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HOW AND WHERE TO BUY BIKES ONLINE

It’s never been easier to buy bikes online. Nowadays, you can start by looking on the websites of bike companies, online stores, marketplaces, and bike reviewers. Once you’re there, you can learn about, compare, price, and buy most any type of bike you’re interested in, be it a road, gravel, mountain, or electric bike.

When you buy a bike online, you aren’t limited to the brands or models or builds that your local bike shop sells or their ability to get it delivered when you want it.

But, what kinds of cyclists are suited to buying a bike online, how do you choose between all the different bikes that are out there, and what are the best ways to buy a bike online?

In this post, I’ll answer all those questions for those looking to buy a cycling enthusiast-level road or gravel bike.

For those of you who already know what bike or bikes you are most interested in, let me first tell you the six stores my research shows have the best range of bikes to choose from, give you the most support in picking the right bike, and have the best customer service and return policies.

In the US, I recommend Competitive Cyclist for new bikes and The Pro’s Closet for used ones. If you live in the UK or Europe then Tredz, Cyclestore, Sigma Sports, and Bike24 are among the best online stores to buy from. You can click on any of those store links to go straight to their bike pages.

Or, you can go to the section below to read more about why I’ve found these are the best stores to buy bikes 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

Understand the Pros and Cons

Start with Fit

How to Tell If A Bike Is Fit for You

Determining Your Body’s Ideal Stack and Reach

Putting it Together

Make A Shortlist

Compare Stack and Reach

Consider a Range of Different Bikes That May Suit You

How to Buy Bikes Online

Where to Buy Bikes Online

 

UNDERSTAND THE PROS AND CONS

I’m not here to debate whether you should buy bikes online or at your local bike shop. I’ve got riding buddies who are big believers in buying bikes online, others who are committed to bike shops, and some who have bought at and are open to doing either depending on the situation.

While buying bikes online from a trusted store with good policies offers you more brand, model, and price options, buying at your local bike store also works if they have the brand and model that’s best for you at the right price. And most of the major bike brands and some smaller ones now offer you the option to do either, selling through some combination of direct-to-consumer, online stores, and bike shops now.

I will, however, start off with my summary of the pros and cons of buying online vs. at bike shops and describe the kind of buyer I think each is best suited to. After that, I’ll dive into how and where to buy bikes online if you want to do so.

Generally, if you know the bike or bikes you are looking to buy or are considering, know what bike type and geometry fits you or you are comfortable determining it, are reasonably handy and confident with a wrench, and don’t want to spend a lot of time shopping, you can usually 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 their stuff, turn to them for routine repairs and more, they carry enough brands and models to give you options that fit your situation, and 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 options have become clearer now as the better online stores and local bike shops have created two distinctly different models with unique benefits.

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 ahead an go here. If you aren’t sure or want to revisit your fit and bike choice, keep reading.

In The Know Cycling is ad-free, subscription-free, and reader-supported. If you want to help keep it rolling without any added cost to you, buy your gear and kit after clicking the store links on the site. When you do, we may earn an affiliate commission that will help me cover the expenses to create and publish our independent, comprehensive, and comparative reviews. Thank you, Steve. Learn more.

 

START WITH FIT

I’m a big 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 look or reputation of a bike or one of your buddies swears by it doesn’t mean it will be the best choice for your body, the kind of riding and events you do, or your budget.

Your body’s measurements and flexibility have to be well suited to 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 on the better and newer cycling enthusiast level bikes has made it more difficult to do the kind of fit tuning you could in the past with a combination of different size spacers, stems, bar, and saddle positions to make adjustments to get the geometry right for 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 because it got a great online write-up or YouTube review or pro teams (are paid to) ride it. Some road cycling enthusiasts are a great fit for these race bikes that are usually stiff and stretched out with long top tubes and short head tubes.

There are several flavors of these race bikes now. Some are super light for climbing, others very aero for riding flats at high speeds, others are designed for a range of different road races, and some of the newest models combine several of these characteristics into one bike.

