As a “senior” biker, I have been asked quite a lot on tips on buying a bike. I’ll try to write here the advice I usually give in the intent of helping others out there. How sound it is- it’s up for you to decide.
This advice assumes that the seeker has already decided what type of bike he wants. Let’s assume it’s a mountain bike. The tips though are also applicable for other types of bikes out there.
But before I move on, note that there are generally four types of modern mountain bikes- the cross country bike, the all mountain/trail bike, the dirt/ jump or diamond back and the downhill bike. Mostly 90% (or higher) of the population falls within the all mountain and cross country bike categories. The all mountain is considered the mountain bike for the general class so most probably this is where you are included. Note that this is considering “real” mountain bikes only as majority of Filipinos especially those bike commuting are using hybrids and not mountain bikes. For the other two categories, they are more of a specialty and you should only be concerned with such types if you already know these and are up to taking it in particular. Besides this, there are other specialty types out there like the single speed and the 29’ner. If you need to look closely at these specialties, I suggest you consider investigating a 29’ner. It’s best if you can test drive such a bike in your local store. Wheel size is another controversial topic on its own. In fact some even came out with an in between, a 27 wheel sized bike. But this warrants a topic on it’s own.
Going back to the topic, of course first and foremost is to ask if the person is serious in biking (i.e. will try to use the bike on where it was intended to be used- mountain trails). This question is important to eliminate onset the “real” bikes from the “supermarket” bikes as the latter would not be able to withstand and/or are not safe and convenient to be used on off road situations. Of course some would outright eliminate the supermarket bikes in the decision making but for me, it’s still a usable bike if the intent is only to ride around your subdivision. How to spot a real, or to be politically correct- a “branded” mountain bike from a supermarket bike? One clue is the place to buy- usually the supermarket bikes are sold in stores that are not specific into selling bikes like, of course, a supermarket. There are, however, local bike shops that are selling the same but if they are a true bike shop, then they would advice you outright regarding this. Though I would not like to discriminate stores, listed on the Pit Stop section are some of the popular bike shops where you can get these branded bikes. Another clue is the pricing. If the bike is below 10K Php, then you have to check as it is most likely a non branded bike. Beyond that, you may have a chance of getting a good bike. Note that under the branded category is a wide open area as the pricing is too big a gap- from 10K to even 300K Php for the more exotic ones. The question on why a bike reaches 300K will be easier to understand as you become well versed with all the products out there and of course; that you appreciate that fact.
The next question is whether to buy a built bike or to assemble bike from scratch. Budget will play an important part here. Contrary to popular belief, a built bike is cheaper than assembled one as bike manufacturers get tons of discounts in buying bulk parts from manufacturers which they will definitely pass on to the consumer. While buying each part means a mark-up for each part that you buy. The downside from buying a built bike is the option of choosing what you like either technically or aesthetically. Most of the time, you will wonder why manufacturers uses parts that seems odd- like a Deore group set with one part of the set as Alivio (more on this term later). The reason behind this is to lower the cost of the bike. It’s true that you can upgrade later on but be ready as selling parts is usually on the loosing end (seldom will you get a good bargain for the parts you sell). Two questions seem to affect this decision of wether to buy or to assemble; first is budget- the more budget the better it is for you to go towards assembling your bike. The second is your commitment to biking. If you think biking is something that you will definitely embrace, then it is expected that upgrade is inevitable so think twice before buying parts that you will later upgrade within a month or two. But for some, assembly from scratch is the only option. They save money and buy parts as budget comes in but these are only for those who can patiently wait. Nowadays there are installment options offered by some shops so you may consider this option.
Another issue to consider locally is the authenticity of the parts as there are fake parts out there. Note that fake part is different from OEMs and over runs but just to be safe, buy only the real stuff. For bike frames, fakes are usually those that are obviously cheap. most of the time, fake frames are for those manufacturers that are not represented locally, so they don’t have any issues of somebody coming after them.
