BUY BIKES ONLINE – HOW TO DO IT
Spending your hard-earned money for a new road bike is never easy. But, if you want to shop for and buy bikes online, it’s never been easier. Nowadays, you can look at bike company websites, online stores, posted reviews, and user forums to learn about, compare, spec, price, and buy almost any bike or frame you are interested in.
What’s the best way to buy bikes online and where are the best places to do it?
In this post, I’ll answer those questions for road cycling enthusiasts who are open or have decided to buy their n+1 bike online.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TO BUY BIKES ONLINE
Click on any red statement below to go directly to that part of the post
PROS AND CONS
I’m not here to debate why to buy bikes online vs. at your local bike store. I’ve got riding buddies who are big believers in buying bikes from online stores, others who are committed to bike shops, and some who have bought at and are open to doing either depending on the situation.
Buying bikes online and at local bike stores both work for me.
I will, however, start off with my summary of the pros and cons of both options and describe the kind of buyer each is best suited to. After that, I’ll dive into how and where you should buy bikes online if you want to do so.
Buying your bike online rather than in a store can have the benefits of lower prices, better selection, quicker delivery, and a better shopping experience. The drawbacks can include not being able to test ride before you buy, needing to do some assembly, tuning the fit yourself or at your fitter, and not being able to return or exchange it if you don’t like the bike after riding it.
In the sentences above, I used the words “can have” in describing the benefits and drawbacks. Why? Depending on the bikes you are interested in, where you live, how you shop, and what online stores you buy at, those benefits or drawbacks may not apply.
Generally, if you know the bike or bikes you are looking to buy or are considering, know what type and geometry bike fits you or are comfortable determining it, are handy with a wrench, and don’t want to spend a lot of time shopping, especially if stores near you don’t have the brand of bikes you are looking for, you can get a better performing and better-suited bike that can cost you less and get delivered quicker by buying your bike online than at a bike shop.
On the other hand, if you aren’t sure what you want, have a trusted relationship with someone at a nearby bike shop who really knows his or her stuff, turn to them for routine repairs and more, they carry a broad range of performance bike brands and inventory, they are willing to set up and let you ride a demo of each of the bikes you are interested in for a few hours, then you are best off buying your new bike at your local bike shop.
Most of us know how to buy a bike at a local bike shop. However, since some of you are looking seriously at buying a bike online for the first time, I’ll try to share with you what I’ve learned about how and where to do it successfully.
If you know what type of bike and geometry will fit you and have specific bikes you are already considering buying, skip the next two sections and go here. If you aren’t sure or you want to revisit your fit and bike choice, keep reading.
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START WITH FIT
I’m a firm believer that you can waste a lot of time chasing down bikes you are excited about that will never work for you. Just because you like the lines or reputation of a bike or one of your buddies swears by it doesn’t mean it will work for you.
Your body’s measurements and flexibility have to align with a bike’s geometry and the reasonable amount of tuning you can do with spacers, stems, bars, and saddle position to make it fit you. Otherwise, you won’t get the power, handling, and comfort you can get from a bike that fits you better.
Many of us get excited about that great looking, light, super responsive, fast bike with a lot of buzz and pro teams riding it (guilty!). And some road cycling enthusiasts are a great fit for these race bikes that are usually stretched out with long top tubes and short head tubes (unfortunately not me).
But many enthusiasts just aren’t flexible enough to ride them anymore (or never were) and find they aren’t very comfortable on long, endurance rides or on uneven road surfaces.
On the other hand, if you are an endurance enthusiast or have become one now that your racing days are over, you may be attracted to one of the new endurance bikes built for comfort in their carbon resin choice, frame design, and shock absorbing stays, seat post or bars.
After riding one of these bikes, however, you may find it doesn’t really give you the performance you want for those fast group rides you also do. Because the endurance bike is more compact with shorter top tubes and taller head tubes, it might not be easy to get into an aero position or it feels a little crowded when you do, especially if you are tall or moderately flexible. And the features built into the frame that gives you added comfort can numb the road feel while the tube lengths and angles can take the responsiveness your prefer right out of a bike.
Or, you may be somewhere in the middle, wanting comfort for longer rides and a racier feel for shorter training or group rides. You aren’t flexible enough to ride a full-on race bike anymore, but you want a better feel for the road, more responsiveness, and the ability to stretch out at times into a more aero position than the most comfortable endurance bikes allow.
