike purchase decision back in the hands of the bike shop.  So what does that mean?  You walk into a bike shop, you ask for Bike X, and the shop doesn’t have it in stock.  Or maybe they don’t even sell that bike.  You’re about to walk out of the shop because you’ve made your decision on which bike you want to buy.  But as you’re walking out the door, the shop tells you that they offer free bike fits to find out what bike is really best for your body type.  You can almost hear the sound of the power shifting from you to the shop. 

In another scenario, the shop carries the brand and model you want but they don’t have your size.  The shop offers to order the bike in your size but you have to commit to the purchase before they can order it.  You can’t even ride the bike to see if you like it but you have to purchase it – sight unseen.  You already know there are other shops in the area that carry the brand and model and you start heading for the door.  The shop suggests a bike fit to determine if that size is right for you.

This isn’t hypothetical, this is literally what happened to me in several instances.  I also had a shop tell me that I didn’t want a gravel bike and what I really wanted was a cross bike.  Mind you, they didn’t have any gravel bikes in stock but they did have the cross bike he suggested to me. 

Look, I get it.  Shops want to sell inventory they have.  And they certainly don’t want to buy a bike they don’t have so I can take it for a test ride.  Suppose they order the bike, I take it for a test ride and I decide I don’t want it?  They are now stuck with another bike in their inventory. 

That’s the nature of retail but that doesn’t mean I’m giving up my decision making for instant gratification.  I see quite a few bikes purchased to satisfy that urge to buy a bike and the rider ends up with something completely different, and in some cases, a bike that doesn’t even fit them well.

I’m 5’8” -- a LOT of bikes fit me well.  I can also rattle off numbers about how I like my bike setup.  When I went in for the Niner purchase, they were suggesting a 53cm bike.  Looking at the 50cm bike, I felt like I could fit on it.  What’s the difference?  A smaller bike is nimble and perhaps less comfortable.  I’m not Mom and Pop, I’m going to ride the shit out of this bike and I want nimble as long as I can fit my body on it.  Turns out the 50cm was a good choice and I love what I got. 

Most of the people I coach use a powermeter.  If I were buying a race bike, I’d want my powermeter on that test bike.  If this is supposedly the right bike for me, the bike that “fits my body type”, can I produce equal or greater power when compared to my existing bike?  If not, why not?  Other things to consider -- saddle height, saddle position, bar height, bar position, and stem length.  Are any of these points out of normal?  If the bike is too large, these points start coming together – saddle goes lower, saddle moves forward, bars move back, and the stem gets shorter.  In addition, the bar height in relationship to the saddle will probably be closer to level.  If you were to drop a level on my TT bike, the bars sit 12cm lower than my saddle. If the bike were too large for me, I would probably not be able to achieve this amount of drop.

Buying a bike is fun but you should keep your priorities straight and you should keep the decision making in your hands.  It's hard not to make it an emotional decision, I know(!), but if you keep the emotions out of it, you'll get the bike you want, the right bike, and hopefully it's both of those.