Buying a new bike is always an adventure and a joy.
No matter whether you are spending £200 or £4000 on a new bike and you are a cycling enthusiast, you will probably invest as much time researching, comparing and selecting the best bike you can get for the money you are spending. You will aim to squeeze the absolute best value possible and get the best bike for the buck that you can. Perhaps even more if you budget is tight, because we all know the Velominati is right:
// It’s all about the bike.
It is, absolutely, without question, unequivocally, about the bike. Anyone who says otherwise is obviously a twatwaffle.
Talk to the sales person about your riding style.
So what do you do?
You talk to friends, club mates, read the latest product reviews, match this up to your preferred bike kit, are you a Shimano, Campagnolo SRAM fan or do you want to emulate your favourite pro (to be honest the last is never a good buying decision). Do you have a favourite brand or is there a dream bike, your Porsche, Ferrari or Aston Martin out there. We can all dream and dreams cost nothing.
But bringing things back down to earth, sadly we are all limited by the amount we can afford. Yes the there are ways to stretch your budget and make your money go further, bike to work schemes being a prime example, helped in many cases by a store that is willing to allow you to put more money in at the start so you can get closer to your Holy Grail.
Now the rub is where do you shop and to be honest this is the core of this article. The biggest question out there is where is the best place to buy a new bike?
Perhaps the easiest way to answer this question is to share my most recent bike buying experience and mingle that in with over 30 years bike component and full bike buying experiences. Obviously when I started buying parts and bikes the internet and world wide web did not exist so the driver was what your friends rode and what the local bike shop had in stock or could order. In fact Shimano had not even entered the market in the UK, gosh can you imagine a time BS (that’s Before Shimano!) but the abbreviation has got me thinking!
Back in the day when steel was king and the choice was between Reynolds or Columbus tubing, the dream bike had to be hand built and had to have the most intricate lug work, hand crafted from standard castings. For me, my Ferrari was a hand crafted, red, Colnago with full Campagnolo Record groupset and handbuilt wheels with Mavic rims, who knows maybe one day!
To get close to your dream you had to visit your Local Bike Shop (LBS) search through their brochures of Peugeots, MBK, Raleigh and Vindec to find something that might just allow you to live the dream at your price point. But in your heart of hearts you knew it was going to be a Ford Escort L and not a Ferrari Dino.
Today however the story is very different. Every bike company has a website and the number of bike supermarkets has gone through the roof, offering last years models at amazing discounts and in some cases very attractive deals on the latest models. But where do you go to get the biggest bang for you bucks and the best advice?
I can hear you screaming online! online! buy online! or one of the big stores. Maybe you are right, but I urge you to read on and remember the motto ‘buyer beware’.
I would be lying if I said I did not use the internet and the world wide web, I do and I gain a lot of useful information using this method. I have a lot of bike and product knowledge stored away too. I have a very good BS (no not Before Shimano) filter to sift out the marketing hype from the real facts. I should know I used to walk the talk when I was in technical products sales and marketing!
My most recent buying experience was very illuminating and really backs up my gut instinct for where you should also go to get your best advice and bike deal. Actually its not really a gut instinct but rather a rule.
The Velominati has it in a nutshell:
// Support your local bike shop.
Never buy bikes, parts or accessories online. Going into your local shop, asking myriad inane questions, tying up the staff’s time, then going online to buy is akin to sleeping with your best friend’s wife, then having a beer with him after. If you do purchase parts online, be prepared to mount and maintain them yourself. If you enter a shop with parts you have bought online and expect them to fit them, be prepared to be told to see your online seller for fitting and warranty help.
Perhaps rule 58 is a little harsh but the sentiment is true, but what is your Local Bike Shop? Halfords, Evans and Decathlon are all on my doorstep, are these my Local Bike Shop or are they bike super markets, we all know how well Tesco’s et al are doing at the moment! For me a LBS is the shop that is an independent one, run by enthusiasts for enthusiasts and potential enthusiasts. It’s the place where you can get great advice, irrespective of whether you are buying a bike for your 5 year old or spending £4000 on yourself. It’s staffed by knowledgeable people, who never look down their noses at you and have ‘the customer is king’ tattooed on their brain.
I was in the market for a new CX bike so I thought I would do a little bit of undercover research as a secret shopper, ‘the name’s Bond James Bond!‘. The first port of call was the world wide web to research the brand and model I would go for (but that’s for another time). After a lot of looking I decided to go for a Cannonade Super X, now to find a supplier.
