THE BEST ONLINE BIKE STORES
Click here for an updated version of this post including store rankings.
More and more serious cyclists are shopping online these days. Indeed, a survey of US cycling enthusiasts – regular riders who own nice bikes – found that while only 2% didn’t visit their local bike shop (LBS) in 2011, more than a quarter (26%) didn’t even walk through their doors in 2013. And, a recent survey done by a UK bike retail chain that runs over 50 physical shops along with a large online store found that 27% of riders they polled purchased their latest bike online.
The best online bike stores provide you a combination of price, selection, inventory and service that is hard to beat. I’ve bought gear at local bike shops (LBS) for years and will continue to do so, but I make most of my purchases now at a handful of online stores I know well and feel as connected to as my favorite LBS.
As the range of reviews and number of cyclists visiting In The Know Cycling has grown, I’ve also expanded the range and number of online shops I’ve gotten to know. With so many dedicated online cycling stores, bike and outdoor chains, and LBSs or IBDs (independent bike dealers) all selling gear online, I wanted to tell you which online stores I have found are the best and why.
First, here are my top choices, the ones I check first before going anywhere else, which provide the best combination of price, selection, inventory and service.
Now, I’ll tell you how I came up with that list, which other stores are also good, and why others didn’t make it.
As background, In The Know Cycling is a site for road cycling enthusiasts who want advice on what gear to get next and where they should get it. As an enthusiast myself, I evaluate and write about an entire category of products from a fellow rider’s perspective. I have no past or present industry ties, don’t run any advertisements, don’t go on company paid product review trips, and I buy or demo and return everything I test. The site (and riding) is my passion, not my job.
Yes, some of the stores I recommend pay a small commission that cover some site costs when you link to them and buy something. However, just as many don’t. I’m only credible if I recommend the best gear choices and find and link you to the stores with the best prices, best customer satisfaction records and current inventory on the gear I’ve evaluated. Otherwise I’m wasting your time and mine.
Here is the ranking as of December 9, 2016. If you don’t see a store you know or have heard of on the list, it’s likely because it didn’t make the cut and probably not because I don’t know about. Later in this post I’ll tell you which didn’t make the rankings below, roughly 2x the number of stores that did, and why.
A full explanation of how I came up with this ‘Best’ list and what the ratings mean can be found here.
BEST ONLINE BIKE STORES FOR ROAD CYCLING ENTHUSIASTS
Click on any store name to go to it
|2||Chain Reaction Cycles||2||2||2||2||Superstore||UK|
|25||Leisure Lakes Bikes||1||1||1||0||Chain||UK|
|Source: In The Know Cycling, February 20, 2017|
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Both Online and Physical Stores
What you’ll get from a great online cycling store is different than what you can expect from a great LBS. The best online stores provide:
- Far better prices than you can find at your LBS,
- A wider selection of brands, a greater selection of each brand’s products including high priced gear, extensive inventories of the brands and products the store carries,
- A first rate customer experience including an easy-to-use website, thorough product information with online or phone support, simple ordering and checkout functionality, free and fast anywhere shipping or in store pick-up, flexible returns policies, and live, well staffed customer service.
Conversely, the best physical bike shops, the ones that are thriving while so many others are failing, offer:
- A hub or “community” for local cyclists to meet, share stories, and tap into the cycling scene,
- Experienced, knowledgeable sales and service people,
- The ability to see and touch the product and test out some gear,
- Custom services like bike fitting,
- Trusted bike service and repair.
Donny Perry, the global development manager for Specialized Bicycles whose job it is to train bike shop personnel, wrote a book recently called Leading Out Retail. The book maps the transformation LBSs and IBDs need to go through to survive alongside online cycling stores. He explains that the shift online is more about better information and selection and not about eroding loyalty when he writes:
Some retailers suggest that with the growth of online purchasing the era of loyalty is gone. That customers used to be loyal to their local bike shop, and now they are just shopping based on price. I would disagree and instead suggest that customers were never as loyal as originally thought, they were just limited by selection. The local bike shop was their only source for information and the only place they could buy the product. Now with limitless selection, they’re spreading their dollar around and being more selective with whom they purchase from.
