BEST ONLINE BIKE STORE RATINGS
This review gives you a ranked list of the best online bike store ratings that serve road cycling enthusiasts.
I shop for cycling gear. A lot. Bikes, wheels, components, clothing, helmets, shoes, power meters and more are on my shopping list for new reviews. And I’m regularly updating posts I’ve already done to make sure they have up-to-date links to gear or kit I’ve already reviewed at the best prices from the best stores.
Fortunately, most of my shopping is online. Otherwise, I’d be spending a lot of time driving to bike shops within 50 miles of where I live. I guess I could bike to them, look at all their gear, buy a few things and strap it to my bike, and then hang out at their coffee bars talking about cycling with the sales people, mechanics and other customers. But then I’d never have time to write up new reviews. (Wait a minute; that actually sounds pretty good!)
Since I do have a family that I also like to spend time with and a budget that I need to keep to, online shopping for cycling gear is usually my most time efficient and cost effective option. Shopping online I can usually find the best prices on the range of enthusiast level gear that I evaluate for the In The Know Cycling reviews. And if I go to the right online stores, I’ll get the kind of shopping experience that most bike shops just can’t deliver – from detailed product information to easy ordering of the gear I want that’s already in stock to fast shipping of authorized dealer products to great after sales service.
The problem I run into, and I imagine you do to, is that there are soooo many online stores out there selling cycling gear, a lot of them you many never heard of. It can be hard to figure out which ones are the real deal, and among those, which have the best prices, selection and most satisfied customers. Without having experience with all these online stores or spending a lot of time researching them, it’s hard to know which are the best to buy from.
Fortunately, because I shop for cycling gear a lot, I’ve been building this experience over several years now as I write new reviews and update earlier ones. I follow gear prices closely across many online stores but I also get a good idea of the range of gear they carry and keep in inventory and I periodically check into what their customers say about them to independent services and where they rate in customer satisfaction.
About 18 months ago, I wrote a review that sorted through and categorized about 60 stores I tracked at the time in search of the best online bike stores. I’d never seen a review like this so it seemed like we put a “stake in the ground,” a starting point to identify the range of online bike stores to reference when you want to buy some gear. The number of times that post is read every day suggests that many have found it useful.
For this post, I’ve taken the next step. This review gives you a ranked list of data-supported, analytically developed, comparative ratings of the top online bike stores that serve road cycling enthusiasts, those of us roadies that are regular, committed riders that are serious and knowledgeable about the gear we buy. It will allow you to see at a glance where stores stand against each other when considering the factors important to you when a chose a store to shop at.
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 follows the rankings.
BEST ONLINE BIKE STORES FOR ROAD CYCLING ENTHUSIASTS
Click on any store name to go to it
|4||Chain Reaction Cycles||2||2||2||1||Superstore||UK|
|28||Leisure Lakes Bikes||1||1||1||0||Chain||UK|
|Source: In The Know Cycling, December 9, 2016|
Based on all I’ve learned from reviewing the results of an opinion poll I’ve been running on the site for a year now about what’s important to enthusiasts about online stores and reading your comments on this site and from others elsewhere, I developed four basic criteria – Price, Selection, Satisfaction, Support – to rate the stores. Here’s an explanation of each and how I came up with the 0, 1 and 2 ratings.
We want to buy gear at stores that have the lowest net price. The net price includes the base price of the product, additional shipping cost if the store charges them, and any taxes that are included in the price.
The stores are rated on Net Price as follows:
0 – Limited discount. Net prices are normally the same or within 10% of the price recommended by the company that sells the product. This price is often called the MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price) or RRP (recommended retail price). In the US, this is often also called the MAP, or minimum advertised price, the price at which stores agree to advertise the product or risk voiding the agreement to sell the companies line of products. MAP is legal in the US but not in Europe or most other countries.
1 – Modest discount. Net prices across current model year products are typically 10% to 20% off the MSRP/RRP
2 – Deep discount. Net prices across current model year products are typically 15% to 40% off the MSRP/RRP
Sales and value added taxes are added depending on where you are having the product shipped to so while they add to the net price, they aren’t different from one store to the next.
Many readers also ask about the import costs when they buy at EU based online store and have it shipped to the US, Canada or another non-EU country. You want to know what the net price would be of something you buy at the EU based online store versus what it would cost you if you bought it at an online or physical store in your own country.
First, because import fees are imposed by customs rather than stores, it’s not something I can use to compare stores. Second, because each country imposes import duties and taxes differently, at different rates, only above a certain declared product value, and irregularly or infrequently, it is difficult to include import charges in a rating system even when comparing stores based in one country versus another.
However, importing gear can be part of what it costs you to buy from a certain store so it’s worth digging into it so you know what it might cost you.
First, the better stores work with shippers who have figured out how to work with customs to minimize or avoid charges. For example, some stores will break up shipments (front and rear wheels) or declare shipment values that are below the level that triggers customs involvement. Also, some shippers have processes that move their packages through the system with little interruption. Living in the US, I have only ever had one package charged by customs.