Fortunately, there are some bikes whose geometries and construction can work well for you if this is the kind of riding you do. These bikes have neither true race or endurance geometries. But, you may find that the performance you give up with this kind of dual-purpose bike is less desirable than one ideally designed to serve either endurance riders or racers.
And then, you may find that your body’s dimensions or limited flexibility may not give you the choice to ride anything but a bike with an endurance geometry.
Fortunately, within the endurance, race, and endurance/race geometry ranges, you can often choose between bikes that are more or less compliant (comfortable), responsive, etc. and can tweak the fit with stem and spacer changes or change out components like wheels, tires, seats, or bars to modify the bike’s ride characteristics within your geometry.
So it’s really important to know which bikes will fit both your riding objectives and your fit possibilities before you spend a lot of time chasing them down. You don’t need to ride a bunch of different bikes to figure this out. The fit numbers don’t lie.
Of course, there’s a lot more about and beyond the bike’s geometry that separates them – weight, stiffness, compliance, materials, components, looks, and cost to name a few – and quite a range of other design aspects and features that determine how it handles and responds on the road.
But, making sure your dimensions and flexibility fit the bike’s geometry is the place to start.
To do this, look up a bike’s stack to reach ratio in the list of geometry measurements and compare it to what stack and reach lengths best suit your body size and flexibility. If you haven’t bought a bike recently, know that most good bike makers and fitters have moved to stack and reach numbers in the last several years as the primary way to help you pick the right bike size.
If you aren’t familiar with these terms, stack and reach are vertical and horizontal lengths, respectively, between the middle of the bottom bracket and top of the head tube. You can see the stack and reach numbers on the vertical and horizontal lines in the drawings above.
Generally speaking, bikes with a stack to reach or ‘StR’ ratio less than 1.45 are considered racing bikes while endurance bikes have a ratio greater than 1.50. Those bikes that fall in between or within a few hundredths of those ratios are often claimed by both camps and marketed as “an endurance bike that you can also race on” or “a racing bike that you can comfortably ride all day.”
The same bike models in different sizes may have slightly different stack to reach ratios but generally stay within the same race or endurance ranges mentioned above. Several companies will change some of the geometry in smaller or larger sizes of the same model (or at each size) to maintain the same StR with the intent of providing the same ride characteristics regardless of your size.
Knowing a bike’s StR is just a start. You need to know what stack and reach are best for you to know whether you will love the feel of the bike that you love the look of.
To get the right size, you want a bike that has actual stack and reach numbers that are within a few millimeters of the stack and reach best for you. To get them dead-on, you can add spacers that go between your top tube and handlebars to adjust the stack. To adjust the reach, you can change the length or angle of the stem, move the seat forward or back a touch, or do some combination of these things.
Doing too much of any of them to fit a bike that’s not close to start with may affect not only the look of the bike you love but make it much harder to get the comfort, handling and efficient power delivery you want from the bike. It may also take you far adrift of the various performance characteristics the bike designer had in mind for the rider when they crafted the bike’s geometry in the first place.
While some salespeople may say they can modify that bike you love to fit you, you may not want to do that if its performance can’t return that love once you have modified it.
How do you figure out your own stack to reach numbers? Frankly, the only accurate way I’m aware of is to get yourself measured by a trained bike fitter on a tool designed specifically for the purpose of measuring your ideal fit, like the one shown above.
These ‘fit bikes’ are adjusted to get the right positions and angles of your arms, legs, torso, hips, etc., on a bike. A good fitting with one of the bikes and the cameras and software used by a trained bike fitter can cost you a $200 or so but it will be crucial to help you choose among a short list of bikes that maximize your performance and comfort.
There are two other, albeit much less precise approaches. First, if you’ve got a bike you really like the fit of, measure or figure out its stack and reach from the published frame listing.
I’m not wild about this approach as many of us get comfortable with our current bike even though it might not be the fit that gets you the most power or comfort. When I went in for my first fit on a bike I thought was very comfortable and set up just right for me when I bought it, I learned it was a size too small and only worked because it used about 50mm of spacers and had a long, 7-degree stem installed to give me the stack and reach I needed.
The irony was that the bike had been sold to me and set up several years before by the same shop that did the fit and told me how badly sized it was. Needless to say, the next bike I bought had dimensions that required very little modification.
Another, even rougher alternative is to use your height and inseam measurements. I find this problematic as it often leads you to choose bike size based on the top tube length, e.g. 56cm vs 58cm, rather than choosing between bikes of the same size with very different geometries.
