How to Buy a Bike

What if I get a flat?

Just pop off your wheel, then lever your tire from the wheel, figure out what caused the flat, remove any debris from the tire, put a new tube inside the wheel, pop the tire back on and inflate it. It’s as easy as that, which is to say … not very easy at all! Unless you’ve practiced.

For years, the best way to learn how to fix bike, aside from working in a shop or hours of trial and error, was reading — classics like Zinn & the Art of Road Bike Maintenance, or the Big Blue Book of Bike Repair. Now, the best place to learn how to perform basic maintenance tasks is YouTube. Park Tool, whose mechanics wrote the Big Blue Book, has a comprehensive and accessible YouTube channel for most common maintenance issues, which always teach you enough and usually teach you a bit too much. Here’s the one on changing tires.

Where do I keep my bike?

Bike storage is a common post-purchase complaint. Bikes are huge — they don’t fit as closely against a wall as you might imagine and they’re longer than you think. If you’re in an apartment, your bike will be decorative. Plan this out before you commit to buying anything. The Wirecutter has a good roundup of bike storage solutions, of which there are plenty, but as you’re considering your options, know that there are affordable ways to hang your bike in lots of different ways: from the ceiling; flat against a wall; hanging out from the wall; propped against the wall, stacked two high. Don’t forget your stairs. Most bikes are pretty heavy. While lightweight road bikes come in under 20 pounds, most casual bikes will weigh 30 or more. Many e-bikes exceed 40 or even 50 pounds. A twice daily three-flight journey with any bike gets old fast (trust me).

Can I keep it outside? I live in an apartment.

The risk of theft depends on where you live and what kind of bike you’re leaving outside, as well as what kind of lock you buy. (There is no such think as a theft-proof lock, but some are certainly better than others.) Plenty of people leave affordable bikes out in New York City, for example, because the risk is worth the convenience and cost. More than theft, usually, the issue with storing a bike outside is that it will age it fast. Parts will corrode, lubricant will wash off, bearings and cables will degrade faster than usual. Your maintenance schedule will be doubled at least. Depending on your living situation, though, this could be as much a case for a very cheap used bike as it is for keeping your bike inside.

OK, well, whatever I ride, I need a helmet, right?

Short answer: You should probably buy a helmet. Specifically a new helmet that fits snugly. If you live somewhere hot, make sure it has good ventilation. All new helmets pass basic safety testing so don’t spend more than you want to. After a crash, or even dropping your helmet from a height, get a new one. Think of them as single-use.

Long answer: It’s actually sort of complicated! I wear a helmet on every ride. They are an additional barrier between the asphalt and your brain. There are good arguments, however, against making wearing a helmet at the center of bike safety discussions, as helmet and visibility laws shift responsibility from drivers to the people they’re injuring and killing. (Universal helmet usage, the thinking goes, is no substitute for safe cycling infrastructure.) This piece from Bicycling gets into the arguments, and the data.

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