People who make, distribute and sell cycling gear through physical and online stores get that it’s a both/and world now rather than an either/or one. James Browning, the CEO of Fisher Outdoor, a UK cycling distributor of SRAM, Zipp, Vittoria, Garmin, Campagnolo and a couple dozen other brands recently talked about the importance and interplay of online and physical stores when he said in BikeBiz:
The cycle sector is going to grow, but each of the sales channels will have different opportunities. The reality is that brands, and us as distributors, need to exist in all channels. The IBDs are the brand builders, then online retailers do a spectrum of things, from information provision and brand building – the good ones – all the way through to price fulfillment and the customers choose which they use. Then there’s the end of life guys, like eBay – the brand has to play in each of those channels. If you look back, brands that stop participating in that brand-building channel find they can’t exist online only.
The best online cycling stores aren’t the wild-west, buyer-beware world that characterized Internet shopping in its earliest days. They are multi-million dollar businesses, some multi-hundred million dollar businesses run by professional management and financed by sophisticated investors who see their solid financials and a decade long growth path ahead.
Types of Online Stores
Over the past year, I’ve looked with some regularity at the product selection, pricing, stock and service records of a range of online stores now totaling about 90. My focus has been on road bike components like wheels and groupsets and to a lesser degree on bikes, clothing or accessories. So what follows has that bias but I generally see similar results across a given store that has multiple product categories.
Typically I’ll evaluate a group of products for a review and then look across the online stores I’m tracking to see who has each product in inventory and at what price. Periodically, I’ve also looked at customer service and overall satisfaction feedback at these same stores (more about this later).
Generally speaking, I’ve come across eight different types of online stores. Each type has a distinct combination of product selection, pricing, and geographical service scope along with their relative size. The fact that all of these types of online stores are in business is further evidence to me that online cycling sales are still rapidly growing and supporting a range of consumer preferences. Once the growth slows, only the strongest types of stores and companies will survive while the others will get acquired or fail. This is true in most any industry.
The eight types I currently see are….
- Superstores – These online cycling stores are very large and have massive purchasing power, allowing them to sell products typically for 20-40% below the full retail price and sell all over the world. It was really quite a shock when I first started to shop for gear online and saw a couple of wheelsets I’d had my eyes on selling for hundreds less online than what my friendly LBS manager could sell them to me for, even as a long time customer. He would tell me the price was “below what I buy it for.”
These Superstores have a wide selection of brands and carry the high performance products from those brands in stock along side the rapid turnover items. Carbon wheelsets, top tier mechanical and electronic groupsets, high quality clothing, and high end power meters for example are stocked and dispatched the day you order them along with popular alloy upgrade wheels, the new value line components, tires, in demand lights or every model and color helmet.
These stores ship globally and many transact business in different currencies. This is important if you want to see the price to your location, removing the 19% VAT taxes if you live outside Europe for example. The Superstores are dedicated and sophisticated online-only stores with fast, effective web sites that have heaps of product information and easy to use e-commerce platforms. Many have customer service reps you can talk to directly or online, provide free shipping over an easily exceeded minimum order amount, and have flexible return policies. Wiggle, ProBikeKit UK, Chain Reaction Cycles, Merlin Cycles, Ribble, Pushys, Mantel UK, Probikeshop and Bike24 make up this group of stores. They have good or excellent customer satisfaction records with 80% or more of their customers rating them at 4 or 5 stars out of 5 stars from the rating services.
- Premium Service – Need to talk with a gear expert? Really put a premium on speedy delivery and great customer service? These stores set themselves apart with their service while still offering good discounts. If you really value the kind of service you can only get at the best LBSs or IBDs and still want to get good selection and discounts, the kind you can’t get at those same shops anymore, Competitive Cyclist in the US is the best one of this type of store.
- Discounters – These stores offer good discounts, often up to 20% but not to the same level or with as broad a selection as the Superstore. Occasionally you’ll find gear or deals you can’t find at one of the Superstores. Some discounters also offer very good service though not to the level of the stores in the Premium Service category.
- Chain – Usually a well-known, large chain of cycling or outdoor stores, these sell cycling gear, often with a focus on bikes, at both their physical stores and through their online one. This gives you an option to see, touch or even ride display models before you buy. Customers order online and get their gear shipped to their home or to the store for pick up, what’s called “click and collect.”
These stores use the physical and online stores to give customers the benefits of both models and provide themselves the efficiency of the combination. In addition to the physical and online store experience, you are usually working with a retailer that is well established, an assurance for some. Selection can be pretty good though prices are not typically or significantly discounted and a lot of recreational level gear is also sold. US stores follow minimum advertised pricing (MAP) imposed in their dealer contracts by many cycling equipment suppliers. EU chains don’t have such agreements. The best stores on both sides of the pond have loyalty programs that you pay a membership for to get discounts or give you credit toward future purchases or give you an end of year rebate.