As with bib shorts or a jersey made in your size by different apparel companies, some will fit you well and others won’t fit you at all. Likewise, bikes with the same size from different brands, be it the top tube length or a small, medium, large, etc. size designation, will not fit the same.
MAKE A LIST
Once you know your stack and reach, you can come up with a list of bikes that are likely to fit you.
I’ll offer some suggestions here but since I don’t review bikes (so many bikes, so little time), my list of bikes to consider is based on researching several hundred models from their website pages and from reviews by writers I think are relatively disciplined in how they evaluate bikes and are not overly conflicted by the business or editorial models of their publications.
The 37 bikes on my list are all models from brands you’ve likely have heard of, in part because those are the brands that have a marketing budget and, as part of that budget, make bikes available for review.
The less well-known brands often market through a few shops, bike shows, word of mouth, social media, and other low-cost marketing approaches but don’t have the budget to make bikes available for review. I know it isn’t fair to leave them off my list for this reason and I’ve certainly missed some good ones, but not having any independent evaluations of them is the limitation I’m working with.
Almost all of the better-known brands come from larger companies that use distributors regardless of whether they sell to online stores or local bike shops, and have distribution agreements that fix the price at which stores and shops can advertise their bikes.
Bikes also have amongst the thinnest profit margins of all cycling products sold. The result of all of this is that unless a bike is a model year or two old, online stores and local bike shops won’t discount them.
The unfortunate result of this distribution approach by the better-known brands from larger companies is that most of the current year models on my list sell for the same price at online stores and local bike shops.
If not price then, the benefit of buying one of the bikes on my list from an online store versus from an LBS can be better selection, stock, delivery, product support, and more time effective shopping.
Canyon, two of whose bikes are on my list, is a major exception to the distribution strategy used by most known-brands. Canyon sells their bikes online directly to consumers and both theoretically and according to many reviews can and does sell bikes with the same or better quality and performance at a lower price than those of the known brands that sell through distributors and stores.
A graphic on their site shows why eliminating the markups taken by distributors and retailers allows Canyon and others selling direct-to-consumer can sell their bikes at lower prices than stores and shops that use traditional distribution channels.
There are many, many other, mostly small and lesser known bike brands that use distributors and/or sell direct-to-consumer. I’m sure there are some great bikes made by these companies. I’ve ridden with people over the years who love theirs.
Canyon has separated themselves from these smaller bike companies with a successful product, marketing, sponsorship, and financing strategy that has resulted in rapid expansion.
A third category of bikes falls somewhere between those that go through distribution and the sold direct-to-consumer. These bikes are made for, branded by, and sold through online bike stores with no distributor between the bike maker and store.
They are sold at a price point below that of the better-known, brand name bikes. They are typically not made to the same design, material, and performance levels of those bikes according to the limited number of credible reviews I’ve written about them.
While I expect there are some good bikes and values in this category of bikes, I have no way to compare them so haven’t added them to my list of suggestions.
Finally, I’ve also limited my list to road bikes with disc brakes.
Why? In the post Why and When to Buy A Road Disc Bike I wrote back in January of 2015, I described why your next bike should be one with disc brakes. In summary, the reasons were, and still are the better braking, faster riding, and greater versatility that road bikes with disc brakes offer over those with rim brakes.
As I write this post three years later, the demand for enthusiast-level bikes (carbon frames, tier 3 or better groupsets, typically 2500 dollars/pounds/euros and up) with disc brakes outweighs the demand for those with rim brakes by about 2 to 1 overall and even more so for endurance models.
You’ll find fewer enthusiast-level road rim brake bikes in stores and online this year than you did last year and even fewer each year for the next few years. Many of the largest bike companies are only making enthusiast-level endurance bikes in road disc versions now and more and more race bikes are being made with disc brake frames.
From all I’ve heard, it will be hard to find new, enthusiast-level rim brake bikes from major brands available for sale in 2-3 years.
While many of the 19 brands whose 37 bikes I’m listing below still make excellent rim brake bike models, I haven’t added them to list because I expect most of you, save for a few racers will be buying a road disc bike next.
So, for all the reasons I’ve outlined above, this is a list limited to enthusiast-level, road disc bikes from known-brands. As such it is incomplete and serves as a starting point for those of you who don’t have your own short list already or are open to considering other bikes. I’ve developed the list for that purpose and to use in evaluating how and where to buy a bike online, the primary purpose of this post.
To compare the fit of these bikes and their potential suitability for you, I’ve used StR ratios for 56cm or Medium size bikes. As I wrote earlier, the ratios may change for larger or smaller sizes of the same model, but they don’t change so much as to move it far beyond where I’ve shown it.
