Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

What to look for when buying a bicycle

Ross Wilson and Kenneth Riess cranked out a combined 20K last season

The signs of shifting seasons can be found everywhere: flowers sprouting in the yard, ice breakup in the river and cyclists ripping down suddenly dry pathways and streets.

Add a brand new bicycle to the mix, and you’ve got a recipe for a spring celebration.  But when it comes to buying a bike, there’s plenty to consider – including purpose, price and type of ride.

We asked NAIT staffers Ross Wilson and Dr. Kenneth Reiss (Marketing ’91) for their top tips for picking out a tip-top bike. Wilson is an auditor and Paralympic silver medalist in cycling while Riess is a Personal Fitness Trainer instructor, Ironman triathlete and avid road racer. Between them, they cranked out 20,000 kilometres on two wheels.

Techlifetoday: Just to establish your expertise, how many bikes do you own?

Riess: “Not as many as I need!”

Wilson: “One less than my wife will divorce me over.”

(The real answer: 15 between them, with Wilson approaching double digits thanks to his four road bikes, three track bikes, one mountain bike and a time-trial bike.)

What’s your first consideration when buying a bike?

Wilson: Where are you going to ride the bike? There’s so many different types of bikes out there and models for different purposes and terrain. It changes a lot of your decisions, right down to whether to consider a used versus a new bike.

Bike riding at NAIT

New or used?

Wilson: If you want to do cross-country travel and super long-distance riding, buying a used bike isn’t a great option because you don’t know what you’re getting. But if you want to have fun and toodle around the river valley, a used bike is an awesome option.

Riess: I’ve bought several used bikes but I knew what I was getting [and who was selling them].

What’s a reasonable budget? Do I need to spend $1,000 to get a decent bike?

Riess: Buy the nicest bike you can afford. For $500, you pretty much get all the features that the higher-end bikes have. Maybe you don’t get the [best] material those bikes are made out of, but everything’s very durable.

Wilson: Your value isn’t going to be in the frame, it’s going to be in the components that go on that frame – especially if you’re talking about a $500 bike. If it’s a derailleur, is it a Shimano or is it a brand that nobody’s ever heard of and you can’t find any information about on the Internet? I would recommend people stick to the big-name brands.

Road, mountain, hybrid, racing? What should I get?

Wilson: Again it comes down to where you want to ride. There’s three or four predominant types of riding that you can do in Edmonton.

Cross-country mountain biking in the river valley, that’s rougher terrain and can be really technical. You can do road riding, on the roads and on bike paths. And you can do a combination of those two, which you would achieve with something like a gravel bike or cross bike. You could be doing things like BMX – or, if you’re really crazy, there’s racing and the track at the Argyll Velodrome.

road bike for sale

Where should I buy? Online, big-box store or local bike shop?

Riess: I would never buy online. I’ve had some friends who bought some high-end bikes online and, in one case, the wrong parts came in or they weren’t compatible. I like buying from a local shop because if there’s a problem, you can take it to the store and they’re appreciative of their customers.

Safety is important. What kind of brakes – disc or rim?

Riess: Even at the $500 range, you’re starting to see disc brakes come in. You get a little more control over how quickly you’re slowing down or how much pressure you’re applying to the brake. But getting a mid- to lower-end road bike without disc brakes, especially in Edmonton, is absolutely fine.

Wilson: No doubt, disc brakes offer superior performance but aesthetically [he grimaces]. Cycling, especially road cycling, is about the grace and beauty of rider and machine.

Disc brakes on a bicycle

How do I know what size of frame to get?

Wilson: If you’re buying a higher-end bike, you go for a bike fit and get fitted for a bike that works for you.

Riess: A reputable bike shop is going to put you on the proper size.

What’s a sign of an improper fit?

Riess: The big one, if your saddle is too high or it’s too far forward, the palms of your hands are going to get sore. Knee pain – you’re hips shouldn’t be rocking side to side, they should be neutral. While you’re pedalling, your knees should have just a slight bend at full extension.

Wilson: You need to be able to reach all the controls comfortably.

Getting a tune up at NAITHow long should my bike last?

Riess: Virtually all the low- or high-end frames have a lifetime warranty, so the frame will last forever. If you ride a lot, you’ll have to replace your chain and your gears every year or two, so there’s some upkeep. Most bike shops will give you a one-year free maintenance package where you can bring it in for minor repairs.

Bikes are complicated machines with the gears and the brakes and stuff, so they need a little TLC.

Ross Wilson (left) and Kenneth Riess


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