If you race and have the fitness, anatomy, and flexibility to ride one of these bikes, there are a lot of performance preferences to consider and you aren’t likely to be limited by your fit. Yet getting a bike suited to your dimensions is still important.

Many enthusiasts just aren’t flexible enough to ride race bikes anymore (or ever were) and find these bikes aren’t very comfortable or are too demanding for where we are in our cycling lives. If you focus on doing events, and group and solo rides more so than races, you may prefer an endurance or gravel bike that is designed to give you a more upright position better suited to a middle-aged person’s person’s body and desire for comfort but not lacking in speed for long rides on paved or dirt roads and perhaps even gravel surfaces.

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 some of the most aggressive race bike models 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 and gravel bikes allow.

All of these types of bikes have different geometries that are designed to fit a combination of body dimensions and riding preferences.

Buy bikes online that fit your measurements and flexibility

You’ll get the best performance and comfort from a bike that fits your measurements and flexibility.  An endurance bike (left) is generally more comfortable and less demanding while a race bike (right) will put your body in a more aerodynamic position. Illustration credit: reduxracers.com

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 beyond the bike’s geometry that separates them – weight, stiffness, compliance, materials, components, looks, and cost are probably the most important – 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.

HOW TO TELL IF A BIKE IS FIT FOR YOU

To determine whether a bike is a good fit for your body, look up a bike’s stack and reach ratio in the list of geometry measurements (or in the charts I’ve compiled below) and compare it to what stack and reach lengths best suit your body size and flexibility (more on how to do that below). 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.

stack and reach

Illustration credit: cycling-obsession.com

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 the 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, road and gravel bikes with a stack-to-reach or ‘StR’ ratio less than 1.45 for a medium, 54cm or 55cm size bike 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 will typically have different stack-to-reach ratios. Larger-size bikes will have larger StRs than medium ones and smaller-size bikes will have smaller StRs. Between models, however, the relative StR differences will typically remain the same regardless of the size.

In other words, a model that has a smaller StR or is more “aggressive” than another will usually be so in each size. Likewise, one that has a larger StR or is more “relaxed” will be so when comparing the same size of two models.

A couple of sections below, I’ve created charts that show the stack and reach measurements and StR ratios for current-year medium-size or 54cm/55cm bikes. This will allow you to compare how aggressive or relaxed one model is to another between and among enthusiast-level road racing, endurance, and gravel bikes I suggest you consider.

DETERMINING YOUR BODY’S IDEAL STACK AND REACH

buy bikes online

A “fit bike” that is infinitely adjustable to help determine your ideal fit dimensions. Photo credit: Retul

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 should cost you between US$200 and US$400 but 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 the stack and reach or look it up on either the bike maker’s website or a frame comparison website.

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 us the most power and comfort while minimizing misalignment that can lead to knee, hip, or other types of pain.

When I went for my first fit on a bike, I thought I already had a very comfortable setup on the bike I was riding. After the fit, I learned the bike was a size too small and only worked because it used about 50mm of spacers and had an overly long, 7-degree angled-up stem installed to give me the stack and reach I needed.

In reality, I was riding more of a Frankenbike that underperformed what a better-sized one would have been able to do for me.

The irony was that the bike had been sold to me and set up (but not properly fit) 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 to the stack and reach, was very comfortable and helped me produce better power and handling.

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 preferred 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.

PUTTING IT TOGETHER

Ideally, you want to choose a bike whose stack and reach are within 10 millimeters of your own stack and reach.

If the bike doesn’t have an integrated stem and handlebar, you can often add spacers that go between your top tube and handlebars to increase the stack. To adjust the reach, you can replace the stem with a shorter or longer or more or less angled one, move the seat forward or back a touch, put on bars that have slightly more or less distance to the hoods, or do some combination of these things.

A bike’s headset system (integral or external) and seat tube angle may also make the effective stack and reach of two bikes with the same measured stack and reach feel somewhat different and require some compensation.

