Complete Guide To Buying a New Bicycle


If you’re in the market for a new bike, the available choices can be quite bewildering. This is especially true if you’re new to biking or have not bought a bike in a long time. The new widely available bike categories are proliferating so fast, we’re running out of ideas for what to call them: Hybrid? City? Urban? Asphalt? Cross? Gravel? Adventure? Whatever you call them, most contemporary bikes offer off-the-shelf utility and a versatile range at a reasonable price.

But the question "what is the best bike?" is still best answered by "it's the one that's best for you." Therefore, this guide is less about giving you advice on which type of bike to buy, and more about arming you with information so that you can make the best choice for you.

What this guide is NOT

This guide is not going to help you if you’re looking for a highly specialized bike to use for any kind of racing, competition or endurance event. Rather it is a no-nonsense compilation of our many years’ experience of helping customers find the right bike for their needs. We hope it will help you too find a lifestyle bike that you may want to use around Chicago for transportation, recreation, adventures or riding with your family.

Should you buy a new bike?

Bicycles are quite durable, so if you already own a bike, you may be trying to decide if you should really be getting a new one, or if it makes sense to keep the old one going a little longer. We have these conversations with customers all the time, and we’ve compiled the salient points into this summary:

Fix the Old or Buy the New?

Lifestyle and use considerations

Try to anticipate where and how often you will be using your bike. Think about how the bike will be used. Some questions that may help you along:

  • Will it be a dedicated urban bike, or will it double your vacation or adventure companion? If it’s a bike that has to serve multiple uses, you probably want something more versatile than a single-speed.

  • Will you ride strictly on pavement, or on unpaved trails as well? Choose a bike with tires that are suitable for a variety of surfaces.

  • Will you wear a skirt or carry children? You may consider a step-through frame that won’t force you do swing your leg over the bike to get on and off.

  • Do you plan to ride in inclement weather, or need to wear professional clothes? Consider a bike with internal gears, a chainguard, and fenders.

  • Will you have to store your bike in a small space or carry it up the stairs? Will you be combining biking with public transit? A folding bike can work very well in these situations.

Types of Bikes

Below we highlight various types of popular bikes with some insight into their best intended use. But don’t get too bogged down with bike categories. These days there is a lot of crossover between different types of bikes, and —with few exceptions— most bikes adapt very well to a variety of uses. Don't be too concerned about the brand either. Within a given price range, most manufacturers of mainstream lifestyle bikes offer comparable value, as far as the quality of the frame and components (This may not apply to specialty manufacturers of higher level, and custom bikes, but that’s not what this guide is about.)

Comfort & Fit

We’ve put together a common sense Guide to Bicycle Fit to help you understand what to look for when test-riding new bikes, and request modifications on a bike you may want to purchase.

How much will it cost?

In an era when most of our purchases are either completely disposable, or expected to become obsolete after a season of use, a quality bicycle is remarkable for its longevity. We’ve talked a lot about the relationship between bicycle price and bicycle value, and we hope these articles will give you some perspective on bike pricing, and how much you should reasonably expect to spend on a bicycle you may enjoy for decades to come.

Deciding to buy

We believe that a successful bicycle purchase is not the end, but the beginning of a relationship.

Roll Bicycles

When I first laid eyes on a Roll Bicycle several months ago, I could tell I was looking at something out of the ordinary. Clean design, simple lines, sensible set-up, gorgeous colors, minimal branding. Roll bikes are not about being louder, newer, edgier, trendier. They are all about you.


This does not mean that Roll Bicycles does not use the latest in component technology, but they use it less for it's own sake, or for the sake of outshouting the competition, and more to enhance the riding experience the end user prefers. Typically, to set up a custom bike, you’d have to spend several thousand dollars. Roll is not fully custom, but at a moderate price of $750, they nicely bridge the gap between a typical stock bike, and a full custom set-up.

Allow me to elaborate. For decades, the typical bicycle shopping experience looked the same. You walked into a bike shop, surveyed their in-stock offerings, and based on your budget, the results of your test-ride, and recommendations of the store personnel, you made your purchase from he selection they have on the floor. In some cases, if your size or preferred color was not in stock, the shop would order the bike for you from the vendor.

Then came the fun part. After your initial test-ride, or after having the bike for a few weeks, you’d decide you’d like to change certain things. Perhaps the handlebars were too low, too wide, or you wanted a different gearing range, or thinner (or fatter) tires, etc, etc. Your friendly neighborhood bike shop would work with you to swap out parts (sometimes at full retail, sometimes at a reduced cost) to make needed modifications.

