TCI Friday

Patrick and I were talking on yesterday’s Paceline about buying a bike for a kid. I’m in the process of getting my 16-year-old, who has outgrown his current bike, a new set of wheels. Patrick was intrigued that I was far enough along in the process to be ready to buy, but hadn’t yet mentioned it to my son.

Here’s the thing.

I sold bikes for a bunch of years, and what I found more often than not is that most people don’t know which bike is going to be best for them. What’s that you say? Wasn’t it my job as a bike salesperson to help them with that process? Why yes. It was. And yet, by and large they didn’t recognize that. Sure. Some listened to my advice. But many just plowed forward with whatever skewed idea they had to begin with, because people don’t like to submit to someone else’s expertise. It requires the humility to accept that someone else knows more than they do, and in my experience, it doesn’t matter how little someone knows about a thing. They think they know.

If you suspect I’m talking about men more than I’m talking about women, I’m not going to disabuse you of that notion.

After a while, you stop worrying so much about convincing someone to go with your ideas. You say what’s to say. Actually. Strike that. You ask questions and solicit real answers, and then you say what’s to say. You might say something like, “Well, if you’ve never ridden off-road before, I might not start with the long-travel, full-suspension mountain bike.” After that, you’ve said your piece.

I admit it is somewhat amazing how many of my friends, people who know what I do and how long I’ve done it, will solicit my input and then wholly ignore it. But what can you do? It’s their money.

The situation with my son is different. In this case, it’s my money, and he can choose his new bike, but I’m not investing in a pipe dream or some hair-brained idea he has about what he’d look best on. With someone I am selling a bike, the single most important question I ask is, “How do you see yourself using this bike?” There are other questions, but that’s the key one. With my son, I know how he’ll use it. It’s a question of whether he wants to move from flat bars to drops, and what size tires will give him the best versatility. He’ll have ideas. Everyone does.

This week’s TCIF asks, what do you think the important questions are when you’re advising someone on a new bike purchase? Is there one more important than my go-to above? Have you ever had someone you advised come back and thank you for your advice later? Conversely, has anyone apologized to you for not taking it, recognizing eventually that you had been right. I know. I know. But it happened to me once.

Join the conversation
  1. khal spencer says

    I think your question is the best one, and you can use that to draw out other information:

    1. khal spencer says

      And somehow, it kicked me out. Secondary questions:

      -are you confident making a decision without my input?
      -are you comfortable on a bicycle or do you have any injuries that could compromise riding (lower back, shoulder, etc) to consider?
      -how much have you ridden before?
      -what kind of surfaces are you planning on riding (street, easy trails, rocky/primitive trails, don’t know?)
      -if you are a newbie, do you want to keep the price low?
      -do you already have a bike?

  2. Dad Cat says

    “How do you see yourself using this bike?” That is truly the most important question, followed by Khal’s question: “are you comfortable on a bicycle?”
    My son wanted a bike and I was excited to set him up with one of mine. And I was almost ready to hand over a perfectly nice Surly Crosscheck and then realized: he’s not that comfortable on a bike, and he’s going to be using it to ride with his kids slowly around the lake. Umm, not so much the best choice for that. He ended up with my mangy old commuter hybrid bike that I dug out of storage and fixed up. I told him that when he was ready for faster solo rides later he was welcome to the Surly.

  3. scottg says

    When I bought my first adult bike (complete Trek 520 tourer), I hadn’t ridden in 20 years.
    By the end of the first year riding many parts had been changed.
    Then I took my first tour on the bike, I liked touring, the bike was sold and I bought a frame and equipped it for
    my now informed preferences. New riders should be made familiar with the idea changing out parts and maybe
    whole bikes to get something that fits and is fit for their purposes. You don’t change out 30% of your new cars parts,
    so it is quite a surprise when you find yourself doing that for a bicycle.

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