Bike Buying Mistakes

Bike Buying Mistakes

Guest Post by Michael

A month or 3 ago, I wrote a series of posts about how to buy a bicycle. Lisa asked me to write a little ditty about how I know about what type of bike you should (and more importantly, should not) buy.

I have never worked in a bike store, or retail sales for that matter. I am simply a person that has purchased the wrong bike before — possibly twice. I may not have sales experience, but I do have wrong bike purchasing experience and I hope to explain where I went wrong so you don’t repeat my mistakes.

Novara Fusion Bike - 2006

My first bike — The 2006 Novara Fusion from REI. This looks JUST like what I wanted. It’s got a rack on the back I can attach bags too so I don’t have to carry a backpack. It’s got lights on the front and the rear to increase my visibility on the road — two on the front even! The bars are flat so I’ll be comfortable while I ride instead of bent over looking like a speed demon, I just want to get to work and back, I’m not trying to set land speed records. Other features included fenders, a kickstand, and nice and big soft saddle. But the thing I liked most about it was the way it looked. I loved the utility look of it including the  colors.

So what’s wrong with this? Well, almost everything really. To start, this bike weighs about 35 lbs. To put that in perspective, my current bike weighs about 20 lbs. Carrying unnecessary weight with you will ultimately make you work harder and enjoy your ride less.

Why was it so heavy? It looks like a normal bike, right? It’s heavy because one of the two lights on the front is powered by a generator built into the rear wheel. As you pedal the light is lit up. The other light on the front of the bike is powered by batteries. Who needs two lights on the front? I mean, motorcycles don’t have two lights and one is sufficient. Either you’re going to be seen or you’re not. Having more than one light isn’t going to help that cause. So I took the light off that’s powered by the generator. That had to weigh a pound or two. It’s massive. Ok, now I’ve got one light on the front and one light on the rear.

Next up, the fenders. The fenders are nice and really, they’re a worthy  consideration for any bike. But you need to ask yourself if you’re actually going to ride in the rain or not. If the answer is no, then you do not need  fenders. At all, ever. And if you do actually find a puddle randomly that you  have to ride through, you’ll be just fine — unless you’re actually a wicked witch and if you are, you should probably be riding a broom instead of a bike. I  occasionally ride my bike in the rain (or when I know there’s a chance of rain
forecasted) and I do not have fenders on my current bicycle. It’s really not an issue when you have some proper rain gear anyway. I left the fenders on this bike though. They had long metal bars that attached them to the axle and it looked complicated to take them off. Plus, I might ride it in the rain! Note — I never road it in the rain.

What else is wrong with this bike? Not much really, it comes down to preference at this point. I ultimately concluded that I am not much of a fan of the flat handlebars because you cannot ever change the position of your hands which ultimately can lead to fatigue that goes well beyond your hands and arms. Changing your hand position occasionally can relieve pressure/fatigue to your entire body. Because of this, I concluded that I wanted drop style handlebars.

I also realized that I cannot ever go fast or feel nimble on this bike. The wider more versatile wheels coupled with the weight of the bike would always prevent that from happening and while I bought this bike to commute to work, I also wanted to think that I was capable of hauling ass whenever I wanted. In a way, I felt like a speed demon that was being held back by my equipment. This was when I decided to buy a road bike.

Novara Divano

This was the 2nd bike I bought — The 2008 Novara Divano again from REI. This looks JUST like what I wanted. An entry level road bike. It’s light and felt both fast and nimble. And it’s red and white, it has to be perfect, right? Not so fast…

There are some things that you cannot fully realize while you’re buying a bike if you’ve not owned one in a long time. In this case, I was unaware of what gears I needed in my bike. Most of us remember phrases like “10-speeds” which referred to bikes with 10 different cogs on their rear cassette and one in the front. Since the invention of these, bicycle manufacturers have also increased the number of cog wheels connected to the crank arms from 1 to as many as 3. This gives you many more gearing options — as many as 30 (3 in the front, 10 in the back). The problem with this for me is that many of these gears were redundant, especially in the middle. It seemed like there were like 8 combinations of front and rear gearing that would produce essentially the same results in efforts and speed. Not only do I not need this, it’s really just adding weight and complication to my bike which makes it harder to ride and more prone to error (ie — throw the chain off the gear).