My choice obviously ruled out some of the big players, gone was Decathlon and Halfords. To be fair to both of these companies they do, in general, have some good bikes on offer. Decathlon brands get some good write ups for value for money and my experience of the in store staff has always been pretty positive, both in the UK and France. Halfords also have some good product range now, Boardman and Cinelli, but from feedback from others you would need to know what you want and be prepared to rebuild post purchase to ensure all was safely put together. It did leave Leisure Lakes and Evans in the frame, both of whom have stores close to where I live.
Leisure Lakes has been a good store for me in the past. The founders having a great vision for the enthusiast, with good product range. But as the market developed into cycle to work bikes, they seem to have reduced the range available and targeted the ride to work buyers, which is great for core business but has left the specialist side behind a little. So I thought I’d give Evans a go.
A well stocked, knowledgeable Local Bike Shop is a great place to shop.
I took a few key measurements off my current CX and road bike and armed with these and my height and inside leg, off I went to the local Evans store at the Trafford Centre. I knew what I was after apart from sizing, on which I need some advice, so what could be easier. Oh how wrong can one be!
The shop was fairly busy but not to the level where sales staff would be overwhelmed with work. I took a quick look round to see if they had what I was after in store (was not really expecting they would), the only CX bikes they had where own brand and all below the magic £1000 bike to work price point. Never mind I can always ask them to order in a bike for me to have a look at.
It took me a while but I eventually tracked down a sales person. Quick chat and asked to have some guidance about the Cannonade. “Yes sir what would you like Small, Medium or Large?” a very interesting question I thought, considering the frames are sized in cm from 44cm to 58 cm. This was not inspiring confidence in me. I pointed out to the sales guy that the bikes are sized in cm and to be fair, he said he was not sure about sizing. He said he would look on the Evans system, oh but wait there’s no information. ‘Sorry I can’t help’ came the reply. What you have a customer in front of you who is probably going to spend at least £1500 and you can’t help?!!
Trying to help things along I suggested he look at the bike company website for details of the product. To be fair the the sales guy he did exactly that, not that it really helped as it was clear by now he was well out of his depth. My desire to support the super market round the corner was waning and waning fast.
After a bit of discussion and a review of my road bike sizing we plumped for a 54cm frame. I was a little uneasy as I was really not sure this was the best way to go. But I parted with my £50 refundable deposit (not that he told me that) to bring a bike to the store for testing. Away I went looking forward to getting the call to come in and try to bike for size.
If I said all was well with the world when I left the store I would be a bit like a politician telling you that all is well with the world and you will be much better off after the next budget. I was stewing over the whole experience and after an hour or so at home, cooling off time (rather bubbling and boiling time) I decided to change my mind and cancel the order and, at the same time, vent my frustration about the poor level of service.
To be fair to Evans they refunded the money very quickly and within days a store manager was on the phone to discuss the issue, offering nearly the world for me to come back as a customer. Did you know they had a full bike fitting service? Well that was news to me, no body mentioned that and it is not even mentioned on their website. Hmm do they really have a full on bike fitting service. I really feel that although they may dress themselves up as an amazing bike store and that they are a LBS I’m sorry your not, you are just another Halfords but at least Halfords do not try to be anything better!
Its good to talk to someone who knows.
So back to the drawing board, where was I going to buy from, I needed a truly independent shop, that had the product I was after and had some top flight levels of service. After a bit more research I found Bikechain Ricci in Redruth Cornwall. What a different experience with Richard Pascoe and staff. A quick call with Ricci and it was clear he and his staff are passionate about bikes and that they know their stuff. I sent Ricci my current bike measurements and my key body measurement. He was back within a day with the advice that for the CX I should really be riding a size down from my road bike. This would allow me to move my weight around the bike more easily to deal with a range of surfaces and terrain. This all made perfect sense and matched with the additional research I had done since my Evans experience. Ricci’s product knowledge and riding experience really shone through the whole process, so their it was decision made, deposit paid and estimated delivery date provided, mid November (a bit disappointing but never mind it will be worth the wait).
Time to sit back and reflect on the whole process. I think an online review of Evans I have just found whilst writing this maybe sums up the experience better then I can “Evans cycles – the McDonalds of bicycles?” (http://road.cc/content/forum/92017-evans-cycles-macdonalds-bicycles) I am not sure I would call them the McDonalds but they are a bike supermarket with supermarket service. If its in stock and cheap great, otherwise give them a wide birth.
For me it has to be a local independent bike shop, yes I know Bikechain Ricci is not on my doorstep, but the point is they gave service above and beyond. No other local store to me could provide the product I wanted. Over the phone the guys at Bikechain went the extra mile, talked, listened and discussed needs and really knew their product. That really is what counts and that only comes with passion and experience. I have always had excellent service from the smaller independent guys over the years and sadly a few no longer exist as they get swamped by the big chains.
