Best Place To Buy A Road Bike in 2017: Online Or LBS (You Decide…)

For most of the last two centuries, the best place to buy a bike (whether that’s road bike or a vélocipède) has not been online. Once production moved out of the LB (local blacksmith), sales activity moved to the LBS (local bike shop).

In more recent years, LBS sales have come under threat from bike chains and from direct sales on the internet. But as we stand here in 2017 (or sit), where is the best place to buy a new bike (and do we have much choice anymore…?).

Your intrepid reporter, Le Mont of the Daily Velo, attempts to make sense of it all. (And fails. The End.)

Internet Retail Apologist Laments The Demise Of His Local Bike Shop

I got something of a jolt the other week. I discovered that Samways Cycles, a (local) bike shop in Derby (the UK…) had closed down after over 80 years of trading. The owners (the Samways family) cited the pressures of the internet, with online retailers selling at prices that the independent ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers can’t compete with.

I bought my Trek Domane from Samways in 2013. At the same time I bought a pair of Specialized Road Elite (ha ha ha) shoes.

It’s a shame. It was a good-sized store with a strong range of quality products. It wasn’t full of naffery. Exactly the sort of place that I would happily browse around (if forced to go shopping…).

They also seemed to have a good website which I assume did some online trade. They had a sizeable workshop operation, which (again I assume) will have done a reasonable trade servicing all those bikes that people now buy on the webternet.

And yet this appears not to have been enough to sustain the operation, in the face of competition from the online storezillas…

Online Retail Prices Versus Wholesale Prices

Which is about as tedious a sub-heading as you can get (I certainly try to do better here at the Sportive Cyclist Service Course – SCSC…).

Mark, owner and wrenchmeister at Cyclehub in Ashbourne, told me the last time I was in, that the prices for bikes and components sold by online cycle retailers are essentially the same as what distributors charge independent bike shops and mechanics. I can well believe this to be true.

Mark runs a workshop, so he makes his money through mechanical whizzbangery and cyclo-fittery (at very reasonable prices). He’ll generally recommend customers buy components online and then bring it in for him to fit to the bike.

The consumer saves money doing it this way (and I guess Mark avoids the customer service hassles of dealing with product – returns, defects, etc – sold at little or no margin for him).

Brick and mortar businesses that rely primarily on selling bikes and bits have to compete in this arena. And often can’t.

Who’s A Hypocrit(erium)?

Me probably.

I can’t go around lamenting the demise of the local bike shop. Despite the in-store bike and shoes purchase (plus the odd component that I’ve bought via Mark at Cyclehub), my cycle buying over the past few years has been heavily weighted towards the online stores.

In fact I’m a double-crit.

This website is full of links to Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles (which is now the same company as Wiggle), Evans and Competitive Cyclist, as well as to the eater-of-planets, Amazon.

These tend to be affiliate links – if you click a link and buy something, I may get a commission. I am incentivised to encourage you to buy bikeswag from bikewebshops.

I will say now though, if you find one of my articles helpful (say a buyers guide or summat) and you want to go away and buy a related product from your local bike shop, I will hunt you down and inflate you with my track pump I would entirely support your decision.

Chances are you won’t though.

Oh what we’ll do for next day delivery, having a huge choice to pick from and finding a little bag of Haribos as a gift in with our order….

Life is busy. It’s difficult to find the time to make a trip to a bike shop (that’s assuming you can find a good one near you, which has the item in stock).

It’s no coincidence that many of my own bike shop purchases have taken place on holiday.

I’ll have done some research ahead of time, sought out a good LBS and will have gone with the specific intention of dropping some cash there (almost like charitable donation, albeit one with some pleasureable velo-browsing beforehand).

Bike Buying In Days Of Yore (How I’ve Bought Bikes In The Past)

Let’s get back to the topic.

The best way, historically, to buy a bike has been in person, at a (local) bike shop, with the help and advice of a knowledgeable shop assistant.

Bike buyers were conditioned to expect the bike purchase to be a multi-visit experience. Even if the bike model you wanted was in stock in the correct size, you’d expect to pays yo money and then come back once the shop had set it up for you.

By being present in person, at the outset, the LBS owner (or shop assistant) could size you up with a mixture of measuring devices and intuition, and specify the right size of frame.

I guess my relatively recent (certainly post-internet-age) purchase of my Trek Domane ‘went down’ in a similar fashion.