The second thing that I realized was a problem is that there are a lot of hills on my commute and I have to really hunker down and put out a ton of effort to reach the summit of some of them. With this bike, I heard creaking. Creaking shakes down to power and efficiencies that are lost. And trust me, when you’re riding up a hill, you want that to be as easy as it possibly can.

As I look back upon this purchase, I realize that I bought it largely because I was scared about buying a road bike again and wanted to make a minimal commitment so I bought a beginner’s bike without properly doing my research. This type of bike is fine for many people, myself included, but I got more serious about riding and wanted to get a bike that I could comfortably ride for 4+ hours in a day. For that, you will want a carbon framed bike.

2009 Cannondale Six Carbon 3

This was the 3rd bike I bought — The 2009 Cannondale Six Carbon 3 from a store that’s been voted the #1 bike retailer in the nation — River City Bikes. When I was approached by a sales person, I told them that I was looking for a bike that I could use for commuting that would also work for occasional Centuries. He showed me a bike with a carbon frame and I was quick to say that I didn’t think I could afford this today. I did not want to spend $2000+ for a bike and that’s where these types of bikes usually start. Well, it turned out to be my lucky day because this $2300 bike was 30% off as it was an older model and they wanted to get it out of the store. I was able to negotiate for an additional 10% off and I left the store with a carbon framed bike. I was blown away with the deal I had gotten.


The frame is fully made of carbon as are the seat posts and front fork. I  replaced the saddle pretty quickly as this one didn’t fit me well. A few months later, I found a killer deal on some carbon handlebars to replace the stem and metal bars. These days, I’m 100% carbon. It’s by far the lightest, stiffest, and most comfortable riding bike I’ve ever owned. These days I’m able to attack many of the hills I encounter comfortably. There are two cog wheels in the front and 10 in the back which produces 20 gears in total. There are only a few combinations that result in duplicate gearing so I feel like I’ve gotten the best gearing options which were available at the time.

But it’s not all good stuff with this bike, there are some issues. The carbon bars that I upgraded to are too large around to attach a light too. There’s simply not a good workaround for this but it’s also to be expected. I bought top of the line carbon fiber bars that pro-cyclists use for racing. These bars were designed for Mark Cavendish who is currently one of the top sprinters in the world.

Mark Cavendish

Similarly, you cannot attach a rack to a racing bike and you cannot drill holes into it to allow for this. This isn’t a big deal but it pretty much means that I cannot take this bike to the grocery store because of the lack of storage options. Again, it’s a tradeoff that I’m OK with because the joy of riding on a carbon bike greatly outweighs the occasional inconveniences I experience.

So what’s next? I would like to get a bike that I can take to the grocery store. That would look something like this bike, the Novara Randonee. This isn’t exactly what I want though so it won’t be what I end up buying but I do like the traditional look of the saddle and bar tape. It’s just got far too many gears for my tastes…

I’ll probably get a bike like this in 2012 so if you see something that looks  sharp, let me know!


Lisa’s Note: As a newbie cyclist, I also made a mistake with my bike purchase. For me it came down to one factor: COST. I was new to cycling and had never owned a road bike. I’d been using my old mountain bike from my childhood, and then I borrowed one of Michael’s old Hybrids for awhile. I was reluctant to spend a lot of money on a bike for a lot of reasons, the main being: I was a runner. I was training for Hood to Coast and my focus was on running. The cycling thing was just something I was doing “for fun” with my boyfriend. Now that I am more serious about it and training for a Century, I regret buying such a heavy bike. My road bike is an entry-level Raleigh that was on clearance. It fit my body and it was in my price range. Now, I notice what a difference extra weight makes. Riding up hills is a chore because my bike weighs so much.

