HOW AND WHERE TO BUY BIKES ONLINE
It’s never been easier to buy bikes online. Nowadays, you can look at bike company websites, online stores, and posted reviews to learn about, compare, spec, and price the bikes you are interested in and then buy road, gravel, mountain, kids, e-bikes, or any type of bikes online.
What’s the best way to buy bikes online and where are the best places to buy them?
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
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PROS AND CONS
I’m not here to debate whether you should buy bikes online vs. at your local bike shop. 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 a local bike store both work for me. And all of the major bike brands and most of the small ones also sell through both channels now.
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 to buy bikes online if you want to do so.
If you buy a bike online rather than in a store you can get 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.These two options have become clearer now as online stores and local bike shops have each gotten better at what they do and the unique benefits they offer.
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 aren’t right 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 your unique needs.
Your body’s measurements and flexibility have to be well suited for the geometry of the bike you are looking to buy. This is even more the case now as the trend to integrated stems and bars has made it more difficult to do the kind of fit tuning you could in the past with a combination of spacers, stems, bars, and saddle position to make fit adjustments to make it fit you. If you can’t get the fit right, you won’t get the optimal power, handling, and comfort you can get from a bike that’s a great fit for you.
Many of us get excited about that great looking, light, super responsive, fast bike with a lot of buzz that pro teams ride (guilty!). 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 (like me) just aren’t flexible enough to ride those kinds of bikes 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 with 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 reasonably 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 endurance geometry.
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 of some with stem and spacer changes or change out components like wheels, tires, saddles, or bars to modify the bike’s ride characteristics within your geometry.
We’ve also seen the growth of aero bikes over the last several years. Nearly every one of the brands covered in this survey of bikes has one in their line. They are racing bikes but with more flat tube shapes that are designed to give you less wind resistance than the more rounded ones on most racing bike models.
In most cases, aero bike geometries require a slightly more flexible rider than the already demanding race bikes and their tube shape design gives up comfort in exchange for speed.
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 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.”
Aero bikes tend to have StRs that are on the pointy end of the racing bike StRs between 1.42 and 1.38.
In the section below, I’ve provided StR ratio charts that allow you to compare all of the endurance, racing and aero bikes I suggest you consider. I’ve also added the increasingly popular category of gravel bikes, some that enthusiasts race and others that we just cruise on for long rides. While they tend to have StR ratios more like endurance road bikes, some have dimensions that are closer to race bikes.
The same bike models in different sizes may have slightly different stack to reach ratios but generally stay within the same endurance and racing ratio 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 determine 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 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 (if it isn’t an integrated stem and bar), 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 $200 or so but it will be crucial to help you choose among a shortlist 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 ride now that 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 later 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 current model year enthusiast-level bikes from brands that are available in the wide range of geographies where In The Know Cycling readers come from. If a brand makes a limited number of bikes or is sold in only one region of the world or just a few countries, it’s not likely its on the list.
By enthusiast-level bikes, I’m referring to those that typically sell for at least 2500 dollars/pounds/euros and often much more, have at least a tier 2 groupset (Shimano Ultegra, SRAM Force, Campagnolo Chorus) and a carbon frame.
There are some bikes that are tier 3 (Shimano 105) and alloy frame (notably the Cannondale CAAD13) but those are exceptions. Nothing wrong with either the groupset or the frame material (or steel or titanium), you just don’t see many bikes sold by these brands to enthusiasts.
Enthusiast-level bikes either have mechanical and electronic groupsets in 11 (Shimano) or 12 (SRAM, Campagnolo) speeds. Most come with Shimano mechanical or Di2 groupsets though SRAM’s AXS electronic groupset is available in many of the higher-end bikes.
Sadly, most still have stock wheels that enthusiasts will want to replace with better ones.