Here then is my list of bikes plotted according to their stack to reach ratio.
StR RATIOS OF ENTHUSIAST-LEVEL ROAD DISC BIKES FROM KNOWN-BRANDS
If you are interested in one of the bikes from my list above or another bike from one of the brands on the list and have decided or are considering buying it online, I’ll tell what I’ve learned about how and where to buy one of these bikes in the following sections.
HOW TO BUY BIKES ONLINE
Buying a bike online is not a whole lot different than buying a wheelset or a jersey or most any other type of cycling gear or kit online. You find the store that has it, select the model, build, size, and other options you want, put it in your cart, login or give them your address and billing info, and click buy.
If that sounded too easy, let me back up and go through some of the steps.
Find the store that has the bike you want – For the bikes on my list that are sold online, I’ll give you links below to stores I recommend you buy them at based on the criteria I’ve developed including some specifically for buying bikes. This should further shorten the time it takes you to buy a bike online and improve your experience in doing so.
Before online stores, if you didn’t live near a bike shop that carried the brands or models you were interested in, that was pretty much the end of the road for you buying that bike. Worse, you might get sold on a bike the store carried that wasn’t much like the one you wanted and wasn’t right for the kind of riding you do. Not good.
If you know what you are looking for, buying a bike online is typically the best option to quickly finding, ordering and receiving that bike. Driving to several shops and talking to salespeople who don’t have or know the bike you want to buy but have a lot of other bikes they want to sell can be a huge waste of time, at the very least. I’d rather be out riding up steep hills into a stiff wind in the pouring rain pulling an anvil with my fellow Sufferlandrians.
Select the model you want – Bikes with the same frame dimensions and model name are often sold in a range of levels and standard builds. BMC Teammachine is made in 6. Cannondale Synapse comes in 11. Canyon Endurace is sold in 11. Etc.
The levels may be differentiated by the resin used in the frame or the tier of the groupsets used at that level. Higher modulus carbon resins that can make them lighter, more compliant and more responsive. Most of the models have different “builds” or combinations of groupset components, cockpit components, and wheels that come on the bike.
The better stores will offer you three types of builds:
- Manufacturer’s build – one of the combinations of frame, components, and wheels the bike company lists in their catalog/on their site and that their distributors take orders on from the stores well in advance of the season.
- Store build – a combination of frame, components, and wheels slightly different than the manufacturer’s build, often with upgrades the store feels will be more attractive to their customers. You’ll often find these builds at upscale stores that buy just the frames from some bike brands. They will sell the frames that customers want to build up themselves and their own store builds on those frames.
- Custom build – a bike that the store will build from components and wheels the customer specifies.
Often, the bigger and better the online store, the more options you’ll have. Those stores sell more volume to a more varied customer base so will often stock a larger number and wider variety of models and builds than a smaller shop.
Select the size you want – I wrote about choosing bike size and, more importantly, choosing between the same size bikes of different types and geometries depending on your measurements in the section “Start with Fit” above.
If you haven’t gotten a bike fit before and don’t know what stack, reach and other geometry best suits your measurements and flexibility, you are at a disadvantage in picking out a bike even before you size the bike you’ve picked out. Get that fit first. You’ll thank me. More important, you’ll thank yourself every time you ride.
It will be much easier to get the fit that optimizes your power, comfort, and handling if you start out with a bike that has a geometry close to your ideal fit. You can’t make a race bike fit you if your measurements suggest you should be riding a bike with an endurance geometry no matter how you tweak it.
Once you’ve picked a bike with the right geometry for you, most online stores do offer some guidance to pick the right size of that bike. Most are basic. A couple are more helpful.
The most comprehensive is Competitive Cyclist’s Fit Calculator. It uses the height and inseam measurements most other stores begin and end with but then enters another six measurements you take of your trunk, legs, arms, and sternum.
From that, it gives your effective top tube length, the primary measure you use to pick a bike size. You compare that number (actually a range) against the effective top tube number on their bike geometry charts to pick the bike size.
The really helpful aspect of the Fit Calculator tool is that it gives you other measurements – stem length, seat height, saddle setback, and saddle to handlebar length – that help you set up the bike once you get it. Further, the tool gives you the option of getting those measurements for a race fit (“The Competitive fit”) or an endurance one (“The Eddy fit” after Eddy Merckx who was cycling’s best ever racer but who rode more upright, as all racers did in the days before aerodynamic influences stretched out race bikes and folded racers over at the waist).