I went to a bike fitter first (Bespoke Cycles in Derby*), who sized me up on a rig, in order to get my required ‘stack’ and ‘reach’ dimensions.

(* Who I’ve just discovered closed down YESTERDAY!!)

He then used those numbers to compare against a little database he maintained of bike brands/models/sizes, in order to recommend a small number of models (and their sizes) that I could choose from (not all of which they were a dealer for).

I went home and did a bit of internet research (I created a wunderspreadsheet) and, as is (c’est) normal, wrote a blog post.

I decided on the Trek Domane. This had a slight complication in that there were two sizes (54 and 56 I think) that, with a bit of fittery-jiggery-pokery, would work for me.

I then called (the now sadly demised) Samways. It turned out that as a main Trek dealer (with a large showroom), they had both sizes, so I could try them in person.

This is where the process fell down slightly.

I sat on both frames in the showroom whilst the Samways shop assistant looked on. I had no frame of reference to decide between the two – I’d been told by the qualified fitter (who worked in a different shop) that both could be adapted to work (i.e. by changing the stem, handlebars etc). The young shop assistant wasn’t able to offer much more help. I think I went for the bigger one*.

(* The bigger bike frame – not a bigger shop assistant…)

Anyway, all’s well that ends well. Having bought the Domane from Samways, I returned to Bespoke in order to get it properly fitted (which, incidentally, did involve a new stem and new handlebars…).

Whilst convoluted, involving two different shops, the point is that this was largely an offline process (in meatspace rather than cyberspace) and had a lot of face-to-face interaction with cycling experts.

How Do (Should?) We Buy Bikes Now?

The model of bike buying is clearly changing. I think the internet might be the future…

“Garlic bread – it’s the future, I’ve tasted it” – Brian Potter

What I did when I bought my bike just three years ago I couldn’t do now. Both Samways and, I now discover, Bespoke have shut down.

The ease and confidence delivered by going into a large, well-stocked bike showroom, staffed by knowledgeable sales assistants, is reducing, not least by the fact that the number of large, well-stocked local bike shops is reducing.

At the same time, the cost benefit of buying a bike online is substantial. As noted above, the prices you can pay online for a bike are not much more (any more?) than your local bike shop will pay its own supplier.

Online bike brands like Canyon, through pro team sponsorship, innovative design and promotion showing quite how hi tech their factory is (like the GCN video below this paragraph) have raised the perception of buying a premium bike online.

With its ‘Advanced Bike Builder’ on its website, Ribble Cycles allows you to pick a frame and then specify virtually every component that goes onto it, from the wheels, chainset and saddle, right down to the headset spacers and the colour of the bar tape.

Perfect for those that like their cycle-tech-geekery to be combined with a little OCD and the low prices of OE (components that come as part of a new bike – OE stands for ‘Original Equipment’ – will generally be cheaper than if you buy them retail to fit later on).

(Ribble also does a simpler bike builder if you don’t quite want to get into that level of detail…).

Knowledge Is Power (Put That In Your Garmin And Smoke It…)

The knowledgeable sales assistant bit is possibly changing as well. Certainly there are fewer LBS owner-experts (mainly because there are fewer LBSs…)

Of course there will be bike-savvy guys and gals working at all levels in a branch of Evans or a Cycle Republic (and whatever bike chains exist in the US).

It is certainly the case that when I was after a new front mech, the chap in Evans Birmingham was more than clued up on the difference between Ultegra and 105, 10-speed versus 11-speed. The super-experienced LBS owner still exists (despite being an endangered species).

But so much information is now available on the internet, both in written and video form, that consumers can do an awful lot of research at home, without setting foot in a bike shop.

Questions can be asked in forums (phora?) or in Facebook groups. Hell, people can even read I’ll-informed clap trap written by weak-legged velobloggers like meself.

How Will I Buy My N+1?

I like to think these things through…

I reckon the model now is to find a bike mechanic and fitter to develop a (professional…) relationship with and then buy a bike online.

If and when I get sign off from the Investment Committee to buy my n(+1)ext bike, my first step will be to pootle over to the aforementioned Mark the Mechanic (remember him? – he featured a lot of words ago…) for a chat and a cup of tea. I’ll ask for his advice, mainly on sizing.

