Today’s post, in which I don’t recommend which bike to buy

In the aftermath of yesterday’s AirTalk program — which you can still hear by downloading the podcast — I received the following comment from Mario:

Really enjoyed your talk today on KPCC. I am mostly a mountain biker and have been thinking about buying a road bike…it is tough riding in paved roads on a mountain bike. So making our roads safer is one of the most important considerations for me in road riding. The second is the selection of a good bike (not too expensive). Would appreciate any advice you may offer on selecting a good road bike for under $2,500.

I wish I could offer an answer. I really do.

But choosing the right bike is a highly personal decision. It depends on how, where and why you intend to ride, what kind of deal you can get, and what feels right between your legs.

For instance, I don’t do a lot of bike commuting. I do most of my work from home, so there’s not a lot of need to ride from my bedroom to the living room. And one reason we chose this overpriced neighborhood is because almost everything we need is within walking distance.

So the overwhelming majority of my biking is recreational, which in my case means riding fast and far.

On the other hand, a lot of it is done on the mean streets of L.A. — which means my bike has to be responsive enough to carve through traffic, and sturdy enough to absorb shocks without making me feel like I’ve been riding a jackhammer all day.

So before you go shopping, make a list of the qualities that are important to you. And let that serve as your roadmap in selecting the right bike.

Another bit of advice is to buy the best frame you can afford. As time goes on, you can upgrade all of the other parts. But your frame will be the backbone of your bike for as long as you own it.

For that price, you can get a good steel or aluminum frame, or an entry level carbon frame. Personally, I don’t like the ride of aluminum frames — or aluminium, for any subjects of the queen who may be reading. Steel tends to be durable and shock-absorbing, and these days, usually weighs a lot less than you might think. Carbon offers light weight and speed; its ride and durability depends a lot on frame construction and geometry.

REI offers a good, simple primer to get you started.

The key is to ride a lot of bikes before you narrow your focus. Visit a bunch of bike shops and ride a variety of brands, types and models to determine what feels right to you.

As you narrow it down, pick two or three bikes that best fit what you’re looking for, and take them for extended test rides under a variety of conditions — fast, slow, cornering, hills, city streets.

I fell in love with my bike based on a quick spin around the shop. But it was only after I bought it that I discovered the handling gets squirrelly at faster speeds in an upright position; I have to ride the drops or risk a wipeout.

On the other hand, once I’m in the drops, it carves corners like a Ginsu knife.

But if I’d taken it on more extensive test ride, I would have known that handling issue before I bought it. And that might have affected my decision.

I’m also a big fan of local bike shops.

It may seem like you’re getting a great deal online, but the service you’ll get from a local dealer before and after the sale can make a huge difference in how much you enjoy your bike.

When I walk into my local shop, they know me, they know my bike and they know how I ride. And that makes a big difference. They’ve also gone out of their way to solve any problems I’ve had — from patching it up after the Infamous Beachfront Bee Incident, to replacing broken wheels and sending it back to the factory when the paint blistered.

I can personally recommend Beverly Hills Bike Shop, Cynergy Cycles in Santa Monica and any REI location — I’ve been a member for over 20 years.

While Helen’s is popular, I’m not big on their flagship Santa Monica store. However, I’ve found the staff at their I. Martin store to be helpful and knowledgeable, without the attitude. And Chris at the Westwood Helen’s is both a great wrench and a great guy; tell him I sent you.

I’ve heard nothing but good things about Orange 20 Bikes. And Josef at Flying Pigeon has an amazing knowledge of bikes from around the world.

That said, if I was shopping on your budget, I’d start by looking at the entry level Trek Madone, though you might have to bargain a little to get it out the door at that price. I’ve ridden Trek almost as long as they’ve been making bikes, and I’ve been lusting after the new Madone since the day it came out.

You also can’t go too wrong with anything from Specialized or Bianchi.

So, readers, what do you think?

If you had $2,500 gathering dust in your bike budget, what would you buy — and where would you buy it?

No offense to any bike shops not named here; my observations are based on my own personal experience here on the Westside. If you think your shop and/or bikes deserve consideration, leave a comment and tell us why.


Dr. Alex asks where Councilman Rosendahl has gone now that we need him. Speaking of Flying Pigeon, the next Get Sum Dim Sum Ride rolls out on Sunday. The upcoming Bike ADventure to The End of Civilization doesn’t sound half BAD. Santa Barbara sees more bikes on city streets. Proof that silence is not always golden when it comes to bikes and hybrid vehicles. Colorado’s Department of Transportation puts bikes and pedestrians on equal footing with cars. Evidently, the debate over aggressive cyclists has gone on for over a century. Master framebuilder Dave Moulton says there’s not much difference between a right and a privilege if they can take it away. Note to Idaho bike thieves: don’t mug a cyclist while the police are watching. A great examination from Copenhagenize on how to reach cyclists to change behavior — without discouraging riders. The view from Budapest, where bike shops close for the winter. Maybe this will sound familiar: a British driver is convicted of intentionally striking and seriously injuring a cyclist. Finally, prepare to get pissed off — a former Aussie roads minister says bikes don’t belong on the roads. Maybe that’s why he’s a former minister.