While I still would suggest you take your new bike to a fitter to have this done professionally once you get your bike, you can use these numbers if you are particularly handy to start with.
Canyon’s Perfect Position System first asks which of their bikes you are interested in. So it’s essentially asking whether you want a bike with a race, endurance, climbing or cross bike geometry to start with. It then gets a few less but similar measurements than the Competitive Cyclist Fit Calculator, asks for your weight and gender (not sure why relevant) and then come back to you with a frame size.
When I input my info, it came up with the same bike size recommendations for both their race and endurance bikes. So, not terribly helpful in telling me I’m out of my mind trying to fit on their 1.39 StR Aeroad race bike and I’d be better for their 1.51 StR Endurace or maybe their 1.45 StR Ultimate model.
Perhaps the Canyon system is more accurate in getting you to the right size than merely taking your height and inseam measurements as most stores use to pick a size.
The simple height and inseam method may not even lead you to the right size in the bike you’ve picked as it was developed back when most bikes had top tubes that were level. Most top tubes are angled these days. Look for the “effective” top tube length on the geometry chart when sizing a bike with an angled top tube.
Several questions may naturally come to you as you digest all of this. At the risk of demonstrating that I talk to myself entirely too much, let me ask and answer the questions that came to me and that I researched the answers to.
Q. How do you assure the fit of a bike you buy online?
A. The best way is to get your fit measurements done before you order a bike. (Sorry if I sound like a broken record… or maybe, a skipping CD… how about a buffering stream?) If you’ve got your stack and reach numbers and compare them to those on the bike geometry chart, you should be able to find and buy a bike that will fit after tweaking seat height, stem length and angle, etc. These are all things you should do regardless of whether you buy your bike from an online store or a bike shop.
If you are uncomfortable about getting this right, don’t buy the bike online. You can return an unused bike that doesn’t fit, but it’s not worth the hassle.
Q. How good is the bike info at online stores and how informed is the online staff?
A. I’ve never seen bike descriptions, geometry charts, build specs, etc., on display at bike shops. Staff there can pull that up on a computer from the distributor’s or manufacturer’s site and show it to you. The same information is available at the online store’s site and it’s typically easy for you to find. So no difference.
The better online stores also have people staffing chat and phone lines that are knowledgeable about the bikes they sell. Of course, the better bike shops have knowledgeable staff too. No difference.
Personally, I find the ability to chat or call an online store or bike shop for a 10-minute discussion whenever I want during the day is a lot more effective than driving over to a shop hoping I find a knowledgeable salesperson in and not tied up with another customer. Unless I schedule an appointment, I also find it more likely that I’ll find a knowledgeable person available at a bigger online store than I will a smaller bike shop.
Q. Can you get a bike bought online fit or serviced at an LBS?
A. Most definitely. Most shops nowadays regard bike sales, fitting and service as separate businesses and profit centers. They don’t make money on new bikes anyway and their margins on fit and bike services are what keep a lot of them going.
Q. Can you test out bikes sold online at an LBS?
A. If you intend to buy the bike online, I wouldn’t go to a bike shop and ask for a test ride. Wouldn’t really be right now, would it?
If you think you really need to test a bike before you buy it, by all means, test it and buy it at a bike shop if you like it.
Unless you are really unsure of what you want, however, most bike shop test rides are next to meaningless. There’s very little you are going to be able to tell about a bike from riding it for the 10 or 15 minutes or so that most shops will let you ride a bike.
If you think this kind of test ride might be helpful, consider your answers to these questions:
- Can you get a sense for how well it handles, how responsive it is, how comfortable it is, how well it accelerates, how it does on climbs, at speed, etc. from riding it on the loop near the shop?
- Can you isolate how much of whatever you experience in that time is baked into the frame versus coming from the wheels (and tires and how well inflated they are) or the seat or how the stem and bars are set up?
- Are you experienced enough with the shifters and brakes to be able to focus on the bike while you are test riding it?
- Are the wheels, groupset, seat and fit similar enough to what would ultimately be on the build you want to give you the feel of the bike you would end up buying?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are more perceptive than most.
On the other hand, if you’ve got a good relationship with a good local bike shop and they believe you are likely to spend some serious money with them for a new bike, you can do much better. I have a great relationship with my local shop and they really were very helpful the last time I bought a bike from them.
There were two bikes I was focused on. They were both very close from a fit standpoint. I was very interested in buying the first one but was open to buying the second one if it’s unique technology gave me more comfort than the first but didn’t give up road feel, responsiveness, and other things I valued.