When doing my 2021 analysis of current bikes, the most important change I’ve noted is that nearly all enthusiast-level road and gravel bike models now have disc brakes. Indeed, all the bike models I’ve listed are road disc bikes. There just aren’t that many enthusiast-level bikes sold by the leading brands with rim brakes and that includes aero and racing bikes as well as endurance models. We’ve seen this coming for several years. It now appears to be just about your only choice.
I, for one, think this is a good thing. 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 better braking, faster riding, and greater versatility road bikes with rim brakes.
If you prefer to buy a new rim brake bike, you’ll have to hunt around among the few being sold by the major brands, go to some of the smaller bike brands that haven’t invested in new road disc models yet, or shop for 2018 or 2019 bikes still in stock.
While I’ve read reviews of prior year models of the bikes on my list that were already being made in road disc versions, there’s no easy way to compare models from different brands on key performance criteria from them. Most detailed reviews talk only about the model the review is focused on or perhaps where it sits in the family of bikes under the same brand umbrella.
The “best road bike” reviews you’ll see online usually list specs and describe features provided by PR firms that help market the brand’s bikes. Few are based on any kind of in-depth comparative and independent performance analysis.
That said, there are a good number of reviews available for many of the bikes on my list. I’d suggest you read several for each model that will fit you and don’t believe too much in any one review. There are some reviewers that are less experienced or more conflicted than you wish they were. It takes a lot of reading to find those reviewers that are more knowledgeable and objective.
The lesser-known brands not on my list are often marketed through a few shops, bike shows, word of mouth, social media, and other low-cost marketing approaches. They don’t have the budget to make bikes available for review. I know it isn’t fair to leave them off my list for these reasons and I’ve likely 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 through online stores or local bike shops, and have distribution agreements that fix the price at which stores and shops can advertise their bikes. The largest bike brands including Giant, Trek, and Specialized also sell direct through their own online stores and have their bikes delivered to you through a local bike shop.
Bikes also have amongst the thinnest profit margins of all cycling products sold. The result of all of this is that unless a model is a year or two old, online stores and local bike shops won’t discount them.
The 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 an online store or local bike shop. Prior year models will be discounted but the amount of discount is typically decided by the individual store or shop rather than determined by the sales channel or bike brand.
If not price then, the benefit of buying bikes online from my store list from over an LBS is usually better selection, stock, delivery, product support, and more time effective shopping.
Canyon, whose bikes are also on my list, is a major exception to the distribution strategy used by most known-brands. Canyon only sells their bikes from their own online store and delivers them directly to the buyer. According to many reviews, it can and does sell bikes with the same quality and performance levels but at a lower price than those of the known brands that sell through their own or other online stores or at brick-and-mortar shops.
A graphic from the Canyon site shows why eliminating the markups taken by distributors and retailers allows them to 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. I own one and love mine.
Canyon has separated itself from these smaller bike companies with successful product, marketing, sponsorship, and financing strategies that have resulted in their rapid expansion and significant market share. Other direct-to-consumer bike brands are mostly custom, niche or far smaller regional providers.
The third category of places where to buy bikes online falls somewhere between those that go through distribution and are 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.
Bikes from this category are sold at a price point below that of the better-known, brand name bikes equipped with the same groupset and component specifications. 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.
So, for all the reasons I’ve outlined above, this is a list limited to enthusiast-level, road disc and gravel bikes from the better-known brands. It can provide a starting point for those of you who don’t have your own shortlist already or are open to considering other bikes. I’ve developed the list for that purpose and to use it in evaluating how and where to buy bikes online, the primary purpose of this post.
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STACK AND REACH CHARTS
To compare the fit of these bikes and their potential suitability for you, I’ve developed the following charts mapping the StR ratios for racing, aero, endurance, and gravel bikes. While ratios may change slightly (a few hundredths) for larger or smaller sizes of the same model, I’ve plotted the StR for the medium or 54cm or 55cm size bike of each model, whichever the brand specifies. This is typically a middle point and commonly purchased size in each bike’s size range.