QUESTION: Have you regretted a bike purchase? What bikes are you interested in?

Author: Lisa Eirene

About Lisa Eirene Lisa lost 110 pounds through calorie counting and exercise. She swims, bikes, runs, hikes and is enjoying life in Portland, Oregon. Her weight loss story has been featured in First Magazine, Yahoo Health, Woman's Day and

18 thoughts on “Bike Buying Mistakes”

    1. And a cycling computer, and a bike rack. It adds up! You expect to just drop a few hundred dollars for a bike but in reality it’s a lot more expensive of a hobby.

      But yes, eventually I need to get a new bike.

  1. great post, Michael! it’s clear you know your stuff and it’s always nice to impart the (hard) lessons learned!

    I had a Cannondale in college – I loved that bike! it cost more than my college CAR, but I was using it much more than my car. 🙂 In the past few years I have not been biking as much as I was then, and my beloved Cannondale was stolen out of my garage (I still do a double take when I see any green Cannondale!). I now have a Gary Fisher that I love – although it’s been in the garage for a bit – we live in an area of town that’s not as bike friendly for me – meaning I’m chicken to get on the roads here!

    1. That is such a bummer that your bike was stolen. And I agree…there are certain parts of Portland where I’d never ride and SW is probably one of them. It’s been years since I lived in SW but I don’t remember there being safe bike lanes there. Plus Barber traffic is just too high a volume and they drive too fast for me.

  2. Well-timed article! Our mountain bikes are by Giant, and they’ve been fine for us in the past. Doesn’t actually look like we’ll be doing any races anytime soon. We’re thinking of getting Schwinn’s for grocery store bikes in PDX (there was one on PDX CraigsList but she sold it in a day). Do you think it’s better to go to River City for even a low-end bike than Target or does RC even carry something that basic?

    1. Schwinn is a manufacturer but I think what you’re saying is that you want a low-end road bike for running errands with and you want to know where you should shop for it. This isn’t very different from what I’m shopping for either…

      I would strongly suggest going to River City for this (they have an outlet store that might be perfect for you — They’re great at this kind of thing. You’ll likely want to be sure to get a bike that has mounts available for pannier bags on the frame to carry groceries in. Keep in mind that the rack and bags will add-on to your price though so be sure to include that as part of your budget.

      1. Even those outlet bikes are pretty pricey.The Schwinn’s (which hold a special place in my heart, having grown up with them) run about $200 for a standard model with a rack (we have a bag already though I might want a front basket). The CL one was $100. Since we already have our other bikes, we don’t want to buy anything more expensive than that.

        1. I think avenues like CL are your best bets then. Just make sure it has the mounts to attach a rack to and you should be good to go.

          1. Craigslist is a good idea. Lots of people pick up hobbies and then give them up, or their resolution to get fit goes by the wayside…so there should be lots of bikes for cheap! Just make sure you get the right size for your body.

        2. I understand why price is a factor. It was a huge factor for me too, when I bought my road bike. But now I regret not shopping around more and maybe spending some more money getting a lighter bike.

  3. If you buy expensive handlebars like the cavendish pro bars hoping they will be better and save weight you would not be looking to put a light on it. Bars like these were made for mark cavendish, a professional, not someone that wanted to put a light on them. They were designed for pros to give them an advantage. The bars also were not part of the bike to start of with so the bike was good, you just messed it up.

    Buying a bike like the supersix which is used in international races is not designed to have a rack put on the back as you stated. When you a buy a bike like the cannondale you would be looking for somthing to win you a race, not bring back your shopping. These bikes are designed for professionals not shoppers.