Roll changes all that. As a retailer, we no longer have to guess which Roll bicycle the next customer is going to want. We stock enough to represent the sizes, available colors and most configurations. The rest is done by consultation, taking some key measurements, and ordering a bike in the right size, the color of your choice, with components appropriate to your style of riding, and scaled to fit your physique. No, you don’t get your bike the same day, but within 3-5 days you take delivery of a brand new bike made to your specifications, and assembled by us just for you.

We’re excited about our partnership with Roll, and this new, consultation-based selling model, which eliminates much of the stabbing in the dark for us. We’ve been selling bicycles for a long time, and we have found that, even with bike companies organized along a more traditional selling model, this collaborative approach makes for a better, more fulfilling experience for both us and the customers, and results in a more satisfying experience with the bike in the real world. Roll just makes that process easier.

We brought in the initial shipment of Roll floor model samples. Please stop in, take a look at them and let us know what you think!

Bike Shop Day


Have you heard of Bike Shop Day?

We didn’t think so. Hardly a Hallmark holiday, Bike Shop Day was inaugurated in 2017 by a forward thinking independent bicycle store owner in Brooklyn. Joe Nocella and the staff of 718 Cyclery came up with the idea of setting aside a day to celebrate the unique culture of a local bicycle store and its connection to the local community. He’s invited other independent bikes shops around the country (and around the world) to join, and we thought this was an amazing idea, so we jumped on.

The theme for this year’s celebration is inclusiveness, and all participating shops and vendors were asked to submit a brief proposal for welcoming people who are underrepresented in the cycling industry. This was right up our alley here at Cosmic Bikes, because for us inclusion is not just an event. It's an underlying philosophy of the way we run our business. What we do day in and day out is aim to invite, not intimidate the beginner, listen, not preach to the curious, and salute, not marginalize the commuter. We meet each visitor to our shop where they are, without pre-judgment, and, to the best of our ability, we offer products and services that address a diversity of needs, whether it's a young person on a budget getting into a cycling lifestyle, or a person facing limitations (age? illness? location? budget? growing family? other challenges?) who wishes to preserve their cycling lifestyle.


We’re looking forward to throwing our doors open to the community on first Saturday in December, and we’re busy planning a fun-filled day for everyone. Here’s a preview of the day’s festivities:


    FREE swag bags and Limited Edition Bike Shop Day t-shirts to first 25 guests

  • 9-11 Breakfast & Coffee.
    We’re not messing around, real hot food & great coffee from Sputnik Coffee Roasters.


    • Bike Sale

    • 20% OFF any Service booked during Bike Shop Day

  • RAFFLE Tickets $5 for a chance to win

  • Donations Box

    We will have a donation box to benefit the Irving Park Community Food Pantry Christmas Angel Drive. If you can, please bring

    • New, unwrapped toys (specifically requested are items for kids aged 10-12, especially boys)

    • Winter hats, gloves scarves and socks

    • Canned goods

      More details are here.

  • Kids Crafts (Coloring, Make your own bike chain Xmas Ornament and more!0

  • Demo Rides: try out a Cargo Bike, a Brompton, or an eBike!

  • 12-3 Free mini-clinics: Flat fix, Safety check, Bike fit, Winter drivetrain care

  • 4:30 LIVE MUSIC with acoustic trio Uptown Boys

    Winner need not be present, but it’s a lot more fun if you are!!

  • 6pm FAMILY-FRIENDLY MOVIE NIGHT: The Bicycle Thief
    Popcorn & BYOB

We hope you set aside time to join us in this biking community celebration!

What's a fair price, and how do you know it's a fair price?



Everyone knows that the best way to find out how much something should cost is to ask Mr. Google. It doesn't matter if Nice Bikes Company tells you their Urban Steed model retails for $759. If Mr. Google can find someone advertising it for $699, that's the price you'll fix in your mind. Unless of course you repeat the search a few days later, and there's someone out there who decides to go lower yet. Now, you won't want to pay a penny over $675. You're getting the best deal. That's a good thing, right?