Stop shopping at the big chains and get yourself down to the local bike shop and talk to them, you might just find you get much better advice and if they can they will give you a bigger bang for your bucks.
If you are looking for an excellent local bike shop I can recommend the following, all based on excellent personal experience.
Bikechain Ricci Redruth Cornwall
Eddie McGrath Cycles Urmston, Manchester
Geoff Smith Bolton
Wallis Cycles Higher Walton, Lancs
Broadgate Cycles Penwortham, Preston
Cycles Laurent Avrilla Sion sur L’Ocean Vendee France
M Steels Gosforth Tyne and Wear
Cookson Cycles Whitefield, Manchester
The secret of Autobiography Publishing is timing and by and large thanks to Ms Cooke’s former colleagues at British Cycling her timing has been made perfect, Future editions of this book will contain a big ‘thankyou’ for proving her right. Shortly after publication the BC squads for the World Championship were presented, without an entrant for the Female Time Trial, an Olympic event, detailing the wholesale lack of strategy employed by them, and this lack of ‘Joined Up Thinking’ becomes the main theme as Nicole scales her way to the top.
This book could really have had the more Chauceresque title of ‘A Tale of Two Millars’ as Little Nicole begins her interest in cycling as a sport after watching Robert Millar in the Alps but ends with the sad realisation that shamed drug cheat David Millar was, despite his lies and falsehoods, still holding sway in the sport, even after his unmasking, still operating in GB Team colours alongside a then in form Ms Cooke, getting better attention and help and unlike Nicole not coming up with the goods.
It is this and many other inequalities and inequities that Nicole lists throughout her career captured for the first time in print. The term ‘Autobiography’ is a smidge misleading here as the basis of this tome is a small amount of Childhood preamble which is fairly cut & paste from most riders of the pre ‘Deep section wheel/Di2/Carbon everything’ generation seeing Nicole make do and mend with ‘hand me down’ equipment, ‘money was tight but we had fun while all the other kids had better bikes etc’, before hitting the world of Pro Cycling hard at the ripe old age of 16…. Anyone looking for an in depth opening into the life of Nicole will be disappointed as once she gets into big time Cycling she enters a storyline of training, over training, more training and some racing. We are treated to many blow by blow accounts of her battles with riders all round the world which if you and I related would sound like a massive name dropping session but to Nicole it was another day at the office. This underlines the level she operated on and provides the mystery of the piece which is why British Cycling could never [despite her success] use her as a blueprint to help bring on other female British talent. The biggest giveaway is that for Nicole to break into the British squad is that she needed legal help from such a young age. The resulting Race CV generated over the next years is testimony that most of her methods were correct and should have been studied better.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of the book is the endless list of riders, especially on the Welsh cycling Union side, that are messed about and rejected. Money, not talent, is always the issue and the list of these casualties mounts as the book goes on. This is counterpointed by the all too present reality that the names behind the scenes, actually drawing a living wage are mostly the same, highlighting the double standards on quality control that exists. These rejected riders were mostly lost to the sport, showing the lack of vision these bodies and teams have, a sport cannot be sustainable if only the tiniest elite element is cared for.
Without providing too many spoilers Ms Cooke’s biggest battles are behind the scenes, off the bike tussles, with a nebulous array of Welsh Cycling Union, British Cycling and assorted team staff (sometimes a crossover of all the above), which as the book develops give rise to the concept that cycling in Britain is more than heavily male dominated and even in the Lottery cash boom time that exists; the backup of Female coaches for the talented female riders is non-existent. Some of the names listed as being obstructive will surprise, leaving you thinking, ‘What him?? I thought he was a good guy??!!’, Ms Cooke is not afraid to mention these people which underpins her reputation for honesty. To offset any negativity this provides she does however always give praise to when and where it was required throughout her career.
The book offers a few frustrations, we know how Nicole’s career ends but there is no reference to where she goes now or what she would like to do with her time. But it serves as an apt wake-up call for the cycling scene in Britain that action is still needed to bolster the female side of the sport and take advantage of a boom time for women’s sport.
Cycling Shorts gives The Breakaway by Nicole Cooke 91% earning it our Star Buy rating.
Don’t forget to ether our competition to win a signed copy of Nicole’s book. Click here to enter.
The Breakaway by Nicole Cooke is published by Simon & Schuster UK (31 July 2014)
Available in Hardback & Digital: RRP £20.00
Kreis is a relatively new brand to the UK market and comes at it with the angle of offering limited run Club orders. Their designs are very modern and striking and give an opportunity to have a coordinated wardrobe for not too much money. The clothing is made for them by Kalas, a Czech company that have enabled Kreis to bring their designs to the public.