  4. Hilarious! You mean three mistakes, don’t you Fred?

    (1) First, you bought a $700 premium commuter. Complete with an 8-speed internal rear hub, fenders, lights (and a dynohub to power them!), and a luggage rack, it simply reeked of reliability in all kinds of weather, night and day, day in and day out. But, you didn’t ride in the rain, and you didn’t ride at night, and you didn’t ride to the grocery store, and – oh dear! – it was 3 lbs heavier than the average hybrid, thanks to the dynohub, internal gears, and commuter bling.

    (2) So you dumped the $700 commuter and bought a $850 road bike. Anyway, your hands were getting numb and tingly because of the commuter’s flat bars (and not because you were leaning so heavily on your hands because your back was too weak to support your weight in the low (for a hybrid) riding position of the Fusion). Complete with a 9 gears in the rear and at only 25 lb with a full water bottle, it was perfect for commuting without a load in fair weather during the day. But it creaked. Creaking consumes a lot of energy (consider the mighty cricket!), and that made climbing difficult for you (certainly it wasn’t your magnificent quadriceps!). Your local bike shop could have tightened a bolt or added a shim and eliminated the squeak for $30 (you might also have asked them to adjust your rear derailleur to stop the bike from mis-shifting), but having three gears up front was confusing and annoying. And besides, a really serious rider would never ride a triple.

    (3) So you dumped the $850 road bike and bought a $1700 road bike. (Including the cost of some pedals and the new bars.) With 10 gears in the rear and a full 3 lb lighter than the Divano, and without that confusing third chainring and its unnecessary 1.5 oz (really, how often do you ever ride up a hill, anyway?), it’s the perfect bike. But you can’t ride it at night, and you can’t ride it to the grocery store, and you can’t ride it in the rain (well, you can, but if you fall and put a nick or gouge in the carbon frame you’ll need a new $2300 bike).

    (4?) And now you’ll dump the $1700 carbon road bike and buy a $1200 steel road bike. Sure, it’s 5 lb heavier than the Divano, and it does have that vexing third chainring, but it also has a luggage rack, and you’ll be able to attach a headlight to its handlebars. Carbon makes everything more complicated anyway.

  5. A random search on Novara Fusion brought me to this post – it’s one of a number of bikes that I have. Being a guy that likes to wrench on bikes, I decided to transform the Fusion into my commuter. My wife has the Novara Gotham and frankly, I was experiencing a touch of envy as well. Here is are the mods:
    – Renlaced the handlebars with VO Tourist bars
    – Ergon BioKork grips
    – VO Model 3 touring saddle (leather)
    – Replaced front brakes with CR720 Tektro cantilevers
    – Replaced the front and rear lights with Axa LED units

    The rig is transformed into one sweet commuter. Considering that I got a ripping ‘end of season’ deal on the bike from REI, I had no qualms about sinking $350 or so into it. It’s set up for rain or shine and can carry a serious load (groceries, etc.).

    To my way of thinking, city bikes fit the Porteur or Randonneur frame geometries. If you are looking at Randonneur bikes, check out Velo Orange – if money is no object, Rivendell’s rock and Hufnagel is off the hook. Lots of US made / designed products so you will pay more but the quality is there.

    Cantitoe Road is also a good source for components.

  6. My biggest bike mistake was also buying the Novara Fusion. Stupid decision by me. I can’t imagine this bike is a good idea for anyone. Heavy, heavy heavy. Too much crap on it. Gear hub and disc breaks complicates rear wheel removal when I was hoping it would simplify. All the attachments rattle. I am constantly tightening them. I should / will just remove some of this stuff.

  7. This is THE article!! The one everybody should read before buying a new bike. Great Job!

    Really useful stuff, especially as I’m currently looking at new bikes. I’ve been pretty realistic with myself and I’m looking logically at the bikes that I like. My only issue is test riding. There’s only so many bikes available to be demoed and it’s not always possible to test ride every bike you think would be right for you. Any advice for the ever-growing problem of online shopping and direct-buy setups such as Bird/YT Industries?

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