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, log in or give them your address and billing info, and click buy.
Of course, buying a bike costs a whole lot more so let me back up and go through those steps in more detail to make sure you get it right.
Find the store that has the bike you want – For the bike brands on my list that are sold online, I’ll give you links below to stores where I recommend you buy them 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.
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 bikes online is typically the best option to quickly find, order, and receive that bike. Driving to several shops near and far 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.
Select the model you want – Bikes with the same frame dimensions and model names are often sold in a range of levels and standard builds. When I last looked at this I found BMC Teammachine made in 6 builds. Cannondale Synapse came in 11. Canyon Endurace was also sold in 11. etc. And I’m not talking about color differences.
The levels (e.g., Pro, Expert, Comp, Sport) are usually differentiated by the combination of resin used in the frame and the groupset the bike comes equipped with. Higher modulus carbon resins can make them lighter, more compliant, more responsive, and more expensive. For a given level, there can be 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 builds – 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 builds – a combination of frame, components, and wheels slightly different than the manufacturer’s build, usually with upgrades the store feels will be more attractive to their customer base. You’ll often find these builds at upscale stores.
- Custom builds – a bike that the store will build from the frame, components and wheels an individual customer specifies.
While most local bike shops will sell two or three brands of enthusiast-level bikes, the best online stores that sell bikes will offer and stock more bike brands, levels and build options. They are able to do this because they have a larger and more varied customer base.
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 suit your measurements and flexibility, you are at a disadvantage in picking between brands and models even before you size the bike you chose.
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. While most are basic, a couple are more helpful.
The most comprehensive is the 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 you 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 it set up 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 road bike models you are interested in. So it’s essentially asking whether you want a bike with an endurance, race, or aero 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 suggests 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 aero bike and I’d be better for their 1.51 StR Endurace or maybe their 1.45 StR Ultimate model.
The Canyon system is more accurate in getting you to the right size bike than those that merely take your height and inseam measurements but it doesn’t put you on a bike that will fit your geometry.
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.
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 if you ask. The same information is available when you look at the page for a bike at the online store’s site. So no difference.
The better online stores also have chat and phone lines staffed with people that are knowledgeable about the bikes they sell. Of course, the better bike shops have knowledgeable staff too.
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 trained, knowledgeable person available at a bigger online store than I will at a smaller bike shop.
Q. Can you get a bike fit or serviced at an LBS that you bought online?
A. Most definitely. Most shops nowadays regard bike sales, fitting, and service as separate businesses and profit centers. They don’t make much if any 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 bikes 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.
However, most bike shop test rides are next to meaningless and can be misleading. 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 these questions:
- Can you get a sense of how well it handles, how responsive it is, how comfortable it is, how well it accelerates, how well 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 it 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 bikes I wanted to test.
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 than the normal loop around the store.
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. The best stores will give you much longer.
There are a few online stores that will exchange a bike you buy and ride and 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 the handlebar and tighten the 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. Most online stores will specify the delivery time before you order it. 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 charts above – the well-rated, racer and enthusiast-level, road and gravel bikes from known brands that you can typically find reviews about – I set out to see how many of these you can buy online and where you can get them.
I started off with the list of all online stores I recommend from my Best Online Bike Store Rankings post that includes about 35 of the roughly 100 stores I follow. To be recommended and make the rankings list, these stores must offer a wide range of road cycling enthusiast gear (including bikes, wheels, components, clothing, accessories, etc.) and get customer 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 Google’s ratings service.
I then checked the list of models on the StR charts above to see which of my recommended online stores carry them in one build or another. (Fun, right!)
About 20 of the recommended online stores either don’t carry bikes at all or carry house brands and/or enthusiast-level models from only a couple of the dozen and a half brands I charted above. These stores sell a lot of other gear – wheels, components, kit, accessories, and whatnot. 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 about a dozen stores from my ratings that carry at least 3 or 4 of the bike brands. Half of those stores carry at least twice as many brands and a range of builds of the models in my charts above.