Though this is not applicable to the larger population, some ask if its cheaper to buy abroad such as from the US as there are quite a lot of Filipinos who has access to the US market through their relative; the answer is no. It’s still cheaper to buy here even compared to some Asian countries as Singapore. But one advantage in the US is that they have clearance sales where they really drop the prices of bikes and parts compared locally where stores sells an item with the original price even after 5 years on stock. If you can wait for such sale and are open to buy older models, then you can consider buying in the US.
I have’nt discussed this earlier on but just for information- one of the biggest factor that would affect the cost of the bike is the frame type. Though locally, majority still buys the hard tail frames, in the US, full suspension bikes are rapidly gaining in numbers. Buying a full suspension bike would set you back an average of an additional 10-20K Php. Next to this is the type of material of the frame. Besides the usual aluminum frame, buying a frame made of carbon fiber will set you back an additional 25-30K Php and a titanium frame an additional 50-70K Php. The other biggest ticket item is the suspension fork ( as rigid forks are not the norm for moutain bikes). It ranges from 6K to as high as 40K Php (the highest even breaches the 100k mark). The price difference accounts for the weight and what they call the “ride”.
On choosing parts, its best to know the order of the product line models. There are two major players in the group set division- Shimano and SRAM. Remember that the higher you go up in the ladder, the lighter (the main factor) and more durable the part is (i.e. durable in a sense that the lower end part uses steel that are prone to rusting while the higher ends uses exotic metals that don’t rust- it’s another excuse for those who are lazy in cleaning and maintaining their bikes). Take for example in Shimano, the order are Acera, Alivio, Deore, Deore LX, Deore SLX, Deore XT and XTR (Hone, Saint- are for downhill bikes). It’s a defacto that serious mountain bikers start with Deore. Suggested for competitive level is the XT. XTR is already a luxury. Knowing these facts helps to know where your bike is located within the ladder. Often most newbie riders will understand this later in his career so it’s a given that all enthusiast goes to the process of upgrades later on. But even those who have the money to burn do not always hit the right spot. There are also misses as later on, the aesthetics and the particular product that works well with the biker is the next level to satisfy. It’s a fact that upgrades are already a part of the biker’s life. But still buying the right parts lessens this occurrence even for a bit.
In the advent of the mountain bike craze, a lot for manufacturers are now out there besides the big ones. It gave us more options and on some cases, as they focus on a few product lines, they are sometimes better than the bigger brands in the particular product they are carrying so don’t close your options to the other manufacturers out there specially the Taiwan products as almost all mountain bike parts, even those from top US companies are made in Taiwan.
As a final note, for common people like us who have limited budget for our hobbies, we have to be judicious in using this so we have to really research before buying. There are lots of places to learn- first and foremost is through the internet. There is no excuse to do so; given the fact they you are reading this means you have access to it. Go to the manufacturer’s site for technical details and to bike magazine sites and bike forums (i.e MTBR.com- note that this is a site created by a FilAm) for an unbiased review. Second is to go to your local bike shops (LBS). As a tip, each bike shop in the Philippines are supplied by particular distributors only. There is no one bike shop that carry all products. Most of the time, buying a particular part from the actual dealer would give you savings (but surprisingly- between a distributor (i.e. PH distributor) vs their dealer- you have a better bet in buying from the dealer as distributor’s hand are tied in giving discount as they are not and should not compete with their dealers while dealers have all the liberty to minimize profits). Also read the sales person- if he or she is out there to sell only or to give you sound advise. Not everything a bike shop staff tells you is right. Sometimes and most of the time, sales people are not really technically updated nor has the passion to learn the stuff as they are only there to earn their keeps. If they are, sadly they don’t have access to information like magazines and the internet. Finally a good magazine can also be helpful especially if you buy the buyers guide edition.
As you become hooked on the sport and the technicalities around it, your first buy will not be the last one. In fact it will be followed by a hundred others. It’s good to have a “suki” – a bike shop where you will have special relations but that doesn’t mean you should not go somewhere else. Opportunities awaits for those who explore!