Advice on ordering single-speed bike online
May 21, 2014 10:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking into ordering a single-speed bike online (freewheel, not fixie). I'm a little hesitant to order something that I'll be using every day sight unseen. Anyone have any experience with Pure Fix, Retrospec, Republic, Solé or State Bicycles? Or Motobecane or Dawes single-speeds from What should I be aware of in general, ordering a bike online?
posted by gottabefunky to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Make sure you're getting the right size. You may wish to try a fit calculator to give you a good idea what to pay attention to, and be sure to look at the bikes' geometry, don't just go by their "this bike will totally fit you if you're between 5' and 6' tall!" stuff. If you've currently got a bike that you like, measure it. Standover height is frequently not as important as effective top tube length (reach). Especially if you're female-bodied, if you've got a short enough reach, the standover height'll take care of itself.

Some of those mail-order brands may be available in local shops for similar prices to buying them online (I think State and Pure Fix in particular sell that way), so try them out if possible. And hell, try out any other bike you want, too. The best way to find out what sort of bike feels best to you is to ride as many as you can get your hands on.

My bike is a Bikes Direct bike I got brand new, stupidly cheap off Cragislist, because the guy hadn't ordered the right size. Fits me great, though, and I've been very happy with it (though I'm slowly replacing parts as I go.)

Also, be prepared to pay for an inspection and tune-up once you get it if you're not comfortable doing that much work on it yourself -- everything shifts a bit in transit.
posted by asperity at 10:38 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding going to an actual shop if you have the time. If you really are in Portland, I can't imagine you'd need to go very far to find a shop that would carry the brands you're looking into. Pure Fix, for example, has a few dealers in that area. They might even price match!

And, also seconding that you'll probably need to pay for a tune up unless you're handy at fixing bikes yourself. Wheels will most likely need to get retrued within a few months or immediately. Factor that into any price savings from buying online as most reputable bike shops I've heard of will throw in that one-month check up for free.

(Take this all with a grain of salt though, I love my local bike shop and am horrified at the thought of not giving them any of the money I spend on bikes.)
posted by beep-bop-robot at 10:53 AM on May 21, 2014

+1 to checking fit.

Make sure that the gear ratio that comes on the bike is appropriate for your riding conditions. Most of these online sellers will be standardized with gearing for flat riding.

Check out how pre-assembled the bike will arrive. Be prepared to take it in to your local bike shop if you're not comfortable doing the final bits of assembly yourself (and you may need a pedal wrench since pedals are the least likely accessory to ship pre-installed). The shop's fee for this may or may not negate any savings you get by buying online.

Really, truly check in with your local bike shop(s). If you test ride a bike there and you like it, buy it there. It'll be more likely to be ready to ride immediately and will often come with a free tune-up and/or other incentives. If you don't like how you are treated at your LBS (this is a pretty common complaint I hear from people outside the bike industry) please let them know and then look for another shop. Bikes are awesome and you should have an awesome experience starting with the person who sells you your bike.
posted by komlord at 10:53 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

We get,etc bikes in all the time. We charge $125 for professional assembly.

Things we look for:
  • spokes at proper tension (they never are)
  • wheels true (after bringing spokes to proper tension)
  • hubs adjusted (almost always tight)
  • bottom bracket has LocTite (usually dry or just shop grease)
  • cranks installed with proper torque (gotta remove cranks to remove bottom bracket)
  • chainring bolts at proper torque
  • pedals installed with grease (will probably come without pedals or just one pedal installed, so buy some grease and a pedal wrench)
  • freewheel threaded on tightly (usually not an issue, sometimes they're loose)
  • rear wheel installed, chain tensioned, tire brought to pressure, rear brake adjusted (pads almost always need to be aligned to rim and caliper centered)
  • front wheel installed, brought to proper pressure, front brake adjusted
  • cables/housing free of kinks. cables properly capped (usually not a problem)
  • headset properly adjusted (almost always tight)
  • bars properly installed, stem bolts greased, brought to proper torque (typically ships with bars off stem, so gotta do this anyway, again, grease is your friend)
  • brake levers at proper angle (we set up at 45 degrees, it's a personal preference)
  • seat tube honed, lightly greased
  • seat post inserted, clamp brought to proper torque (which will be changed anyway when the customer picks up the bike)
  • saddle clamp tight (usually not a problem)
  • reflectors properly installed (CPSC law, or at least that's what we tell everyone, liability thing)
  • test ride (whoooo!)
  • check hubs, cranks/bottom bracket, headset again to see if they loosened during test ride, check wheel trueness, adjust as needed

    I think that's everything off the top of my head.