Those stores – Competitive Cyclist in the US, Tredz, Cyclestore, and Sigma Sports, and Rutland Cycling, in the UK, and Bike24 from Germany have the best selection of the models and brands of road disc bikes I suggest you consider. With a few exceptions, they also sell the brands and models on my list carried by the other online stores I recommend but that have less selection.
There are a few other online stores that carry a good number of my list of models and brands that I don’t recommend you shop at – most notably R&A Cycles in the US and Evans Cycles in the UK – because their independent Trust Pilot or Google ratings are below the 4 out of 5-star bar I set as a minimum to be recommended on my Best Online Bike Stores list.
You may have also heard of two other online stores. BikeExchange acts as a listing service for local bike shops. For the leading brands, you need to pick up the bikes at those shops. So it’s more like buying a bike at an LBS than online. Another store that is getting some attention in the US is The Pro’s Closet. It sells “pre-owned”, aka used bikes that they inspect, service, and certify before reselling. If you want to go the used route and are willing to take on a little more risk, you can check out Pinkbike which has a lot to choose from though far fewer later models.
WHICH STORES ARE THE BEST
Once I had a good fix on which of my recommended online stores carried the best selection of 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 many 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.
Before Covid-19, you could find new, prior year models at significant discounts (15-40%) both online and at bike shops. While it’s a bit of hit and miss these days for higher priced bikes, 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 growth in demand and additon of gravel bikes, there are a growing range of model options coming out each year, the technology is getting better (e.g. lighter and more aero frames), and de facto standards are coming through.
Almost all new bikes in the enthusiast range have disc brakes, use flat-mount (rather than post mount) calipers, and 12mm TA forks front and back. A good number of 2018 models and a few 2019 ones were still using post and flat mount frames and 15mm TA forks.
We also see more of the complete Shimano Ultegra disc brake groupset and new SRAM Red and Force AXS on current builds that weren’t available on earlier year models.
If you are a racer, there are also race and aero models from some of these brands that weren’t available as road disc bikes in prior model years.
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 the Cycle to Work Schemes to save you some serious money on your new steed by buying your bike through your company program.
Where you will find significant price differences is between different brands and models of road disc bikes with similar builds designed for the same type of rider.
A couple of years ago, I looked at the US prices of a few endurance road disc bikes with Ultegra mechanical groupsets, alloy stock wheels (except where noted), standard modulus carbon frames, and similar StR ratios around 1.50 or more. The cockpits, cranksets, and wheelsets, while mostly at the same performance level, were made by different companies so not directly comparable nor, obviously, is how each bike performs.
The range of prices for a half dozen of these bikes is quite wide.
- Wilier Cento1NDR – $4,500
- Cervelo C3 – $4,200
- Trek Domane SL 6 – $3,800
- Cannondale Synapse Carbon Disc Ultegra – $3,300
- Specialized Roubaix Comp – $3,200
- Canyon Endurace CF SL Disc 8.0 – $2,900
A similar comparison I did of the top-of-the-line race bikes with Dura-Ace Di2 or Red eTap AXS groupsets, high-end carbon wheels, high-modulus carbon frames, and similar StR ratios (around 1.45 and less) showed a narrower range until you get to Canyon.
- Pinarello Dogma F12 Disk (DA) – $12,000
- Trek Emonda SLR 9 Disc – $11,800
- Cannondale Supersix Evo Hi-Mod Disc (DA) – $11,500
- Specialized S-Works Tarmac Disc (DA or AXS) – $11,000
- Giant TCR Advanced SL 0 Disc (DA) – $10,500
- Canyon Ultimate CF SLX Disc 9.0 (AXS) – $7,500
The 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, the six stores I recommend you buy from online carry 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 Bianchi, Cervelo, Pinarello, Ridley, Specialized, and Wilier. They will ship almost all of these models throughout the US and Canada at no charge and to many countries throughout the world unless the shipping costs or regional agreements with other brands prohibit it.