  1. GTinLA says:

    Very good article and great advice, which should help many riders in the market for a new bike.
    As to your $2,500 question: for me it would be the down payment on a custom build Moots from Colorado (or so the dream goes).

    • bikinginla says:

      Can’t say I ever heard of Moots before — I’ll have to look into them. Although I did have to check the Seven website to make sure they didn’t have one in that price range.

  2. Will Campbell says:

    If I had $2,500 burning a whole in my backpack I’d either buy 8 $300 Mercier Kilo TTs from (one for every work day and three to chose from on the weekends).

    But if I were really jonesing to spend it all on one ride, I’d probably go for a Specialized Roubaix, prolly from Jax in Long Beach.

    • bikinginla says:

      Will, how did I know you’d go with multiple cheaper bikes? Though I was guessing you’d go for 3 or 4 different ones….

      And thanks for the reminder about the Roubaix. I was wracking my brain trying to come up with that one when I wrote this.

  3. dudeonabike says:

    I would clearly by TWO Pashley Guv’nors!

    (‘ello? Is this thing on? Are the nice folks over at Pashly still listening? Please see three posts down–and my comment there. Love the Pasley Guv’nor. Absolutely love it, and would ride it everywhere!)

  4. Corey Porter says:

    $2,500 buys a *lot* of bike. You’re most of the way to a Rivendell at that point. I commute on a Surly LHT. Works like a champ for commuting and comes in at less than half of budget.

  5. TheTricksterNZ says:

    Get a BMC, I love mine! I’ve got an SL01, its solid as anything in corners and when you do want to sprint it transfers the power quite nicely.

  6. TheTricksterNZ says:

    Mr Scully seems to not understand the simple fact that not all cyclists are the same. He claims to have ridden in his younger years. Knowing those types I’d say he stopped when he was around 16 and got his P plates.

  7. bikinginla says:

    Ain’t that always the way, Corey? You have to draw the line somewhere, because there’s always another, better bike just out of your price range. Good suggestion on the Surly.

    And Dude, I’m gonna have to contact the Guinness people, and see what the world record is for sucking up for a Pashley. I thought I was shameless…

    Trickster, I’m going to have to check out the local BMC dealer — looks like a great ride.

  8. tracywilkins says:

    Hmmm….if I were going to buy a bike….Wait! I just did!

    In all seriousness, you can get a lot of decent bike for $2500. If I were trying to make that decision today for the first time, the options would be pretty overwhelming. As you said in your post, find a bike store you like and trust, then spend a lot of time riding different flavors of bikes. Eventually, you’ll narrow it down to a choice you won’t second guess.

  9. Chris says:

    Thanks for the shout out Ted! Stop by one of these days, I’ve got some new stickers for you…

    And Corey, a LHT is a hella nice bike, but it’s no Rivendell…

  10. karL says:

    I just saw how this is the first socially networked Olympics to speak of- whether that means two years or four years it’s been three since you published this.

    For me “bicycle” means two wheels, or almost always less then four, one mainly and sometimes two passengers.

    It DOES NOT however mean ‘human powered only’ and I do not find the marginal improvements that can be afforded by increasing the materials cost are insignificant at all.

    I rather find that bike innovation especially in 2009 but even now is stifling around the premise of “look mom no motor!”

    If your goal is to keep bike routes vast wastelands of luxury for insiders in the know about them then spend much of your money on the dealer and middlemen and super livably wages of at least some of the same and listen only to them. Make every ounce require a full amount of work from you, use tires that have an operating cost and even global warming impact that is obscene compaired to slightly heavier etc. ones, pretend another words that going beyond the inventnion of the wheel is sacriligous, that this is a contest the rules of which are set by terrorists intent on selling as much planet killing oil as possible- because spending thousands of dollars on engineless bikes does that more then almost anything.

    I just spoke to a neighbor about him parking in front of my window a 2 stroke engine that was in fact poluting as much despitebeing turned off as gas pumps without recovery systems. It’s challenging to not tell him to continue to do as he tells me about getting a ticket for going a couple miles per hour faster then bikes fetishistically human powered only go on level ground even with there disposable tires if not tubes and having the cops require he pay as much a a car owner does for the private tow yard to come and get his bike- a day he reduced his engine size a bit subsequently and bought a speedometer- but literally I can walk faster then he was accused of speeding in excess by and I was there when this law was passed and yoru recent news about liablity insurance remedies the problem in part as the prosecution of car curing choices, the resistance to them, exploits our lack of liability coverage as our achiles heal.

