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Why I Should Not Buy A Bike On Line

Posted by Rick Roman on June 14, 2013 at 10:55 AM Comments comments (2)

Shopping online is great for comparing the visual specs of a bike, but what about comfort, fit and issues with safety? Bicycles sold online do not come assembled—that is something you’ll have to do yourself and there are no instructions in the box or you can have us assemble the bike for $45 + Parts. Parts??? Yes, sometimes the bikes are shipped with missing parts or damaged ones. Be sure to include your time or our cost when tallying up the price!

Once you do put your bike together, you’ll need to make sure it can withstand high speeds and constant torment. Remember that a bicycle moves at a high rate of speed and needs to be running smoothly. In addition to your safety, if it is not assembled correctly the life of the bicycle may be shortened. If it fits you improperly, your body may be compromised too! We have seen countless “online bicycle horror stories,” from bikes that don’t fit to bicycles that are downright unsafe, and of course, the bicycle that just doesn’t live up to the hype.

When trying to decide between purchasing a bike from your local bike shop or an online retailer there are quite a few more things to consider than price alone.

First of all, bicycles are packed into a box by people who are under the assumption a professional will be assembling it. Unless an authorized dealer puts it together the bike warranties become null and void, in other words you are stuck with what you purchased. Then the packages are handled in shipping by countless people who have no idea or just don’t care about the contents of the box. Judging by much of what I’ve seen, these boxes get dropped, smashed, ran over, and sometimes torn open and taped back together. Often parts are missing. Luckily we bike shops have extra parts laying around or quick access to them. We can just call our reps and tell them to credit our account for the part and keep on moving.

If you have ever walked into a shop and talked about the price differences with the staff, you probably heard something about “professional assembly” as the reason one should consider not buying bikes online. We don’t often go into detail about what that entails but I would like to do this now. Some customers may think they can save money by assembling the bike themselves, but I can tell you from experience that there are no line by line instructions to follow in the box. This makes it more difficult when it comes to assembly because most people do not know the progression of assembly and how to adjust all the components to make them work right. One more big thing to consider are the wheels. The wheels are always out of true from the factory and need to be touched up by an experienced wheel builder, if the wheels aren't straight and all the up and down motion taken out, the brakes will not work right. Well, I’m going to go into more detail about what bicycle assembly means so you can decide for yourself.


Bikes are packaged with a lot of cardboard, foam wrap and plastic sheathing that needs to be removed. This needs to be done carefully if you don’t want to scratch the finish paint on the frame. It usually takes 20 to 30 minutes just to unpack the contents of the box. We inspect the frame for cracks, dings, paint chips and scratches. If we find something that looks unsafe or unsellable, we call in a warranty and pack it all back up which takes twice as long as unpacking. As a dealer, our distributors will pay the shipping on the return. Domestic shipping costs on a bike for the average individual was about $120 at the time this was written. If you buy your bike from an online retailer, be sure to check their return policy before you place the order.

Stem & Handlebars

The bikes are usually 75-90 percent assembled when you finally get the packaging off. There is no standard to how the stem and handlebars will be packaged. Sometimes the stem is attached to the handlebars upside down and backwards; sometimes the stem is attached the steer tube pointing in the wrong direction; and sometimes it’s packed in a box with some of the other components. These parts must be attached to the bike and all bolts tightened to the manufacturer’s specified torque. Failing to do this properly could result in malfunction and void the warranty at the very least but could potentially result in serious injury or worse.


When hand-built, the spokes are prepped and then tensioned in layers. The builder will check to make sure the wheels are dished properly and both vertically and laterally true throughout the process. As the spokes get close to optimum tension, they start to twist and need to be stress relieved throughout the process. The wheels on most stock bikes are machine-built. When we pull them out of the box, they have not been stress relieved and they are almost always out of true. We stress relieve the spokes and bring the wheel back to true using the same process a wheel-builder would use. If the wheels are just attached to the bike without this process being performed, as soon as the weight of the rider was applied to the wheels some of the spokes would unwind causing an already out of true wheel to be more out of true and possibly unrideable or even unsafe. Before we put the wheels on we check the hubs to see if they are at optimal adjustment. More often than not, the hubs are adjusted too tight. If ridden the ride quality would be poor and the bearings would be ruined in a very short period of time.


Out of the box, the brake pads are never aligned properly. They are usually crooked, and either too high so they are rubbing the tire or too low and rubbing the rim instead of the braking surface. Then the cable tension needs to be properly adjusted so that the brake levers have enough travel without being spongy.

If the bike has disk brakes they have several adjustments that need to be made and if they are hydraulic, they may even need to be bled.


If the bike has gears, they will need to be properly tuned. This means all limit screws will need to be set properly, and the cables tensioned so that the gears shift smoothly. Rear derailleur hangers are notorious for getting bent in shipping. If the rear derailleur is not shifting through all the gears smoothly despite making adjustments to the cable tension, a bent hanger is most likely the culprit. It may be possible to adjust the hanger with an alignment tool but sometimes, it will need to be replaced.

The above service is just a high level view of what a professional bike assembly consists of. If you take your boxed bike in to have it assembled, you could expect it to cost somewhere (depending on the place you bring it to) around $60.00 to $150.00 as long as nothing needs to be replaced or repaired. That’s less than the cost of the tools you will need.

*NOTE: Department store bikes are very rarely assembled by a professional.

Bike Fit

Most bike shops help their customers with picking out the right bike for the style of riding they plan to do and properly fit them to it. This often requires swapping out some bike parts at no additional labor charge and as long as the parts are of equal value, there may not be a charge for the part.


Bike shops usually stock a wide range of accessories and clothing. The staff can help you find what you need and make recommendation based on the style of riding you plan to do. Accessories purchased at the time of the bike purchase, may be installed at no additional labor charge depending on the shop’s policy.


Most bike shops will include some free service for a period of time after the purchase of the bike. This typically consists of minor tune-ups or fit adjustments. It is recommended to take your bike into the shop for minor adjustments a couple of weeks after purchase because new cables tend to stretch during initial use causing a change in behavior to the shifting and braking mechanisms.

Last but not least, bike shops need your support. Most of us are doing what we do because we have a passion and love for bicycling and we are not getting rich. We want to see more people riding and want them to enjoy their bicycle riding experience as much as we do. Bicycle shops are often a gathering place where people come together to hang out and chat amongst each other about anything and everything. Bike shops are unique from each other. Having one in your neighborhood gives the community a valuable resource and adds charm that will draw visitors from other places boosting your local economy.