Then I’ll order said vehicle online. If my eye remains upon this very reasonable steel-tubed beauty, then I will be taking full advantage of the Ribble bikebuilder ‘app’ (probably starting with the very attractive steel frame that this link takes you to…).

Once I get the bike, I’ll go back to Mark to get it set up and fitted for me.

See, I’ve got it all planned out. There’s lovely…

Where Did You Buy Your Last Bike?

Did you buy your last bike from a local bike shop (or a chain)? Where will you buy from in the future? Do you have any advice for fellow readers looking to buy their next (or perhaps first) road bike?

Let us know in the comments below this post.

Monty - Sportive Cyclist
Monty is an enthusiastic road cyclist with only moderate talent. He started Sportive Cyclist in 2013 to record the journey to his first 100 mile ride, the RideLondon 100. Over time the blog has expanded to include training advice, gear reviews and road cycling tales, all from the perspective of a not-very-fit MAMIL. Since you're here, Monty would also like you to check out his YouTube channel. Also, Monty really needs to stop referring to himself in the third person.

18 thoughts on “Best Place To Buy A Road Bike in 2017: Online Or LBS (You Decide…)”

  1. Good article. When I bought my Domane I actually decided on my LBS first, before deciding on which bike to buy. I put myself in their hands and rode the Domane and a Genesis. The Domane won and I bought it at my LBS-Head for the Hills in Dorking.

    They have a 10℅ discount scheme forever once you’ve bought a bike, and as I want them to be there long term I buy the majority of my cycling goodies from them. I do use the internet….For reviews, then largely go and buy at my LBS

    They are endlessly patient and expert and I’m very glad they’re there. They carry a small but carefully selected line of accessories, and this is fine by me.

    I’m very glad I bought it there as I had quite a few problems with the bike, and they were less than a mile away and sorted everything quickly and painlessly.

    +1 for LBS!


  2. Very informative blog, I am new to cycling and have only bought second hand, I have bought 5 bikes and around £200 spent on tools and equipment to fix and repair them; my new hobby, then I will sell them. A time consuming business fraught with pitfalls as the dearth of components and sizes leave you mind boggled at times. A steep learning curve. I come from a background in engineering and have played a lot of golf in my time. It would seem cycling shops are suffering the same fate as golf shops, and many other shops where you once went in to try things on for real. it’s not possible to compete with online prices, due to the bulk buying capabilities of online retailers. Your article sums it up precisely, buy online and find a good local mechanic who has bills to pay and get your bike tuned and fitted to you. I buy components from halfords who price match with online stores, then I can order and pick up within the hour generally. I wonder how many people are riding I’ll fitted bikes bought online and are not getting the comfort or pleasure they would be getting if they used some of the savings to pay the professional bike mechanic to tweak it, and pay his bills

    Thanks for a great blog

  3. Thanks for the thought provoking blog.
    I think the deal should be that if you use the bike shop to try on or try out a product like shoes, jacket or bike – then its only fair to buy from them. And obviously if you need the backup and support for the bike. But components, where there is little value-add from the shop, buy online. I think that is your argument too.
    But the onliners dont have it all their own way – I’m lucky enough to have a Decathlon store near me and that is saving me much more money over the online outfits. Eg online Shimano/SRAM cassette circa £33 – Decathlon £19 and the Decathlon one is better quality!

  4. Good shout, you are right about the shops closing, I live in Perth, Scotland and have a good relationship with local bike shop that has a brilliant mechanic, will definitely be buying online and going for a fitting, although if you live anywhere reasonably close to a Ribble shop you can go in and talk to the very people who offer the web building process and iron out any issues, I am proposing to travel to Preston and do this, will let you know how I get on next month, full 700 toray carbon with Di2 Ultegra groupset is hard to beat @ approx £2000

  5. I’ve purchased from both over the years, but the 3 recent purchases (not all mine) have been from LBS. I would not go back to online purchase for a bike again. The key reasons are service, knowledge and the ability to try out the bikes in question.

    I am finding that prices in LBS are increasingly competitive and manufacturers are recognising the value of supporting smaller retailers with the added value that they bring. The latest purchase was for my son, the bike price around £1500. We could have saved £50 by buying online, but the bike was custom fitted to him and numerous small extras ‘thrown in’ – branded water bottle, custom bar tape (fitted), changed pedals and free adjustments and service. All with a smile, a cup of coffee for me and numerous snippets of useful information. I would say that is worth a great deal more than the £50 in anyone’s book?