Other well-established US online 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.
If you live in the UK or Europe, Tredz has one of the best selections of brands and models on my list including those from Bianchi, BMC, Cannondale, Cube, Giant, Liv, Scott, and Specialized. They ship bikes free of charge within the UK and they will also ship many of the brands to other European countries for a standard delivery fee.
You also get a 10% discount on BMC, Cannondale, Cube, and Specialized bikes and all gear you buy there not through the Cycle to Work Scheme when you click on this or any link from this site to Tredz and use the exclusive discount code ITKTDZ10 set up exclusively for In The Know Cycling readers.
Cyclestore, Sigma Sports, and Rutland Cycling, each UK-based, also have very good selections. Cyclestore sells Cannondale, Giant, and Specialized. Sigma Sports offers Bianchi, BMC, Cannondale, Cervelo, Colnago, Pinarello, Scott, Specialized, and Trek. Rutland Cycling carries Bianchi, Cannondale, Cube, Giant, Liv, Scott, Specialized, and Trek.
Rutland has over a dozen stores between Sheffield and London where you can pick up your bike or you can have them shipped to you directly. As with Tredz, each of these stores will deliver to you in the UK or across Europe and perhaps beyond depending on each brand’s country agreements. The major brands attempt to protect stores selling their models inside a geographic region from stores based outside that region.
The German online superstore Bike24 also carries a wide selection of models on my list. These include Bianchi, BMC, Cannondale, Cervelo, Cube, Giant, Liv, Scott, Specialized, and Trek. They have a different set of geographic restrictions on these same brands – many can’t be sold outside central Europe including the UK. If you live in Europe and aren’t sure which store ships into your country, it’s good to look up the model you are interested in at Tredz or one of the other UK stores and then do the same with Bike24.
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 many of the enthusiast-level bikes like those on my list.
You can also check the inventory and price compare over 1700 road disc bikes from 4 of the 6 online stores that I recommend you buy bikes from at Know’s Shop, the tool I had built to help readers like you easily find the best prices, selection, and stores for bikes and all sorts of gear on one site, right here at In The Know Cycling.
Check it out.
As you can see from the graphic (and if you go to that page by clicking on that graphic), there are also many rim brake, cyclocross, gravel, mountain, and electric bikes and frames you can price compare and order there as well. Trainers and racks too. It’s really quite useful. (As I hope you can tell, I’m proud of this In The Know Cycling feature.)
Online Support – Competitive Cyclist, Tredz, Sigma Sports, and Rutland, and have live 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 as you can stand. I’ve had some long online conversations about the characteristics of different bikes with chatters from each store to test them out.
You can also call those stores directly to speak with their bike gurus.
Competitive Cyclist, Tredz, Cyclestore, and Sigma Sports have among the highest customer satisfaction ratings of the 100 or so online stores I track. Rutland Cycling and Bike24’s ratings are also good but a notch below.
Return/Exchange Policy – Competitive Cyclist has the best bike return policies of all the stores in my online bike store ratings that sell enthusiast-level bikes.
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 for up to a year for another bike or anything else in the store. You do need to pay the shipping costs to return the bike.
Rutland Cycling also offers a 30-day return policy for a bike you’ve tried out. Their policy (here) is restricted to a bike that you bought at full-price, didn’t finance, and had delivered to your home in the UK. Financed, Cyclescheme, clicked and collected or bought at one of their stores or on sale don’t qualify under this policy.
Other stores won’t take back a used bike but will fully refund or credit you for an unused bike that you pay to ship back to them in original packaging within 30 to 365 days, depending on the store.
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Thanks and enjoy your rides safely! Cheers, Steve
First published on January 13, 2020. Date of the most recent major update shown at the top of the post.
Click here to see more posts on road disc bikes, wheels and components.