Maybe. It's assuming that an Urban Steed is an Urban Steed is an Urban Steed. But what if it's not? You know, kind of like when you go to your local Fresh Farms store (for those of you not from Chicago, it's like a giant United Nations of farmers' markets) and it’s August, and they have about 17 different types of peaches. A peach is a peach, right? Not so fast! These Georgia peaches are nice and round and rosy, and they're $1.29 a pound, but when you pick one up, it has the suppleness of a coconut. Yikes. However, over here are some Michigan peaches. They're small and kinda yellow. The price tag says and $1.99. What's with that? You walk closer, and gently squeeze. The fruit gives a little, and pushes back, invitingly. At the same time, peachy aroma tickles your nostrils, and before you know it, you've bagged a dozen at top dollar, and -- never mind whatever else you came here to get -- you rush for the register, because you can't wait another minute to sink your teeth into this fragrant, fuzz covered flesh. Mmm-m.

OK, but what does this all have to do with bikes, you're thinking, wiping peach juice off your chin and licking your fingers. And why is the same Urban Steed at Jane's Friendly Bike Shop around the corner $779?!

OK, since you asked.

Even though this Urban Steed pictured in your Google search looks just like the one on the floor at  Jane's store, they may be as different from each other as those peaches you were squeezing at Fresh Farms. Let me underscore the first difference right here: both peaches were there for you to, er... experience. However, while the Google bike is merely an arrangement of pixels on your computer screen, Jane has taken it upon herself to stock the bike at her friendly bike store, so that you can, in fact, touch it, size it up, even give it a test ride.

Before that bike hit the showroom floor, Jane took some trouble to educate herself about her supplier's offerings and put together a balanced purchase order, based on what she expects her potential customers will want to buy. This probably means that she also has other models for you to compare with the Urban Steed. It also probably means that she had to fork over not a small amount of her hard earned money to get this nice-sized order from her vendor. The Google bike will probably be drop-shipped from some warehouse when the faceless clerk on the receiving end of your money presses the appropriate button. You will be told the bike will arrive pre-assembled, to which I can only say: HA!

Meanwhile, to assemble the Urban Steed, Jane has hired a competent mechanic, who has trued the wheels, expertly adjusted the derailleurs and brakes (you know, so that you can safely stop), and ensured that everything is tightened to correct torque. The mechanic may even have corrected some things that the factory or the pre-assembler did improperly (minor fork and frame alignments, thread repair, etc. are not uncommon). Jane may then herself, or with the help of another senior mechanic, safety-check the bike, and correct any remaining issues. (BTW, the three paragraphs I just wrote describing all this are alone worth $25.)

The day you decide to visit Jane's Friendly Bikes Shop and kick the tires on the Urban Steed, she's ready for you. She may consult with you about your biking needs personally, or she may have a knowledgeable salesperson assist you to make sure you get the right frame size, correct saddle position, and comfortable reach to the handlebars. Either way, you're getting good advice, pal. Will your anonymous, button-pushing clerk behind the Google picture do this? NO!!!! Jane and her entire staff are taking their valuable time to circle around you like planets around the sun, and help you make the right choice, and that time is worth something. This is how they make their living.

But why can't they make their living on $675? The other guy does. Look, if you're still not convinced, go and buy the Urban Steed from that anonymous guy. Just do Jane and me a favor: don't come and test-ride it at her store first. OK? If after your purchase the crank arms fall off, or the brakes rub, or the gears skip, Jane will take care of you with a smile at her standard labor rates.

If, on the other hand, you're still with me, let's continue shopping here at Jane's. Now that you've decided to take the Urban Steed home with you, she will have some really great suggestions about other accessories or upgrades you may want to add to get the most out of your bike purchase. Sure, she wants to make more money (isn't that why you have a job too?), but she also wants to make sure you don't drive off into the sunset only to realize you have no way to lock up your bike. So trust her, for heaven's sake. She'll most likely also include follow-up maintenance service for a period of time with your bike purchase.

It turns out that Mr. Google may not have all the answers. Price comparisons are meaningless unless you also compare the full value of the item being sold. To many casual consumers, a bicycle is a bicycle, and they don’t give more than a passing thought to bicycle assembly. But bicycles are fundamentally different from any other commonly purchased retail product. Unlike jeans, books, or even Ikea furniture, they require thorough, professional assembly to function properly and safely. An internet or mass merchant bike may seem like a bargain, until you add the cost of assembling, correcting improper assembly, and follow-up maintenance. Like Jane, we have been doing this for a long time, and that’s why service and value are part of every bicycle purchase you make with us.

2018 Interbike Impressions: THE GOOD

Whew! We just got back to Chicago from the Interike tradeshow. For a retailer, it’s getting harder to get at-a-glance view of our industry, as it’s undergoing a splintering, and the once almighty industry-wide Interbike is getting supplanted by smaller regional shows. Many major US bicycle suppliers are sitting out, and therefore it’s difficult to pinpoint major trends happening in conventional bike design and offerings.