  6. Interesting if sad article. My last bike (CX to join the collection of hardtail, full suss, carbon road bike and brompton folder) was bought a couple of months ago from a local bike shop run by an experienced owner. I pored over magazines and decided the choice lay between an online/Halfords Boardman purchase and one at the LBS. The LBS bike didn’t have as high a spec as the Boardman I was looking at but I really didn’t want to buy from Halfords as all but a couple of purchases had been from LBSs where I’d built up a relationship over several years. Also I wanted to know that for servicing or repairs that I couldn’t do myself I would be going to somewhere which knew the bike. Buying local also allowed me to test ride the bikes.

    An important feature for the latest purchase is that I already knew the shop because each week it runs a relaxed off road and a relaxed road ride midweek and a slightly less relaxed ride on a Sunday. So the shop has created a social group and with the owner’s skills and advice he has built a loyal customer base where most of the riders have bought at least one bike from him, and because many are there two or three times a week for the organised rides, it’s very easy to pick up bits and pieces as and when you need them.

    I like the idea of meister fitters who put you on a test rig to work out a list of parameters from which you can choose an appropriate bike, which you can then buy at online cost and have adjusted to fit, but illogical as it may seem I’m still reluctant to pay what I should for a bike fit/advice, and also I think the current bike shop model is still based on trying to make the money on the parts rather than paying a proper amount for fitting/servicing skills.

    So basically I’d still want to feel that the bike buying process involved dealing with someone I know and trusted for advice and after sales service (paid for at a proper rate) even if the bike itself was bought from a retailer in the cloud.

  7. I’m a bit different to most when it comes to new bikes.. I like to build them myself in order to leverage my not inconsiderable stock of parts that I have accumulated over the years and to end up with my own unique custom build.
    I’m pretty handy with a spanner and barring the infrequent occasions when I am lacking a tool I can pretty much do everything myself.

    This process does have a risk though in that I have never had a bike fit and tend to size the frame based pretty much just on reach and manufacturers recommendations.. I don’t think I’ve made a mistake yet so I’ve been lucky so far.

    This makes me a bad customer for the LBS.. in fact I only go to the shop when I absolutely have to when I urgently need a part or if I have run out of gels or drink. There’s also times when I have found myself with a job and no tool like the time when I needed to fit a BB86 press fit bottom bracket. The local shop were very helpful I must say. I really should buy myself a press fit tool.. online of course.

    I agree that the LBS must change or die. A local shop to me shut down last year because he wasn’t making any money from bikes and parts.. he has now re-opened a new venture just focusing on repairs with local collection. I hope he makes a success of it because there are people that need this service.

  8. Great article. Just like your Blog ends, my most recent purchase was internet researched after a chat with my tame bike mechanic, who then put it together and fitted it for me. Perfect!

  9. I struggle with this as well. I’d like to support my LBS, but it’s getting harder and harder. I live in the U.S. and recently purchased a new German manufactured road bike on the Internet because it is not locally available. I did a lot of research before my purchase. The equivalent bike from the LBS would have cost me twice as much as what I payed and I just could not bring myself to do that.

    Currently I’m looking for a new saddle. A quick check on the Internet and you can find literally hundreds of choices, but unfortunately the LBS cannot stock all of these models and you are left with very little to choose from. I’ve looked at five different shops in the area (some up to an hour away) and the selection is pitiful. So, as much as I’d like to support my LBS it looks like my saddle will be purchased over the Internet.

    What I won’t do is take their time and expertise helping me decide which of this or that to buy, and then turn around and purchase it on the Internet.

  10. Thanks for the article.

    Last year I was looking to upgrade my road bike and spent hours online reading countless articles and reviews on models that were in my budget and specification range. In the end I was left totally unable to make any choice at all as I was just clogged up with information that I could not be sure was either a) true b) correct or c) not monetarily motivated (which I am sure nothing on your site would ever be!).

    In the end I went down to my closest LBS which I had used for bike servicing in the past who were agents for Giant and Merida and spoke with them about what I was looking for and after about 10 minutes of discussion I felt I had more confidence to make a choice than I did for all my time spent net-surfing.

