While buying a bicycle online has been around for a number of years, it only appears to have become common practice in the past 12-24 months. With the growth of brands like Canyon, who only sell bicycles online, and online bicycle product retailers – such as Wiggle – that don’t have any bricks and mortar presence here in Australia (outside of some affiliate partner programs), there’s no doubt that more and more consumers are buying bicycles online than ever before.
Here’s my posed conundrum:
If you’re a first, second, or maybe third time buyer of a bicycle, could buying a bicycle online be detrimental to your overall bike riding journey.
A Bike Chaser we connect consumers with a local bike shop.
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But before we go deep into this topic, let me paint you a little picture.
It was roughly 2010, pre the Wiggle boom (before venture capitalists Bridgepoint Capital acquired Wiggle for £180m).
I’d been riding for just over 6 months and I started taking more notice of all the equipment.
Bike riding wasn’t just a fun activity. All the lycra, components, and accessories gave it this additional layer that I’d never been exposed to in any other sport.
Coming from a triathlon background; running and swimming aren’t even in the same conversation as cycling when it comes to the peripheral bits and pieces.
The more I learned about carbon wheels and colourful lycra, the more I wanted.
The more questions I asked people led me to the world of online, notably Pro Bike Kit. That was the original online go-to, way back in 2010.
I bought my first real lycra kit from Pro Bike Kit, and then some accessories, and then…all of a sudden Wiggle became the BIG go-to online player.
While the origins of Wiggle started back in 1995 – as a simple bricks and mortar bike shop, called Butlers Cycles out of Portsmouth UK– by 2012, it had become an emerging online cycling product juggernaut.
I thought Pro Bike Kit was cheap! Wiggle was taking this new online buying world of cycling products to a whole new level.
I Went Rogue Buying Cycling Gear Online (What Really Happened…)
I can’t pinpoint the exact timeline, but it would have been for roughly two years, between 2011 and 2013.
I reached whatever the highest loyalty rank there was on Wiggle at the time.
I found ways to disguise all the cycling products I was buying from my wife. While she could definitely work out if I’d purchased a new bike, she wasn’t narrowed in enough to recognise different wheels.
I lost count on how may wheels I bought from Wiggle.
I also lost count on how many times I filled my shopping cart up to hit the magic number to not pay for delivery.
Many times I was surprised at how quickly the gear arrived. How could my online cycling gear arrive from the UK so swiftly, I often pondered. Their dispatch and delivery systems were really A grade.
However, when the delivery arrived, it would often be a massive anti-climax.
Not only would I fill my cart with irrelevant stuff, the accessories or cycling gear I often purchased wouldn’t fit me properly or looked ugly mounted onto my bike.
I can’t tell you how many old bike lights I have in the shed. It’s a little ridiculous.
During this stint I bought a few bikes, never online, but from different local bike stores. I hadn’t established a strong relationship with any of them and I had taken the buying cheap stuff online mentality into buying bicycles at local bricks and mortar stores.
I was shopping around, focused on price, not a good quality relationship.
Ultimately, I had a sh*tload of cheap cycling products! But my cycling world felt a little empty. It was missing something.
Something that I would soon recognise was a BIG thing.
What a Bike Chaser user experienced when buying a road bike online:
I Found A Good Quality Local Bike Shop
I’m not going to lie to you and say I went looking for a good quality local bike shop. It just happened. And through trial and error my world of road cycling became clearer.
This is what happened:
I got fatigued from buying cycling gear online. I was no longer excited by it.
I also got sick of buying stuff I never used or fit me properly.
It just so happened that around the same time I started to establish a good relationship with a local bike shop. During my rogue stint online I had actually bought a cheap road frame from what become my local bike shop. And they had partially built it up for me at the time.
This time round, however, I was on the market for a complete bike. I bought everything through this local bike shop, including new shoes, helmet, pedals – everything.
Yes, I spent more dollars, but for some reason it felt really good. And it took me a number of months following the purchase to figure out why.
First of all, the bike was well suited to my new criterium racing needs and it fit me well.
Secondly, I had some tweaks needed on the bike after riding it for a few weeks. I could take it back to my local bike shop with ease.
Thirdly, I had a number of questions about some of the local bunch rides and training for the local criteriums. I could walk back into my local bike shop, who knew me and my riding needs, and have good quality conversations. Invaluable conservations.
I started to learn a lot more about bike riding and the equipment.
I also wasn’t buying as much. I didn’t need to because everything I purchased was right for me.
One of my bike lights stopped working 12 months later. I took it back the next day. No receipt, no questions, ‘here’s a new one’ says the bike store operator.
Perhaps it was a year, or maybe even two. I started to reflect on my purchasing decisions throughout my cycling journey.
Not only had buying online over those initial years actually cost me more than buying through a local bike shop. I’d been without a convenient local relationship that was there to support and guide my bike riding journey.
I now enjoy my riding more than ever before. Which means I get out more and stay heathier – both mentally and physically.
Why Buying a Bicycle Online is a Bad Idea?
I understand that some people out there are well educated in cycling and bikes.
They have ridden for years, the know what they’re after, and they don’t value or feel they need a strong relationship with a local provider.
I get that.
However, if you are a first, second, or maybe third time buyer of a bicycle, fair chances are that you know very little about the gear.
Buying a bicycle has become even more complex too. Like most things in life!
I recall when I was young, I would go into the local milk bar to buy some crips and your flavours would be plain, salt & vinegar, and BBQ. That was it.
Now, walk into your local 7-Eleven and you’ve got a ridiculous choice of flavours.
The same applies with buying a bicycle. So much choice!
Although this vast choice is actually a good thing with bicycles, because now you can buy something that is even better suited to your needs. However, if you don’t understand the differences between frame geometries, frame materials, gearing etc, there is now a stronger possibility you could get your decision wrong.
What a bike fitting expert says about buying a bicycle online:
I have heard stories from cyclists so many times about buying the wrong bicycle. They bought something that was the wrong size or the wrong geometry or the wrong something.
If the bike doesn’t fit them or suit their needs, many will never ride it. That’s a sad and impactful story right there.
Because what does that actually mean?
More people driving to work or on public transport. More people in our public health care system because they haven’t looked after themselves as well as they could. More people with metal issues because they’re not getting their daily prescribed exercise.
The list goes on.
But let’s flip the coin for a minute.
Let’s just say this first, second, or maybe third time buyer gets their purchasing decision right.
How do they best support this new hobby while in its infancy?
Online forums and Facebook groups do a good job, if that’s your style. But there’s really nothing like face-to-face interaction from an expert. Someone who knows the space well and someone that sold you what you’re using. They already know you and fair chances are they’ve seen many people with similar needs before.
This goes back to what I was referencing in my own personal experience. The value-add of having a good quality local relationship that can answer your questions and point you in the right direction plays a massive role in supporting your bike riding journey.
Buying a Bicycle Online Conclusion
This piece is not about telling ALL people that buying a bicycle online is bad. It’s a unfathomable notion to believe it’s ever going to stop happening. And it certainly has a place for the experienced cyclist or for a bicycle brand that simply can’t distribute through the traditional bricks and mortar channel.
All I’m attempting to do here is educate inexperienced cyclists about the value proposition of buying a bicycle through a good quality local bike shop. Why?
1/ The local bike shop will help you make the right purchasing decision upfront &
2/ The local bike shop will support your bike riding journey. Ultimately meaning – cycling will become a life changing activity for more people out there.