Second, if you are concerned that you’ll end up paying more online if your package does get stopped and charged, you can do a basic calculation to determine if you are better off buying from a store in your home country. Simply add the cost of getting charged by customs to the net price of the product and compare it to the net price of buying that product either at an online store or bike shop in your home country.
Here’s an example. Say you live in the United States like I do and want to buy a wheelset that retails for $1200 at a local bike shop in the US. Let’s say the same wheelset sells for $1000 including delivery from an online store in the UK, a discount level that is typical of the difference between a local bike shop in the US and a good online store in the UK.
If the wheelset from the UK store were to be stopped by customs, it will run about 11% more when you figure in the import duty and handling fee. My net cost then comes to $1110 from the UK store. At the bike shop, I’d pay $1260 which includes a 5% state sales tax.
US online stores don’t charge sales tax for goods delivered in my and most states. Their pricing, selection and service is also often better than local bike shops. So for this same wheelset, it is worth comparing the cost of buying the wheelset from a US online store versus the customs imposed charge of a UK store.
Effective March 10, 2016, US Customs raised the value of goods you can import into the country without being subject to charges to $800 from $200 (see announcement here). Now you won’t have to worry at all about import charges for anything you buy below that amount.
We want to buy from online stores that have the range of products, brands and models we road cycling enthusiasts ride. And we want to the stores to have those products in inventory when we want to buy them rather than having to order them and wait.
The stores are rated on Selection as follows:
0 – Poor Selection. Very few brands and models used by road cycling enthusiasts
1 – Limited Selection. A few of the major brands (3-4 or less) enthusiasts favor in each of the major categories (bikes, wheelsets, components, apparel) or many major brands but limited model range or inventory in those brands.
2 – Broad Selection. Many (>4) of the major brands enthusiasts favor in each category with a good range of models and good inventory ready to ship.
How do I determine these selection ratings? First, stores that sell mostly recreational level cycling gear, close-out or older goods, sell just one category like bikes or vintage bike clothing, or cater primarily to triathletes are ranked 0. They just aren’t stores we’ll find a lot at and aren’t worth spending time at searching for gear. I haven’t listed these in the table above.
In case you were wondering where some stores you might have heard of or show up in Google searches went to, here are the stores I rated 0 for selection for the reasons I just mentioned: 99 Bikes, Bikesdirect.com, BikesDirect365, Bikewagon, Clever Training, Fatbirds, Nashbar, Niagra Cycle Works, REI, Sun & Ski, Trisports, TriVillage.
Stores are rated 1 or “Limited Selection” if they have only a few of the brands enthusiasts ride, carry only a few models of a large number of enthusiast brands, or carry in inventory only a limited number of a larger range of brands or models.
For example, stores that carry an Ultegra 6800 groupset but only in one or two combinations of crank lengths, chainset and cassette ratios would rate 1 for selection. If they only carry a couple of the major wheelset brands and a lot of less widely distributed, often national brands, I would rate them 1. If they sell a wider selection of brands and/or models but you usually need to special order many of these, what they really have is limited and rate a 1 in my book.
There are undoubtedly a number of financial and marketing reasons that some online stores use these strategies, but if you don’t look closely you might think they have a better selection than they actually do.
If the store has exactly what you are looking for in stock at a good price and have good customer satisfaction ratings, perfect. That’s the store for you. It doesn’t matter to you at the time you are looking for that specific item that it is one of only a few in the sizes, ratios, standards, colors etc. made in that model. It’s just that these stores I’m ranking 1 are limited in what they have compared to those that carry much more stock and sell a normal range of options in a given model.
The “Broad Selection” stores I rank 2 carry typically at least a third to a half of the brands that make the range of products which show up in my reviews, the models within those brands that we enthusiasts ride, a good range of options in those models, and carry a lot of it in their inventory rather than having to go back to their distributor to get it when you want to order it. They also often carry smaller brands that are especially well regarded and for which the manufacturer limits their distribution to stores they have found will service their products very well.
At a minimum, we want online stores that we can trust and aren’t taking a risk buying from. Ideally, we want stores that will provide an excellent customer experience from the moment we click onto their site and through every step in the buying experience – learn about, order, deliver, and stand behind a product.
Simply stated: Treat us the way we would expect to treat ourselves. Nothing less. We’ve got our riding to focus on and want an outstanding, hassle-free store experience.
The stores are rated on Customer Satisfaction as follows:
0 – Unacceptable/Unknown. Despite price or other factors that may initially attract you to a store, you run too high a risk of being dissatisfied shopping at a store with this rating. Customers have rated the experience as poor or only average or there is not enough customer satisfaction data available on this store to reach any conclusion about it.
1 – Very Satisfied. While there may be a few aspects of the shopping experience which didn’t thrill some customers, most customers rate the shopping experience highly.