The overall emphasis from Kreis is on creating your own statement and having them help you realise it. Most of the designs are size customisable too, offering a great deal of flexibility for every shape and size of cyclist. Emphasis is placed on the ‘pre-order’ stage of purchase where the details of what you need can be tailored to you.
Kreis Echelon-Gipfel Renntrikot Jersey
The design of this jersey and indeed all the kit we had for review certainly turned heads. This jersey was of simple construction with a lycra front and sleeves, and mesh panel rear. This gave a great amount of breathability from the rear portion and the modern aero design most riders now seek. It fitted very snuggly and was comfortable in the classic cyclist tuck, without any flapping. Importantly the three rear pockets were accessible and deep enough to carry usual cyclist needs. Renntrikot has a full length zip which worked easily and gave flexibility when venting is required in warmer temperatures. In long term testing it washed well, it’s light colours remaining clean.
Our Test model was sized ‘4’. This was in modern terms a ‘race fit’ i.e. tight and was in the realm of a small/medium. As with all brands your own size and fit differ from other manufactures sizes.
The Jersey is listed at £85
Kreis Echelon-Gipfel Tragerhose Shorts
Shorts are in modern terms one of the biggest areas of discussion amongst Cyclists of all persuasions. Each contact point with the bicycle has to be perfect or your ride is going to be very short indeed. Kreis offer gender specific inserts to provide the comfort and they actually are pretty comfy. Quite a few rides gave plenty of confidence in the chamois. Fit is the secondary area of comfort for shorts, any ruffles or bagginess will soon become a problem but the Tragerhose are made of a nice weight of lycra that is soft and solid enough to help their panelled structure to fit well. The only negative for us was that the leg ‘gripper’ arrangements were baggy on our test item. This is probably down to the simple fact that the test shorts were size 5, which equates to an XL on the Kreis sizing chart. The grippers have their silicon band cleverly embedded in the fabric itself, meaning that the old fashioned ‘just above knee elastic line’ is totally eradicated. A smaller size would have given a better fit here.
The shorts are listed also at £85
Kreis Echelon Accessories
We also tested the Echelon Armwarmers which are made of a ‘roubaix’ (brushed lycra on reverse). These proved to be lovely and snug in cooler conditions. They have a silicon top gripper to keep them in place and were longer than most modern styles giving less chance of a chilly gap at the top. At £20 these compliment the rest of the Echelon range nicely without breaking the bank and could be worn with other clothes as they are mostly black with just a few details.
A Radlerkappe was also sent for our enjoyment, that’s a cap to you and I, and although with helmets being solely the order of the day the cap was called into service on a couple of low sun evenings to prevent dappling light affecting the eyes. There is a functional mesh panel within its structure that prevents any overheating allowing a good point of ventilation.
The hat comes in three sizes and we tried the Medium which was perfect for a ‘normal’ head. £15 buys you the perfect piece to finish your pro-rider designer look.
The Armwarmers are listed at £20 and Cap at £15
For someone on a modest budget this range could be ideal and with a bit of input even unique to you. A lot of modern riders wish to have their own identity in a crowd and this could help them get there.
CyclingShorts.cc gives the Kreis Range 93% and a star buy rating.
Range available from:
Bioracer Pixel Jacket
This years show runs from 26th – 28th September 2014 and has exhibits from just about every brand you have heard of in the Cycling World and then some.
There are many highlights and there has been a push this year to get some of the fresh new equipment on show for the punters to drool over.
Kim Madsen presents New XTR Di2 Gruppo
Top of this list was the Shimano stand where Kim Madsen and his team have unveiled the new XTR Di2 Groupset and have set it up on a working bike along with a 3D interactive Trainer that when wearing the magic 3D goggles allows you to actually ride in the mountains!! There will be big queues to play with this so get there early!! Kim and his team are part of Shimano’s drive to keep the fun and excitement in cycling and when you see the faces on the grown-ups testing the new kit you will see this plan’s working!!
For Weight Watchers the big draw will be Treks stand featuring the new super light Emonda range which features there lightest ever production model. The excuse that they haven’t got one in the colour you want is out the window as they have a vast range of custom options to match your team or club kit, seeing is believing but this bike is measured on how fast your jaw drops when you lift it and say ‘Wow’!!
Bioracer have a fantastic simple stand which shows their new super safe Pixel range which reflects light the give riders visibility in poor light, ideal for winter and at the other end of the scale their much talked about Speedsuit time trial wear actually had people queuing to see what Martin and all the top testers have been using to help cheat the wind.
The exhibition is vast so take sensible shoes and enjoy the entertainment such as at 14.15 pm everyday Jules Thraser from ATG training giving a demo on how to program Shimano Di2 components, easy when you are shown well!!