Evans Cycles, a 50+ shop chain that stretches all across the UK and sells online throughout the world is an example of the modern bricks and clicks bike chain stores. Others include Rutland Cycling with a half dozen shops in the Cambridge area, Cycles UK with a dozen shops mostly east of London, Leisure Lakes Bikes which operates stores throughout England, and the 100 plus shop Performance Bike, one of the few US chain stores dedicated to cycling gear that also has a major online arm.
- Extension – These are typically LBSs or IBDs with a single location or a small number of stores in a concentrated geographic area that see an online storefront as a way to further extend their business to reach customers far beyond their physical location, sometimes with a unique combination of high-end or niched products. In the US Art’s Cyclery, Planet Cyclery, R&A Cycles, and Western Bikeworks have good reputations for customer service if not the best prices or selection. UK IBDs Tredz, Slane Cycles and Sigma Sport fit a similar description.
- House Brand – These stores, most notably Rose in Germany, do some combination of designing, sourcing, assembly and branding of bikes they sell online under their own name at big discounts to the name brand bikes. They also sell a fair amount of components, clothing and accessories made and branded by others, some of at discounts on par with the Discounters
- Marketplace – Amazon and eBay Cycling also sell new cycling gear online along with just about every other type of consumer product under the sun. Smaller cycling brands will use these online goliaths when they are looking for a large distribution channel or marketplace without having to lose profit by going through a distributor who then sells to a retailer. You will also see online stores that only sell through Amazon and eBay that specialize in buying cycling gear from major brands in deals that smooth out the brands’ inventory. Note, I only link you to new gear listings from stores that sell in on these sites that have Amazon’s 4* or 5* rating and eBay’s Top Rated Plus buyer ratings.
- Direct-to-Consumer – Some companies like the Trek and their wheelset maker Bontrager only sell through physical stores in many countries. They, along with other smaller companies with great products who don’t distribute through physical stores or online stores anywhere, also sell directly to you through their websites.
Because of the way they do business, these stores price their gear very differently, carry different levels of inventory and have wider or narrower selection of the gear road cycling enthusiasts buy. You can see how I rank them from 1 to 35 on these and other factors here, a ranking I update regularly.
What they all have in common is a high level of customer satisfaction as reported by independent services. Those stores that don’t or that sell cycling gear online that isn’t what we road cycling enthusiasts buy are also listed in the same post (here). You might want to take a look at who’s on that list so you know which stores to steer clear of for risk of becoming an unhappy customer or worse.
Customer Service Ratings
A little more than a third of the 90 stores I’ve followed have very strong customer satisfaction or service records, judged by one or more of a small group of reporting services which track customer feedback for each store. Of the eight types of online stores I described above, I’ve only listed ones that are very favorably regarded by customers according to these services.
The stores I don’t recommend and link you too aren’t as highly rated by customers, have some common issues with their service that haven’t been resolved, or they don’t show up on the reporting service sites, an indication to me that they aren’t asking their customers to give them feedback – not a good sign about where service fits among their priorities.
Who are these reporting services and how do they work?
I lean on TrustPilot, Google’s Trusted Stores ratings, and Google’s aggregation of other services as these are these are the most credible services I have found in my research. There are other rating services like Feefo, BizRate and eTrusted Stores that I use in my evaluation but not as strongly as TrustPilot and Google because some aspects of their approach to collecting and displaying the data are not as comprehensive or independent.
With the best of these public services, you link to a store’s review page (click on TrustPilot for example), rate the store on a 1 to 5 star scale and write comments about your experience. Before your comments are published, you need to provide your e-mail and name during a sign-in process and then verify you are indeed for real by responding to the e-mail that comes to you. The services aggregate and publish the opinion on their sites for anyone to see.
Some of the stores will send you an invitation to rate them with the e-mail address you provided for your transaction.
The services have straightforward ways to prevent a few individuals or stores themselves from tilting the ratings one way or another – e-mail verification, IP address review, customer invoice number submittal, ongoing manual review of comments and investigations when requested. They make money by licensing technology to stores to ask customers to review their product and purchase experience, provide feedback analysis, and use various widgets, badges and logos to promote their service ratings.
Private services like Feefo work directly with stores to help them solicit and analyze customer feedback. The stores choose whether and how to solicit and publish the feedback, which in the case of Feefo shows more detailed information than the public services. There is no ability for you and me to look up a store’s Feefo rating at an independent site as we can with Trustpilot. Some stores make the feedback public on their websites but I imagine others don’t, probably because they don’t like what they see and are working to improve their ratings before publishing them.