    What should you be aware of? They're all basically the same sub-$500 bike. Most people buy them because they want a green frame with a white chain and yellow rims or whatever. They'll have slightly different ride qualities but you'll not be able to tell anything about that because you can't test ride them before you buy.

  • posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:21 AM on May 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

    i have ordered two bikes from bikes direct - the motobecane messenger and the windsor clockwork. the one thing i dislike (in addition to what spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints posted above) is that the handlebars are very wide, so i just tossed them and replaced them with my own. also the freewheel that came on the windsor clockwork crapped out after only a couple months, so i flipped the wheel to the fixed side for a while until i got a better one. the guy at the shop said that a lot of parts that come on bikesdirect are complete garbage. (i assume a lot of what i'm getting from there is very bottom tier but i tend to ride my everyday bikes into the ground so i'm not looking for top quality there). he also helped me make sure everything was tight, greased, and ready for riding - most of the stuff on the list above that i couldn't easily do myself.

    when i bought my bike online i was very picky about the size of the top tube - since my legs are longer and my torso/arms are shorter, reach is important for me. i got the measurement of the top tube on a bike that i have ridden for years and know to be a good fit for me, and used that as a baseline when looking online. i also had to switch out my stem for a shorter one than what came with the bike to make the reach even better. you'll have to deal with little tweaks like this when the bike comes - you just don't know until you get it and ride it around.
    posted by cristinacristinacristina at 11:36 AM on May 21, 2014

    So spikelee-, are those things on the list not as much of a concern with the other brands like Pure Fix and Restrospec? They are a little more expensive. (About $125, actually...)
    posted by gottabefunky at 12:00 PM on May 21, 2014

    I would say those things on the list are an issue with every single bike that comes out of a box, whether it's a $299 bike delivered to your door or a $6000 bike delivered to a shop.
    posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:08 PM on May 21, 2014

    I bought a State Bicycle which I enjoy and has given me very few problems. I have to agree completely with this:

    "They're all basically the same sub-$500 bike. Most people buy them because they want a green frame with a white chain and yellow rims or whatever."

    I went with State only because they had a 62 cm frame in a style (read: color) that I liked, and other stores didn't.
    posted by komara at 12:08 PM on May 21, 2014

    I'm a little hesitant to order something that I'll be using every day sight unseen.

    And this is exactly why you should buy one at one of Portland's amazing bike shops! Bike geometry can be weird, and if you're going to be using it everyday, fit is everything. A bike that doesn't fit right is miserable.

    If the price difference is your main concern, you'll probably make that up in free labor and advice if you purchase the bike at a shop. I've had shops swap out handlebars, stems, and pedals for free to get a bike to fit just right…but only because I bought the bike there. My wife has had free tire-changes (that happened right in front of said bike shop), discounted parts, and her wheels trued for free.

    To echo the above suggestions, you really should take it to a shop anyway if you get a bike shipped to you, so any cost savings might end up being a wash.
    posted by furnace.heart at 12:09 PM on May 21, 2014

    Oh I should add that we tend to charge a little less for single speeds, like ~$100, since you don't have to adjust the FD/RD.
    posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:18 PM on May 21, 2014

    The shop I work at on weekends carries both State and PureFix and we get a good enough dealer price that we match the online price. I don't know if that's part of the dealer agreement.

    All told, the State Bikes come with a slightly nicer freewheel and are just a little nicer in fit and finish.

    spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints came through, as always, with perspective in what happens when you have a real bike mechanic build your bike. I've only dealt with one bike company that sent us bikes that were anywhere near our standards out of the box.
    posted by advicepig at 12:31 PM on May 21, 2014

    Regarding BikesDirect: I ordered a mid-range road bike as it was a brand and a component level I wanted at a price that was very competitive coupled with free shipping. The process was seamless and the bike came well-packed with everything needed, but one of the reasons I was cool ordering a bike I'd never ridden is that I'm comfortable looking at a geometry chart and figuring out my size, and I enjoy (and have plenty of tools for) working on bikes (basically I do everything but build my own wheels) and did most of what spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints describes to my new bike in my garage.

    TL:DR - Order from BikesDirect with confidence in what you're getting, but if you have concerns over fit and/or don't wrench yourself, you will most likely be better off going to a shop in your neighborhood.
    posted by jalexei at 7:38 PM on May 21, 2014

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