Doing too many of any of these modifications to fit a bike can affect not only the look of the bike but make it much harder to get the comfort, handling, and efficient power delivery you want from the bike. It may also give the bike different performance characteristics than the bike designer had in mind when they crafted the bike’s geometry and that you as a rider can optimally achieve with a bike that doesn’t have much geometry modification.

If the bike does have an integrated stem and handlebar, as many new bikes have moved to for aesthetic and aerodynamic reasons, you’ll have more limited fit options and it’s even more important to get your stack and reach numbers in alignment.

Once you know which bikes have a stack and reach that is within a few millimeters of your ideal, you can then move on to picking between those bikes based on performance, aesthetics, budget, and other considerations.

MAKE A SHORTLIST

Once you know your stack and reach, you can come up with a shortlist of bikes that are likely to fit you without much modification.

Since I don’t review bikes (so many bikes, so little time), I’m giving you a full list of current model year road and gravel enthusiast-level bikes from brands that are available in the 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 to be on the list.

And by enthusiast-level bikes, I’m referring to those that typically sell for 4,000 dollars/pounds/euros and more, often much more, have at least a tier 2 groupset (Shimano Ultegra, SRAM Force, Campagnolo Chorus or Shimano GRX, SRAM Eagle and XPLR, Campagnolo EKAR) and a carbon frame.

There are some bikes that use tier 3 groupsets (like Shimano 105, SRAM Rival, and other drivetrain components) that may sell for less but have the same frame geometry as the higher-priced ones. Those are exceptions.

Most current-year enthusiast-level bikes I’ve listed have either 12-speed Shimano or SRAM groupsets, are often electronic and are almost all disc brake models.

As mentioned above, more and more of the newer bikes have integrated stems and bars. Even those that don’t are running the cables inside of those components as well as the frame that may offer fewer component size options if you want to keep your shifter and brake cables hidden within them.

COMPARE STACK AND REACH

To compare the fit of these bikes and their potential suitability for you, the following charts show you the stack and reach and relative StR ratio positions for current-year road racing, endurance, and gravel bikes.

Since some bike brands are now combining aero and lightweight design characteristics into one race bike model and others are still selling separate models that are targeted for one of those performance objectives, I’m showing all of the road race models on one chart.

Some companies are offering race-oriented gravel bikes in addition to more endurance-oriented ones. You’ll also see bikes from a few brands that promote their gravel bikes as equally suitable for serious road riding based. All of those appear on the same gravel bike chart.

The endurance bike chart shows only those bikes designed for road riding with endurance or more upright geometries. While you could ride some of these on dirt roads, they don’t have frame clearance to allow for wider gravel tires.

To compare bikes of the same relative size, I’ve plotted the StR for bikes in the middle of each model’s range. Companies designate these as either medium-size, 54cm or 55cm frames.

 

 

 

 

CONSIDER A RANGE OF DIFFERENT BIKES THAT MAY SUIT YOU

The “best road bike” reviews and videos 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 helpful reviews available for many of the bikes on my list. I’d suggest you consider several for each model that will fit you but don’t put too much stock into in any one review. There are some reviewers that are less experienced or more conflicted than you wish they were. Others have deep knowledge and strong opinions but may be looking for bikes that have a very different purpose than what you are seeing, perform well in different riding situations than you do, or value different characteristics than you do.

Just like fit, the bike’s purpose, performance, and value need to be well-suited to your own.

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 or is overstocked due to order and supply chain imbalances, 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. This is especially the case when considering the groupset components you want on the bike.

Canyon, whose bikes are also on my list, is a major exception to the distribution strategy used by the best-known brands. Canyon only sells its bikes from its 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 Canyon-provided graphic 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.

Buy bikes online

Source: Canyon.com

There are many, many other, mostly smaller and lesser-known bike brands (e.g. 3T, Argon18, Factor, Lapierre, Parlee, Strorck) that sell to retail and online shops through distributors or direct-to-consumer. There are some great bikes made by these companies. I’ve ridden with people over the years who love theirs. I own one of these myself and ride most days.

Among those selling direct, 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 starter list of bikes to consider.