There is nothing to prevent reviews of online cycling stores to be posted at Trustpilot while at the same time those stores use a private service like Feefo to get more detailed information and work on making improvements to their service.
A number of other private services like StellaService, who have a staff that do their own ratings, and public services like Yelp, which has limited verification also provide store ratings though I’m not wild about either of these approaches. They don’t appear to be adopted much by the customers of the online cycling stores I’ve followed.
Others services including Bizrate and Sitejabber came up even less frequently and were a bit hard to interact with online, probably because they do customer surveys for stores in return for the opportunity to sell ancillary services (like magazines), a model that doesn’t usually get high quality or representative reviews.
Another class of services that some stores promote like eTrusted Shops and Shopper Approved provide a guarantee that you’ll get your money back from the store in case of non-delivery or non-refund for an unhappy customer. This is more of an insurance policy than a rating of the store’s customer satisfaction.
If you Google an online cycling store, you will often see a Google ‘Trusted Stores’ star rating between 1 and 5. Much like all things Google, they don’t tell you exactly how they come up with the rating other than to say they gather them “from reputable sources that aggregate business reviews.”
There are about two dozen independent review services they list which include many of the ones I’ve listed above. How they combine and rationalize ratings from the different services is a mystery but it seems that the number of reviews that contributed to the Google rating is almost always higher than those that are listed with an individual service’s one.
Where to Draw the Line
To see how the 90 stores I’ve followed performed, I looked up each them on Trustpilot and/or Google, and on the stores’ own web sites to see if they publish and promote service ratings from these or some of the other services. A lot of fun, I know. And to think I could have spent those hours training!
Anyway, it usually wasn’t hard to draw the line as to which stores to recommend and which to let work on their service performance with other customers.
If a store’s rating is less than 4 stars out of 5 (or 8 out of 10 as some rated them), I draw the line and won’t recommend you buy anything from that store. It’s not a store I want to shop at (or want to recommend you do), no matter whether they have the wheelset or component or anything that I can’t find anywhere else or if they have it priced lower than other stores that also carry it. It’s just not worth the risk. There are too many other good stores out there.
Unfortunately, there are handful of well known, online cycling stores in some of the 8 types of stores described above that fall below the line I’ve drawn. I haven’t mentioned those in the section above, they aren’t stores I’ll be buying from anytime soon. I recommend you don’t either.
I also drew the line with stores who don’t have customer service ratings as reported by one of the services. Typically, less than 100 customers and often less than 20 gave ratings of their experience with these stores at the public rating services. These stores also had no Google rating and there was nothing on their web sites reporting their customer service feedback. This was a particularly difficult problem for stores based in Australia where apparently the rating services aren’t active yet though Google recently started rolling out their Trusted Stores rating there.
Frankly, I don’t understand why stores wouldn’t ask their customers to rate them unless they know they are really underperforming. To be a successful online store today, you really need to have customers love you and to be showing you the love in ratings and on social media.
I also don’t have any customer experience or service reports on the bike gear companies who sell through their own web stores. I have had very good experiences with those whose products I’ve recommended (Stages and Powertap specifically) but I am just one customer. I’d love for these companies who are selling direct to get some feedback and post it or encourage their customers to go to Trustpilot or Reseller Ratings and post reviews.
When it comes to cycling gear, eBay Cycling and Amazon are really just ginormous storefronts that take and pass orders onto independent sellers and bike gear makers who fulfill them. I only link to sellers on eBay who have achieved their “Top Rated Seller” rating and at Amazon to those getting 4 out of 5 stars from customer reviews against a set of stated criteria.
Both of these giants have rigorous rating systems which include customer feedback that covers everything from packing to professionalism to service speed to problem resolution to defect rate to in-stock fulfillment rate to tracking data provision, etc. and do so over a large volume and value of transactions consistently over different time periods. It’s tough to reach these rating levels and it should be. Your satisfaction and mine is on the line.
My Interest in Where You Shop
When I chose an online store, I’m looking for one that has the gear I want, in stock, at a great price, and will give me first rate customer service. I want the same things for you. That is my only interest in picking which stores I recommend to you. If I do otherwise, my credibility is shot.
I try to recommend 2 or 3 stores for a given piece of gear I’ve evaluated. There are several reasons for this. Pricing differs depending on where you are getting the product delivered to. One store may have the best price if you are having it delivered to you in the US while other stores may have a better price if it is coming to you in the UK or Belgium or Australia.