    I came away ordering a Merida Ride 7000 that has been a pleasure to ride. I think without the guidance given by the guys at Wallington Cycles I may well have still been spending my time reading and re-assessing rather than out and about on a new bike. The price was competitive to most on-line outlets and they gave me a discount to spend in the shop which made them even better value. First service was free as well.

    Lets face it there are so many bike manufacturers out there it is almost impossible to try them all and for that reason if you can find a shop you can trust and stocks a reasonable selection of quality brands it may be the best and possibly nicest way to purchase your next N+1.

    LBS for me. I hope they are always there to help

  11. Interestingly, I did exactly as you mentioned with Ribble. I went to their website and bought the gran fondo with campagnolo gear set as I’ve always had campag. The experience was excellent as was the service.
    Last week I went to my lbs with my daughter and asked for advice on a new bike for her and a bike fit.
    The nice thing about the LBS and webcentric companies is you can do both options!

  12. I would love to support my LBS. But they p1553d me off once too often, and frankly their workmanship on a wheel rebuild was rubbish. So now I travel to Evans in Milton Keynes, use Wiggle, etc., and use the local race bike shop for my minimal needs (do most of it myself).

    Adapt or die. Loyalty cuts both ways, if your LBS offers a great service and treats you as a valued customer, use them. If not….

  13. There are bad bike shops out there and they deserve to die. For example, one of my riding companions is riding a bike that’s too small for her — so small that she can’t comfortably ride in the drops. This bike was sold to her by her boyfriend who works in a “high end” (read “expensive rip-off joint”) bike store, along with four previous bikes which were probably too small for her too. We’ll all be better off when places like that go out of business. Fortunately, I found a store where they actually know what they’re doing, and I buy all my bikes there, usually previous-year models that are heavily discounted. Trek gives 20% off the cost of a new Trek bike if you surrender your crashed frame to them for analysis, and since my reason for needing a new bike is usually that I’ve crashed the old one, that’s what I do. I’m not sure how that would work if I were to try and buy online. I hope that the good stores find a way to stay in business; I suspect that it will be by providing superior service and not trying to compete on prices with the online retailers.

  14. I live in France and like in the UK, an awful lot of LBSs have closed down, despite the strong biking culture. Yes like everybody, I want to support the locals but in return I expect to get someone more connoisseur than me and competitive pricing. I have already done like many a lot of research, done bike comps on certain models/specs appropriate to my needs ( I do a lot of hills, the Pyrenees not far away too). Also another annoying thing here, I do not want to be pushed onto brands they are agent for where the quality of build is inferior – I’m in it for the long haul so a bike that lasts, ie a good long warranty. Another problem, to get a proper bike fit (pompously étude posturale), they are very places properly equipped to do it in France. In the end I bought online for price and quality.

  15. Very interesting article, Monty. I bought my first road bike last summer. I live in a velodrome, although other people call it Surrey, and there are two bike shops near me, one is fairly poor and the other OK, but to be honest it never occurred to me to buy my bike from either of them. Did I buy it online, no because I wanted to try before I bought. I found an outstanding shop in London, a pain to get to as its not particularly close to my work, but well worth it. The 2-3hours I spent trying every bike they had in store (well that what it felt like), is as much fun as you can have in a pair of bib shorts! They didn’t stock all makes ( Treks), but they explained rider position to me, and how people like me (short legs, long back) often find racier bikes more comfortable and then let me try. In the end I bought a Cannondale Super Six Evo (and got a free bike fit) which was a lot cheaper than the Synapse I thought I wanted (after internet research) and it is awesome and I love it. My point is, reading your description of Samways, I’m less surprised they closed down if that is the extent of the service they provided. Similarly for me, the LBS that is OK, gets some of my custom because it’s close, but when I buy my N+1, I’ll head back to Swift Cycles in London, it may not be local, but the customer experience they provide is superb, they all love riding but are totally cool with a relative newbie like me who asks loads of stupid questions. I know I could buy a Canyon cheaper online, but if you end up with the wrong bike, it isn’t really cheaper.

  16. Just found your site and this article. I’ve been thinking about a road bike for a while and was finally able to tour around a group of LBS’ (I’m fortunate in that there are numerous shops around me). The Domane was one of my top choices, but I’m ending up with a Specialized Allez. Which I am picking up today in the shop. Part of my goal was to find a good LBS, and one of the friendliest happened to have the best-fitting bike and offered a great deal allowing me to step up a couple of notches. Win all around.


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