Knowing my fit numbers, the store manager set up both bikes ahead of time with the bars, stems, spacers, and seat post close to the same on both bikes. Each had the same groupset. He used one set of wheels and switched them and my seat between bikes. I used my pedals.
He suggested I go out and ride each bike for an hour. I rode the first one a bit longer. The shop was close enough to where I live and ride so I could get on some roads I knew well.
That’s about as good as it gets. After about 45 minutes on the second bike, I could start making enough distinctions between the two going through my checklist of what matters to me about the performance of a bike after finding road situations where I could compare them.
It was still a hard and rushed decision to make. I wouldn’t have been able to do if I hadn’t already done a lot of work in advance on my fit, what I was looking for in a bike, what was out there, what the trade-offs were, where I was going to ride etc. to come to a pretty good idea of what bike I wanted.
There’s no way I could have made a good evaluation riding each bike for 10 minutes and certainly not if the store hadn’t been good enough to spend the time to set up the bikes as similarly as possible. The bike with the new technology was such a pleasure to ride that I probably would have overlooked a lot of things that are important to me that I didn’t like about it if I hadn’t had time to ride both longer.
There’s a reason why the best bike reviewers file “first ride” reports they say are incomplete after riding a new bike for 50-100 miles, even on ideal testing terrain at new bike introduction junkets they go to and after getting multi-hour presentations about all the bike’s performance characteristics.
Q. Can you return or exchange a bike you buy online if you don’t like it?
A. With most online bike stores, if you ride it much or at all, you can’t return it. All will take back and fully refund an unused bike properly repackaged and returned within 15-30 days – local consumer laws require typically require this.
There are a few online stores that will exchange a bike you buy and ride or give you credit toward another bike or other cycling gear if you ride it for less than a month, don’t trash it, and decide it’s not for you. I mention those in my online store recommendations below.
I don’t think any of this is much different than if you were to buy your bike at a local shop.
Q. How much assembly do you need to do to bikes shipped from online stores?
A. Usually very little. Most stores will fully assemble and test a bike before they ship it. They will then disassemble a few things for packing and shipping to you.
Once you get it, you put the wheels on, swing up and tighten the handlebar bolts, insert or maybe just extend and adjust the seat post and saddle and that’s it. You may need to add spacers at the head tube and put on a longer or shorter stem as required by your fit.
If you’ve ever traveled with or shipped your bike, it’s much the same drill except bike stores typically pack new bikes far better than you can in a travel case and more efficiently than your bike shipper will.
Q. How long does it take to get a bike delivered.
A. Conservatively, if the bike is in stock and you live on the same continent, most stores will get it to you within 7 to 10 days from the time you order. If you do a “click-and-collect” or ship to home not far from the store, it can be 2-3 days from order to delivery.
Stores vary but it usually takes 2-3 business days for them to build or get an assembled bike from their warehouse and test it and then another 3-5 business days if you have it shipped to you via normal package delivery ground service. Add a weekend somewhere in there and, to be safe, you are looking at 7-10 days.
WHERE TO BUY BIKES ONLINE
After coming up with the list of bikes you see in the chart above – the well-rated, enthusiast-level, road disc bikes from known brands, complete with all its limitations (no lesser known, rim brake or store brand models) – I set out to see how many of these you can buy online.
I started off with the list of stores in my Best Online Bike Store Rankings post which ranks about 35 stores from the roughly 100 I follow. To make the rankings, these stores must offer a wide range of road cycling enthusiast gear and get customer averaged satisfaction ratings of at least 4 out of 5 stars from cyclists who have shopped there and provided feedback to the independent customer satisfaction rating service TrustPilot or to those Google compiles for their Google Customer Reviews ratings. (You can check out any store that Google rates by replacing the …. after q= in this address https://www.google.com/shopping/ratings/account/metrics?q=….&c=GLOBAL&v=1 with the store’s url).
The bikes from the top 8 stores in the rankings and from 15 stores overall can be found at Know’s Shop, the price comparison tool I had built to help readers easily find the best prices, selection, and stores all on one site, right here at In The Know Cycling.
I then looked at my list of 37 bike models from 19 brands to see which of my ranked stores carry them in one build or another. (Fun, right!)
Nearly half of the stores either don’t carry bikes at all, only carried a few house brands or just one of the 19 brands. These stores sell a lot of other gear – wheels, components, kit, accessories and what not. As I’ve mentioned, bikes are one of the least profitable items a store or local bike shop can carry so the number of stores not carrying any or many bikes didn’t surprise me.