2 – Overwhelmingly Satisfied. These are stores that the overwhelming number of customers rate very highly and would have no reservations recommending to anyone.
If the store rates a 0, I haven’t recommended and won’t link to it on the site. You may think I’m setting the bar high and I am, but there are too many online stores with very or overwhelmingly satisfied customers and great prices to mess with those that are only average at best.
Several of the stores that rate 0 just don’t poll their customers in a systematic way, don’t use one of the independent services to do so or don’t have enough feedback to conclude you should or shouldn’t shop there. That says to me that customer satisfaction or transparency isn’t high on their list and that puts them at the bottom on mine.
Here are the stores I’ve rated 0 because there is sufficient feedback to reach a conclusion that their customer satisfaction level is only average or less: bike-discount.de, BikeInn, Bikester, CyclngExpress, Evans Cycles, Race View Cycles.
Here are the stores I’ve rated 0 because there is insufficient customer feedback reported to reach a conclusion about their customer satisfaction level: BicycleBuys, BicycleWarehouse, BikeBling, BikeSomewhere, Bikebug, BikePartsExpress, Bikesale.com, Bob’s Bicycles, Bobshop, Canada Bicycle Parts, Cambria, Colorado Cyclist, Cycledivision, Cycle Surgery, Excel Sports, Hargroves, Glory Cycles, Gotta Ride Bikes, La Bicicletta, Pedal the Planet, PlanetX, ProBike Supply, TBSM, Torpedo7, Total Cycling, TourCycling, and Universal.
There are several rating services that collect customer satisfaction data and publish the results. 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.
I’ve looked into these services and others and wrote about how they work and which ones I think are more credible than others. You can review that discussion in Customer Service Ratings section (here) of my earlier post on online bike stores.
I look at all of this customer satisfaction rating data for the stores to come up with the 0, 1 and 2 ratings you see above.
According to a long running poll I have up on the site, visitors said they read cycling gear reviews at this site to:
- “Do some initial research on gear I might be interested in” (25%)
- “Get in-depth views and recommendations to help me decide what to get” (59%)
- “Confirm that I’m making the right choice on something I’m ready to buy” (11%)
Only 3% of you that responded that you read reviews to “keep up on what’s happening” without the intention of buying anything.
Knowing that you are here on your way to buying something rather than merely “keep up”, I work hard to provide you regularly updated links to the lowest net price, in-stock listings for each product in my reviews after looking at all the stores in the table above that sell online and have high customer satisfaction ratings.
I also make sure to link you to those stores that give you exclusive price discounts and codes as readers of this site or that provide the site a commission when you buy through the red links on the site that go directly to the stores and their product listing pages for the gear we’ve reviewed. Those commissions get plowed back into the cost of running the site and buying gear that we review so that we can keep the reviews independent, free of advertisers and the potential bias that can come with them.
None of this may matter to you. Quite a few readers, on the other hand, have comment that they want to buy from those online stores that will give them the best deals and that support In The Know Cycling’s unique and independent approach to cycling reviews. So I’ve come up with the Reader and Site Support rating aligned with those objectives.
The stores are rated on Support as follows:
0 – No Support. The store offers no unique discount to In The Know Cycling readers and provides no support for sales that it makes through links from this site.
1 – Average Support. The store offers no unique discount to readers but it supports this site at the same level it supports others sites.
2 – Strong Support. The store provides this site’s readers exclusive deals and/or provides more support to this site than others.
For context, I’ve also listed one of a half dozen categories describing the kind of model the store uses to run its business. This is an informational description rather than a rating of the store.
The good news is that there are many models that online bikes stores are using to be successful and provide you the combination of price, selection, service and support you want these days. Some of these models may may suit you better than others and can help you choose between them in addition to the ratings.
Here’s are brief descriptions of the model designations you’ll see in the chart above.
Superstore – 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.
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.
Discounter – 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.”
Extension – These are typically stores with a single location or a small number of stores in a concentrated geographical 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 niche products.
House Brand – These stores, most notably Rose and PlanetX, 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 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 with Amazon’s 4* or 5* rating and eBay’s Top Rated Plus buyer ratings.
There are also many large cycling brands like Specialized, Trek, Giant and Cannondale and some of the smaller ones that sell direct to consumers online either through their own stores or in addition to their own branded physical stores and bike shop dealers. Most sell just their own gear online and at full retail price but occasionally they will discount a line of theirs that is being discontinued and sell it through their online ‘outlet store’ at a discounted price. I have found no customer satisfaction data on these stores and have not included them in the lists above.
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If there’s an online store you have used or are curious about that isn’t one of the 90 or so that’s in the table or lists above please let me know in the comment section below and I’ll check it out.
Thank for reading and supporting In The Know Cycling. If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. And if you’ve gotten some benefit from reading this or any of the reviews on the site, feel free to support it and save yourself some money by buying your gear through the store links in red or by making a contribution here. Thank you.
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Enjoy the ride!