That doesn’t mean we can’t spot at least some strong trends: the good, the bad and the ugly.

First, the good.

(We’ll tackle the bad and the ugly shortly.)

Cargo is HUGE!

As urban families, adventurers and micro-trepreneurs scale down their car dependence, they are increasingly turning to high-capacity cargo bikes, and several companies have stepped up to meet the growing demand. Though only a handful of cargo bike makers were present at Interbike this year, their commitment to this form of transportation is evident in the scope of their offerings and creativity of their booth displays. The most notable players with tremendous design energy were:

Yuba Spicy Curry

Yuba Spicy Curry

Benno: fully loaded

Benno: fully loaded

  • Yuba Cargo Bikes
    Spanning cargo bike options to meet a wide range of needs and price ranges, including a $999 full size longtail Mundo workhorse, cruiser-like compact Boda Boda, front-loader Supermarché, and several e-assist models, Yuba stands poised to literally change the way families move around American cities.

  • Benno Bikes

    The designer behind this brand, Benno Baenziger, was the brain behind the phenomenally popular Electra Bikes, and his new cargo bike company is infused with the desire to make simple, functional and well designed bikes for everyday transportation, utility and adventure.

  • Tern Bikes

    Though primarily known for their folding bikes, Tern is blazing the trail in the compact, electric-assist cargo category with the phenomenally popular (and easy to store) GSD.

Adventure is everywhere

Kona Rove: at home on any terrain

Kona Rove: at home on any terrain

About a decade ago, urban cycling began to dominate the industry, and its impact on product design was evident everywhere from bikes, to bags and apparel. That is currently being edged out by adventure biking and bikepacking, and that sensibility is spilling over into the urban market as well. Crossover products, such as gravel bikes, which are equally at home on urban streets and unpaved fireroads, are the new standard, and many hybrid bikes —the staple of urban commuting— have taken on adventure characteristics, such as smaller, higher volume tires, disc brakes and mounting eyelets to extend their cargo-carrying capacity.

This is great news for the bike consumer, because it’s increasingly possible to have a do-it-all bike for about $1000 or less.

The Noble Profession,

Efficient Velo tools in action

Efficient Velo tools in action

Raising the professionalism standards for bicycle mechanics is an extremely welcome trend, as the barrier to entry has traditionally been very low, and there are almost no established industry-wide standards. Organizations such as Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association and United Bicycle Institute are working to change that, and to increase the competence and professionalism of the bicycle technician. Additionally, companies such as Efficient Velo Tools and Wheel Fanatyk, that manufacture premium quality specialized tools to aid bike mechanics in the performance of their trade, help raise the profile of the profession.

Made-to-order bikes

An interesting development, and one that — in my opinion — is long overdue, is the arrival of companies that offer a more personal, semi-custom buying experience to the bike buying public. The best of these companies realize three things: (1) most customers typically want more color choices, fit and customization options than what’s available on a typical bike showroom floor, but are not prepared to shell out in excess of $2000 for a custom build, or more for a fully custom bike, (2) the assortment of bikes on the showroom floor that the shop owner had to select in advance, trying to anticipate what potential customers will want to buy, may not be the best way to meet the diverse needs of those customers, and (3) at the same time, a full-service bicycle store (not the internet) is still the best and safest place to purchase a bicycle with included professional assembly and skilled follow-up maintenance service.

One bike, many faces: Roll “Adventure”

One bike, many faces: Roll “Adventure”

Roll “City” step-thru

Roll “City” step-thru

Roll “sport”

Roll “sport”

In response to this, companies like Roll Bicycles offer a streamlined selection of modular bikes: a quality bicycle frame (available in several sizes, and a step-over and step-through configuration), that can be ordered in a choice of attractive colors and finishes, and outfitted with several different component packages for sport, city or adventure use for a set price of $750, with a couple of limited upgrade options available as well. The bicycle shop stocks a few representative models, and the customer may not walk out of the shop with their new bike on the day of purchase, but in about a week they can take delivery of a fully assembled bike outfitted to their preferred specifications.

At Cosmic Bikes, we’ve been using this process with Brompton folding bikes for many years, and it works very well in balancing what we as a shop have to carry in stock, and getting the customer the exact product they desire.

Stay tuned for….

Interbike impressions: the Bad and the Ugly!