There were 20 stores from my ratings that do carry several of the bike brands and models on my list.
As I looked through who carried what, several interesting things shone through my bleary eyes.
- Brands including Bianchi, Cannondale, Colnago, Cube, Giant, Scott, and Wilier are stocked and sold widely and through different types of online stores. This includes online stores that use one of a half a dozen different business retail models I describe in my store ratings post as superstores, premium service stores, discounters, chains, extensions, and marketplaces. (If you are interested in the descriptions of these retail models, I explain them here.)
I’m aware that some of the companies behind these brands have tried or are still trying different and sometimes competitive distribution approaches to come up with one or some combination that yields growth and profit, or at least profit. These approaches include their own branded retail stores, factory direct to retail, and using distributors between them and retailers. The fact that so many brands are selling through online stores, even if not exclusively, tells me this approach is working for them.
- Brands including BMC, Cervelo, Felt, Focus, Merida, Pinarello, and Storck are found at only a few online outlets. Some of these brands are “better known” but don’t sell high volumes of bikes and don’t have a lot of bike shop dealers either. Others, notably Merida, sell very few bikes under their own brand name but are one of the largest volume manufacturers as they make the well know bikes sold by other brands.
- Fuji sells a lot of lower priced, recreational bikes online but doesn’t sell many of their enthusiast level bikes there.
- Canyon sells directly to consumers from their own online store.
- Trek and Giant enable you to order online at their company site but in nearly all cases require you to take delivery at a bike shop dealer.
When you order from Trek’s company site, they partially assemble your bike (frame and groupset) at their warehouse and send that with all the other components in your build from to the shop you specify near you. The shop completes the assembly, does the shifting alignment, trues the wheels, torques up the bolts, etc., tests it and delivers it to you.
- You can order Specialized online, but only from the shop selling the bike and most need to be picked up there as well.
WHICH STORES ARE BEST TO BUY BIKES ONLINE
Once I had a good fix on which top-ranked online stores carried the enthusiast-level bikes on my list, I looked at the stores against five criteria to come up with the best ones.
Price – I found little to no price difference when comparing the same build of the same current year models at the top-ranked online stores. I also saw little difference between prices at online stores and bike shops for those models, though I didn’t compare online and physical store prices exhaustively.
As I wrote earlier, seeing the same price at different online stores and between online stores and bike shops is probably due to a combination of thin bike margins and rigid distribution agreements.
While price is a major driver of online sales for most cycling products and almost every category of consumer goods these days, it isn’t the case for the range of known-brand, current year, road disc bikes built for enthusiast-level riders on my list.
You can find prior year models at significant discounts (15-40%) both online and at bike shops. While it’s a bit of hit and miss, there are often more bikes to take a swing at online if you want to save some money this way.
If the bike you are interested in hasn’t changed much other than the paint options from last year to this one, this can be a good way to go. However, with the road disc bike market expanding as fast as it is, there are a growing range of model options coming out each year, the technology is getting better (e.g. lighter frames), and defacto standards are coming through.
On most of the 2018 model year road disc bikes, for example, almost all frames now use flat mount brakes and 12mm TA forks in 2018 models where a year or two ago we had a mix of post and flat mount frames using 15mm and 12mm TA forks and some still using QR axles front and rear.
We’re also seeing the new families of Shimano Dura-Ace and Ultegra and SRAM Red e-tap hydraulic groupsets on 2018 builds when none were available on 2017 model year bikes. I feel they are worth waiting for. (You can read my post on groupsets here.)
Some online stores and bike shops with significant online businesses are cutting the costs of buying a bike by offering credits toward additional purchases, reduced or free in-country shipping, and trade-in allowances. These approaches aren’t enough to make me pick one store vs. another but, on the margins, they can save you some money if they are offered at a store where you’ve chosen to buy your bike.
If you live in the UK, most stores also offer Cycle to Work schemes to save you some serious money on your new steed buy buying your bike through your company.
Where you will find significant price differences is between different models of road disc bikes designed for the same type of rider.
I looked, for example, at the US prices of a few endurance road disc bikes with complete Ultegra Di2 groupsets, alloy stock wheels (except where noted), standard modulus carbon frames, and similar StR ratios (1.52 and more). The cockpits and wheelsets, while mostly at the same performance level, are made by different companies and not directly comparable nor, obviously, is how each bike rides.
The range of prices for a half dozen of these bikes is quite wide.
