It’s time to buy a bike. Especially with the news today that JUMP’s red bike share bikes are no longer online, owning a reliable bicycle has never been more useful or important in Seattle. With transit likely to be an unappealing option to many people for the duration of the outbreak and the cost of owning and operating a car so high (not to mention dangerous and environmentally destructive), biking is the most reliable, safe and affordable way to get around.
OK, so you’re convinced. Now what?
Seattle Bike Blog has largely avoided doing bike-buying guides because gear is not really our focus and there are just so many options and variables to consider. So instead, my advice is nearly always to check out your local bike shop first and see what they have and get advice from their staff. Buying from a local bike shop not only supports a business that you will rely on for maintenance down the road, but it also gives you access to their warranty. Yes, this costs more than buying direct online, but it is worth it.
Bike shops have been deemed essential businesses all along in Washington State, though they have taken steps to operate safely amid the outbreak. Some shops are asking customers to sign up for an appointment, and others have created online storefronts, for example. You should go to the shop’s website or call ahead before swinging by. You can find which shops are open near you and see what efforts the shops are taking during the outbreak using this map Cascade Bicycle Club put together:
One major change in the bike buying process is that a lot of shops are not offering test rides. Normally, I would always recommend taking a bike for a test ride before buying it, but these are not normal times. You may need to make the leap and buy a bike without riding it first. Just make sure you can return it if it really doesn’t work for you.
There are all kinds of bikes at all kinds of price points for all kinds of riding. This is great because it means people can find a bike that fits their needs perfectly, but it’s also pretty overwhelming for people new to biking. That’s why your local bike shop can be such a big help. They can cut through the overwhelming amount of information on the Internet for you.
Below are some general tips I give people to point them in the right direction when they ask for advice on buying a transportation bike. This means something reliable and utilitarian for getting around the city and getting things done. If you’re looking for a racing-style bike or a modern mountain bike, you’ll need to look elsewhere for advice. And remember that as with any set of tips, there are always exceptions to this advice:
No matter what you buy, make sure you budget for a quality lock and lights. Do not cheap out on either of these. It’s not worth the savings. That likely means adding $100 or so to the price. It is better to have a cheaper bike with a good lock and lights than a nicer bike without them. U-locks are the standard (though folding bar locks and heavy chains can work, too). Thieves look for bikes with cable locks because they are so easy to cut. Get rechargeable waterproof LED bike lights. Just about any taillight will be fine, but it’s worth investing a little more in a quality headlight if you know you’ll be biking in the dark often. If you want to be able to carry a lot of stuff (like groceries) on your bike, you’ll need at least another $100 for a rear rack and some kind of pannier or bag-carrying solution. Fenders will also cost about $40 and are pretty much required for everyday biking in Seattle. Shops will usually install them for free if you buy from them, which is definitely worth it. Installing fenders can be annoying. If a bike comes with any of this stuff, then remember to calculate that when comparing prices. Again, your local bike shop can help you figure out your options.
For a pedal-only bike
If you have a good budget to spend, like getting close to $1,000 or more, then you will have a lot of options for very high quality bikes at just about any shop in town. Bikes are typically worth this level of investment if you can afford it, especially if you are buying a transportation or touring bike. Investing in higher quality and more durable components and tires will pay off thousands of miles down the road.
If you are on a mid-size budget, say $500-$600, then your choice is between a good new bike or a great, but harder to track down, used bike. Either option can work. If you don’t want to search the whole town for your perfect used bike, then there are a lot of new bikes competing at this price range. I would suggest at least glancing at what nearby used bike shops have on hand before deciding on a new bike, though. Because a $500 used bike can be an amazing machine.
If you are on a sub-$500 budget, I would urge you to look at the available used bikes around town. You can buy new bikes below $500, but in general they may be cutting corners that result in the need for increased maintenance sooner than you would like. I’m not saying that new bikes under $500 will be terrible, just that you’ll probably get more for your money going used. Unlike cars, quality bicycles can reliably roll for decades. A car from the 80s or 90s is basically garbage today, but a bike from the 80s or 90s is budget bike gold. Neon crackle paint? Dramatic color scheme? Xtreme italics font? This is my favorite kind of budget bike. I mean, just look at this gorgeous mess currently for sale at Bike Works:
For an e-bike
Your options for buying an e-bike have expanded greatly in recent years as they have become more prevalent, available and affordable. For a long, long time, bike technology advanced very slowly, and that is still the case today when talking about pedal-only bikes. They are nearly perfect machines already, so improvements are usually marginal at best.
But e-bikes have made extraordinary advances in recent years. There are more companies making them, batteries are lighter and last longer, and prices have come down at the entry level. But they are still a lot more money than a pedal bike and will require more costly ongoing maintenance. You have to think about them as a different category of vehicle somewhere between a pedal bike and a motor scooter.
Reach out to e-bike shops around town and see what they offer. But be ready to spend in the $1,500-$3,000+ range. So much of the cost of an e-bike is the battery, so even the budget end has something of a floor to how low they can go. And just like anything else, the bikes at the lowest end will likely have cut some corners elsewhere.
There are also options for converting your pedal bike into an e-bike. Bike Swift in South Lake Union specializes in e-assist conversions, and Sodo-based Hilltopper has some budget do-it-yourself conversion kits that are throttle-activated.
A quality e-bike is an investment, and it can pay off in terms of serving more and longer trips than you might have made on a pedal-only bike. But they are not cheap. Those who got hooked on $0.25/minute JUMP rides may be disappointed to learn what it will cost to buy an e-bike for themselves.
What tips do you have for someone looking to buy a bike in Seattle? Let us know in the comments below.