Secondly, selection varies. For a wheelset that comes either with white or blacked out markings or in clincher or tubeless ready versions, I’ll try to give you enough stores with the best prices that have this range of options in inventory. Same goes for group sets. One store may have the lowest price but offer the set in only a few crank and cassette sizes; others may have a little higher price but have a different or broader range of sizes.
But, I’ll only recommend the shops whose customer service puts them above the line I’ve drawn above.
And, I won’t recommend shops based on whether or not they pay this site a commission. Life’s too short for that. I’m a rider like you, I’ll see you on the road, admire your ride, and ride with you. I want you to be riding the best damn gear you can get for the precious money you put aside for cycling so that we can ride faster when we’re trading off pulls or in the pace line together.
I know online shoppers are a skeptical lot, toughened up by the early Internet days of sites and stores that came and went pretty fast. So if you is still doubt my intentions, consider this.
- 13 of the 35 online stores that came in above the line – the ones I recommend – don’t pay commissions when this site links to them. I don’t want to bias you for or against a store but, if you are interested, you can see which support this site in the store rankings I’ve provided you a link to before. The commissions help me buy the gear I review for you and it’s cool if you want to support that, but I don’t bias the stores I list based on that. It’s price, selection, inventory, and customer satisfaction that drives whether or not they get listed.
- Many of the online stores that came in below the line – the ones I don’t recommend – would pay commissions if this site linked to them. And some of them have great pricing, selection and inventory so will probably show up if you do a Google search for what you are looking for. But, I won’t recommend them until their customer satisfaction record goes above the line.
- Until recently, I enthusiastically recommended the FLO 30 wheelset – 1 of 2 wheelsets I picked among 12 I evaluated in my alloy climbing wheels review and 1 of 4 picked among 13 considered for the upgrade wheels review. The link to the FLO store was consistently one of the top two or three that readers clicked among all the stores and sites and stories I link to. This site got no commission for any sales from the FLO store and gets none from any direct-to-consumer store. I didn’t care. It is the right wheel for you to own if you fit the kind of riding and budget I’ve recommended it for. Unfortunately, I had to stop recommending the wheels because they were so difficult to get. More about that here.
- Similar situation with Stages. I went against the grain and recommended one power meter, Stages, for most every road cycling enthusiast in most every situation, and extensively detailed the reasoning behind this recommendation in a two part review (Part 1 and Part 2). With the exception of people who live in the UK, until February 2017, you could only get a Stages power meter at an LBS or through Stages’ own online shop, neither of which pay this site commissions. Still, Stages was the way to go and I recommended it despite not gaining any commissions for the site. With all the new power meters coming into the market, I have since updated my power meter review (here) and Stages is now selling through online stores.
My interests are your interests. If enough people get value from what this site is doing to benefit them, it will eventually benefit the site and I can keep the site going. But if you and others begin to believe that the site isn’t here to benefit you first and foremost, it will fail. I won’t let that happen by playing games with which online cycling retailers I recommend to you.
Your Feedback Matters
While I believe I’ve looked at this topic more comprehensively than anyone else who has published their own list of best online cycling stores, frankly, the bar wasn’t set very high. I want to improve the list of online stores I’m willing to recommend you buy from and the way I rate them.
For example, I know very few online cycling stores based in Australia or New Zealand which have customer service ratings. Google Trusted Stores is just beginning to sign-up online retailers there now. I don’t know any online cycling stores based in South America, Eastern Europe, India, Japan, Singapore or China who compete on price, selection, inventory and customer satisfaction with the Superstores I’ve listed. There are lots of readers from those parts of the world that I’d like to recommend a more local solution to. And, while I think I’ve identified many good customer satisfaction rating services, I’d like to know if I’ve missed any.
I’m not that interested in getting your personal view or experience with one store or another. All of us will benefit from you sharing that, but doing so with one of the rating services I’ve mentioned above or the one that the store is using to gather feedback is a far better place for that.
If there is a store you particularly like that has yet to start using one of the third party services, I would encourage you to send them this post and ask them to sign up with a service. If they are well rated and have good product and pricing to offer, I will include them in the next update of my online store rankings and provide links to their store when I evaluate products they carry at a competitive price. Without a good customer satisfaction rating however, it won’t matter to me what they carry or sell it for.
Thanks for reading and please share your thoughts and suggestions with me and all your fellow cycling enthusiasts below. If you want to keep up with updates or comments on this posts, get e-mail or RSS notifications of future InTheKnowCycling posts, or join the discussion on Facebook or Twitter, use the various tools in the sidebar to sign up.
Enjoy the ride,