- Specialized Roubaix Expert Ultegra Di2 – $5,000
- BMC Roadmachine 02 One – $5,000
- Giant Defy Advanced Pro 0 (carbon wheels) – $4,800
- Cannondale Synapse Carbon Disc Ultegra DI2 (Cannondale cranks) – $4,200
- Canyon Endurace CF SL Disc 8.0 DI2 – $3,500
Comparison of the top-of-the-line race bikes with Dura-Ace Di2 or Red eTap groupsets, carbon stock wheels, high-modulus carbon frames and similar StR ratios (1.46 and less) shows an even wider range.
- BMC Teammachine SLR01 Disc Team – $12,000
- Specialized S-Works Tarmac Disc (DA) – $11,000
- Cannondale Supersix Evo Hi-Mod Disc Team (DA) – $11,000
- Giant TCR Advanced SL 0 Disc (DA) – $10,400
- Canyon Ultimate CF SLX Disc 9.0 Aero (eTap) – $7,300
Bottom line, if you want a lower price, look at a different bike rather than a different store.
Selection – Compared to other stores in their geographic regions, a half-dozen stores carried more of the models and brands on my list of bikes than others by a good margin.
Competitive Cyclist, one of the largest US-based online stores (out of Salt Lake City, Utah), carries models on my list from Bianchi, Pinarello, Storck, and Wilier.
Other well established US online stores including JensonUSA and the other half dozen US stores on my Best Online Bike Store Rankings list of the best online stores sell very few, if any, enthusiast-level bikes.
eBay and Amazon, the two big US-based marketplace outlets that sell just about anything all around the world, don’t sell enthusiast-level bikes like those on my list. BikeExchange, an Australian-based online marketplace that recently entered the US market, is mostly a clearinghouse listing bike inventory sold and delivered by local bike shops. Of the thousands of bikes they had listed recently, only about 10 in the US and another 10 in Australia were enthusiast-level road disc bikes that could be shipped to cyclists.
If you live in the UK or a European country, the German online superstore Bike24 has the widest selection of models on my list of any online store including those from Bianchi, BMC, Cannondale, Cervelo, Cube, Focus, Giant, Scott, Specialized, and Trek. Their agreements allow them to ship these brands except Trek to most European countries. They also can’t ship Scott bikes to Italy, Spain or the UK and pas de tout (none of the brands) to France
In the UK, the online store Tredz also has one of the better inventories of models on my list including those from Bianchi, Cannondale, Cube, Felt, Giant, Merida, Scott, and Specialized. They ship bikes free of charge to residences on the mainland UK.
If you are looking for click-and-collect delivery in the UK, Evans Cycles have a good selection of models on my list and 60+ stores to pick them up at. Evans caries BMC, Cannondale, Cervelo*, Cube, Focus*, Scott, Specialized, and Trek*. They will also ship to your home in the UK for free or in Europe with shipping charges, except for those noted with an asterisk above where the distribution agreements restrict them from delivering those brands to store pickup.
[Note, since first publishing this review, I have removed Evans from the list of stores I recommend. Their customer satisfaction ratings have dipped below the level where I can continue to do so. Steve]
Unfortunately, I haven’t found online stores based in Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand or South America with high or any TrustPilot or Google Customer Reviews ratings that sell and ship enthusiast-level bikes like those on my list. Some US, UK, and European online stores will sell and ship bikes from brands that aren’t restricted to many places in the world but the shipping costs can get quite high when sent long distances.
Online Support – Competitive Cyclist, Tredz, and Evans Cycles all have chat lines that are staffed with people that are very helpful if you are trying to decide between a couple of bikes or builds of the bike you want. They’ll get as geekie with you as you can stand. I’ve had some long online conversations about the characteristics of different bikes with each of them to test them out.
You can also call each of those three online stores to speak with their bike gurus.
Competitive Cyclist and Tredz have the highest percentage of customers that rate them “Excellent” or 5 out of 5* and the fewest that rate them Bad, Poor or Average which are the 1*, 2* and 3* ratings.
Competitive Cyclist (click here to read their policy) will give you full store credit for a used and undamaged bike that you return within 30 days. You can apply the credit to another bike or anything else in the store. You do need to pay the shipping costs to return the bike.
Evans Cycles (policy here) will exchange your bike for another similarly priced one. This would also be for a used and undamaged bike shipped back or dropped off at one of their stores within 30 days of when you bought it.
Most everyone else won’t take back a used bike but will fully refund you for an unused bike that you pay to ship back to them in original packaging within a specified time.
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