So, for all the reasons I’ve outlined above, this is a list limited to enthusiast-level, road and gravel disc brake bikes from the better-known and broadly distributed 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 that may be well aligned with your ideal stack and reach. 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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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 a trusted store with good customer policies that carry the brands you are interested in, select the model, build, size, and other options you want that fits your purpose and size, 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 sold the wide range of bikes they do today, if you didn’t live near a bike shop that carried the brands or models you were interested in, you were pretty much out of luck. 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.

Now, 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. Worse, you could end up buying a bike that isn’t right for you.

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 many 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 dimensions 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.

Answer your own good questions – 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 may come to you as a fellow cycling enthusiast.

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. The staff 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 on 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 the shop 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 its 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 for 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 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 your 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.

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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 which 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 (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 that many brands and a range of builds of the models in my charts above.

Competitive Cyclist and The Pro’s Closet in the US, Tredz, Cyclestore, and Sigma Sports 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 BikeExchange. They act 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.

You can also buy a range of used bikes from The Pro’s Closet, Pinkbike, eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and other marketplaces. With the exception of The Pro’s Closet, these are pretty much buyer-to-seller transactions where the marketplace provides a listing service and takes no responsibility for the veracity of what’s being sold.

By contrast, The Pro’s Closet buys bikes from sellers and inspects, verifies, and when needed, refurbishes the bike. They then list the bikes with their own photos and descriptions and sell them to consumers with a 30-day guarantee. In my experience, they also have a better selection of enthusiast-level, later-model-year bikes for sale than the other marketplaces.

WHICH STORES ARE THE BEST 

With a good fix on which of my recommended online stores carry the best selection of enthusiast-level bikes on my list, I’ve 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.

The imbalances between demand and supply that started during the Covid pandemic have continued into 2023. While many stores didn’t have enough of the bikes cyclists wanted during the height of Covid in 2020 and 2021, those same stores now have too many bikes and often not the most current models in 2023. As such, many 2021 and 2022 model bikes are now on sale at significant discounts while 2023 models are arriving at full price.

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.

The biggest price difference more often occurs between similarly equipped bikes made by different brands than by the same bike from the same brand sold at different stores.

If you live in the UK, most stores also offer the Cycle to Work Schemes to save you some serious money – up to 42% discount off the price of the bike in pre-tax deductions out of your paycheck – on your new steed by buying your bike through your company program.

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, and Wilier bikes and or frames. They ship these models throughout the US and Canada and to many countries throughout the world unless the shipping costs or regional agreements with other brands prohibit it.

While the stock of their used bikes varies, a recent search of The Pro’s Closet inventory found a good number of enthusiast-level road racing, endurance, and gravel bikes on my stack and reach charts a model year or two old with tier 1 or 2 groupsets from BMC, Cervelo, Cannondale, Felt, Giant, Liv, Specialized, Trek, Wilier, and a handful of other smaller brands

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.

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 bikes and all gear you buy there when you click on this or any link from this site to Tredz and use the exclusive discount code ITKTDZ10 set up for In The Know Cycling readers.

Cyclestore and Sigma Sports, each UK-based, also have very good selections. Cyclestore sells Cannondale, Giant, and Specialized. Sigma Sports offers Bianchi, BMC, Cannondale, Cervelo, Colnago, Pinarello, Specialized, and Trek.

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, Trek, and Wilier. 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 and gravel bikes from a half dozen US stores and another 1000 from an equal number of UK stores at my 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.

https://intheknowcycling.com/product-category/road-bike/

As you can see from the image (and if you go to that page by clicking on that graphic), there are also many rim brake, cyclocross, mountain, and electric bikes and frames you can price compare and order there as well.

Online SupportCompetitive Cyclist, Tredz, and Sigma Sports 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. Bike24’s and The Pro’s Closet’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.

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.

All in all pretty reasonable and no worse, and in some cases better, than you’ll get from your local bike shop.

*      *      *      *      *

Thank you for reading. Please let me know what you think of anything I’ve written or ask any questions you might have in the comment section below.

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Thanks and enjoy your rides safely! Cheers, Steve

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