    His eyes glazed over though when I told him he could save 70% on the 100 miles per 30 minutes charging German bike- that for your budget here you can buy it! WIth lots of apparent carbon fiber contributing to it’s noted extreme beauty.

    The real issue isn’t how much translates into far too much of it being instant profit for the dealer though. How much will it save and cost in hte first decade or so.

    How much per mile. What percentage of your miles will be on it instead of your ‘other’ vehicle. THese are what matter most in selecting a bike if your either or both GOOD or not a gazillionair.

    As a person of ambition my choice is based upon what choice will even in my lifetime or shorter order get the antisocial choices off the streets- the passengerless creepy cars, the delivery trucks during rush hour especially the soda trucks despite there counter propiganda efforts in using hybrid powetrains.

    So I agree steel is a fantastic material because it’s dirt cheap, strong, easally built. Someday soon an american cost engineerd choice will be available. I know of no large grant unlike electrixc cars to develop this technology soteh presetn potential prices are inflated not just for lack of volume in present sales but littel or no research or design.

    Again for American budgets using contemporary technology.

    At the cheapest, that’s not in Los Angeles where parking can double this cost with ease- we pay a buck or more every other mile in wear and tear and fuel for the vehicle only.

    Some argue that to cut this price by 90% or more is worth market failure for our choice and the _consequent_ (to market failure) mixed use roads and several fatalities per 100,000 of us between olympics if not in bad years alone each.

    I say half off is an incredible deal if it means nobody dies, if more are spared in fact then die from our choice.

    To not have a hub or bottom bracket motor is to vote for innocent people to be crushed so bad there organs are not even fit for pet food.

    Please note I agree my comments are not for recreational biking. This is Los Angeles. Riding recreationally here comes at the price of riding for mobility and is problematic until the mobility issues are addressed. Mixing business with pleasure MIGHT not be a good thing. My mind is open, I love riding and have many times invested in sustainable for me technology, but can’t do it alone. I notice the loss of funding to my needs when it gets redirected to play. I think recreational bikers can afford to pay there way, and should, and even get exclusive use of the toll paths etc. there organising can afford them. Government should apply all it’s eminent domain powers to plow through any impediments to recreational hihgways for bikes etc. as long as they’ll be reimbursed by such redevelopment by it’s users.

    WE dont’ need a slower speed limit based upon our not being able to get our act together well enough to qualify our vehicles or ourselves fit enough to have moped priviledges. The opec moped thingwas before a lot about regenerative breaking etc. has gotten figured out. Every extra mph for us can probably shave a percent or more of monstrous vehicles off the road. It’s worth the paragraph to get 23mph authorised instead of 22.

    But more importantly modernising the rules of hte road for breaking and acceleration is absolutely necessary. Having more then one speed limit for bikes cleary NOT being the case presently is so shockling isn’t it? Imagine cars being told they have ONE speed limit nation wide- regardless of road conditions like grade orhow many miles without ingress or eggress…

    $2500? The comment about down payments not withstanding as all bikes ae on the installment plan if not used on private property- the real cost is public roads and parking, nursing home care if hit, lost income, future class actions from other nations against ours and such you still CAN without financing if your willing to buy online get it well under that.

    You can avoid exposed needing lubrication drive chains, tires that go flat, reduced speeds when climbing hills, having to buy gas, parts easally stolen or vandalised, insufficient lighting, difficult insuring, etc.

    To do so though you need to find a dealer. You need to organise to do so. I’ve yet to see one I can recommend. If just a few dozen of us got together we could find one in short order though. It’s an open market- mark up the goods half what it costs to have them shipped in other then wholesale fashion versus your costs and your an instant millionaire frankly. Plenty of volunteer experts are out there.

    In commenting that instant gratificatin for what is likely to be the most important decision any of us make, more importantthen whether we become doctors or cannon fodder, parents or priests, it’s worth taking weeks or months to investigate. IN the mean time you can rent something I guess. Several choices are out there with rental for weeks not in excess of ownership for years i.e. despite there venal lack of cost engineering being an option- just google “best commuting electric bike” or whatever to find them- but understand that DOING THAT WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY NOT LOCATE ONE FIT TO BUY OR BUY WISELY.

    GOOGLE is not a bike dealer that I can agree with. It’s revenue model allows cars to buy up all it’s paid speech just as all the other media outlets have been for generations. Of course by renting you’ll either eventually get addicted to choices that hint at sufficient investment or the windfall profits rental outfits make will get real businessmen to take notice and a dealer will emerge. The main thing is to not think it’s ok to own a bike without power assistance. It’s not. Not if it’s going to be used as more then a toy where people can see that occuring. Not if you care about our future.

%d bloggers like this: