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5 Mistakes beginners make when buying a bike ... and how to avoid them

By Spencer Powlison

Published

We’ve all been there, stuck riding a bike that isn’t quite right. Maybe it was a deal too good to pass up or a model we’ve always drooled over or an outrageous paint scheme. We couldn’t resist, and unfortunately, that “dream” bike turned out to be the wrong size, not optimal for everyday riding, or just kind of… weird.

If you’re new to cycling, you might not have made one of these mistakes yet. But here at The Pro's Closet, we all have. It’s normal because cycling is a sport of passion. Sometimes our emotions overwhelm cool rationality.

So, to help you avoid a few pitfalls that we’ve encountered, here are five mistakes that many beginner cyclists make when buying a bike. Avoid them and get the bike that is right for you! … Or maybe don’t, and at least you’ll have a good story to tell and the experience to mentor another rider, somewhere down the road.

Did I buy the right bike??

1. Buying a bike for today … not a year from today

It’s hard to predict where the sport of cycling will take you. Over the many years that I’ve been riding bikes I’ve gone from being a serious XC mountain bike racer to a cyclocross fanatic to a gravel racer to an unexpected Zwift addict. The point is, your abilities will develop and your interests will evolve. Try to anticipate this. If you’re planning to ride with friends, the bikes they have will be a good starting point for what you might want to get. For instance, although you might be attracted to a particular road bike, your friends might all have gravel bikes. It stands to reason that if you too are on a gravel bike, it’ll be easier for you to join them on their adventures.

2. Buying a bike … not everything you need to bike

You’re probably starting with a budget for your first bike, right? Well, take that dollar-amount you’ve got in your new bike fund, and deduct about $500. It’s tempting to stretch your budget for the best bike possible, but really, you should compromise on the bike, and spend that extra money on high-quality accessories and apparel. The right shoes, bib shorts, sunglasses, and helmet will make a far bigger difference than marginally better components or wheels. Comfortable soft goods that fit well will empower you to ride more and ride longer.

Seven essentials for road cycling >>
Ten essentials for mountain biking >>

3. Buying a bike that isn’t your size

We have a general sizing chart that can help you get in the ballpark to find a bike that fits. Sizing is roughly based off of rider height, but some people have disproportionately longer or shorter arms and/or legs. Unfortunately, we cannot cover every nuance of bike sizing in this short article. So, here are a few simple “dos and don’ts” to consider if you think a bike might be your size, but you aren’t confident it is.

Do ...
Use our sizing chart for a general idea of what would fit you
Consult the bike manufacturer’s website for further fit guidance — sometimes they offer sizing calculators or suggested rider heights
Borrow a bike from a similarly-sized and ride it to get a point of reference  
Ask our Ride Guides if you're unsure about your size

Don’t ... 
Assume you can make a bike fit correctly with an extremely short or long stem
Risk having the seatpost too high or low in the frame to fit the wrong frame
Assume one bike company's size system matches another's, especially with mountain bikes.

Road bike sizing guide
Measured frame size
Frame size
Min rider height
  Max rider height 
<48cm
XS
4' 11"
5' 2"
50cm
Small
5' 2"
5' 5"
52cm
Small/Med
5' 5"
5' 7"
54cm
Medium
5' 7"
5' 10"
56cm
Large
5' 10"
6' 1"
58cm
Large/XL
6' 1"
6' 3"
>60cm
XL
6' 3"
6' 5"

Mountain bike sizing guide       
Measured frame size
Frame size
Min rider height
Max rider height 
13"
XS
4' 10"
5' 2"
15"
Small
5' 2"
5' 6"
17"
Medium
5' 6"
5' 10"
19"
Large
5' 10"
6' 2"
21"
XL
6' 2"
6' 5"

4. Buying a bike based on the rear derailleur

This is a classic bike industry trick: Put a nice rear derailleur on a bike and then skimp on the other components. A mountain bike with a Shimano XT rear derailleur won’t always have XT shifters, cranks, and brakes. Now, it’s not necessarily bad to have an XT derailleur paired with SLX shifters and brakes, for instance. Just don’t assume it’s a full XT build. Take some time to look through the specifications to know exactly what you’re getting. It may be the difference between a bike you’ll love for years and a bike that you’ll outgrow quickly and want to upgrade. Every Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) bike we sell has a complete listing of components — nothing to hide!

5. Buying a brand-new bike

Okay, since The Pro’s Closet is the world’s largest and most trusted destination for Certified Pre-Owned bikes, this tip might have you rolling your eyes, but hear me out! If you’re new to cycling, your budget is probably limited. You might not be sure if you’ll stick with the sport forever. And chances are, you might not notice the difference between a 2021 bike and a 2019 model. (Honestly, sometimes experienced riders can’t tell!) So, when you buy a used bike, you avoid taking a bath on depreciation. You don’t have to stress about scratching shiny, brand-new paint when you drop it (and you will!). And finally, if you buy a CPO bike from the Pro’s Closet, you can take advantage of our Guaranteed Buyback program to upgrade to something different or sell it back to unlock your bike’s value, when the time comes.

Shop used bikes

What was your first bike? Did you get it right, or did you make a few mistakes when you caught the bug for riding? Let us know in the comments!


9 comments


  • I’m 4’ 11" petite female, looking for a XS Gravel bike. :) Its not easy to find, if someone is upgrading? :)

    Brenda Morris on

  • I am right between Med/Large – about 5’10". My inclination is to go Med for a smaller frame for more control/agility. Is my thinking off?

    Michael on

  • Was given my first mountain bike – GT Tequesta 20". It always felt just a little big or stretched out. Rode it for a couple of years bought a used GT Karakoram 18". This was a little to small. I had to crank my neck up so much to ride it I got a neck ache. Next I bought a K2 ZED 4.0 Way Big (XL??). This lasted me quite a few years before I bought a Specialized Stumpjumper 29er Comp 19". This was a great bike. I still have it and swap it out between my Specialized Epic and my Scott Big Ed Fat bike, which I got from The Pro’s Closet. These last three bikes have been a pleasure to ride.

    Joe L on

  • Add buying a bike based on Bicycle magazine tests or reviews. They always get rated far better than they really are. Should ride it a 100 miles before handing over $.

    Kerry OConnell on

  • After purchasing my first bike I learned I have a non-average body (long torso, short legs). So I have small amount of seat post showing but this works when keeping the stem lower.

    The bike was a CX bike though…which is a great way to go. I’ve ridden it on road, gravel, CX and for commuting. I eventually converted it to 1x and raced from CAT5-CAT2 on it. I still have it after 8 years…although since buying it I’ve purchased quite a few others bikes! I’ve also made a family and proliferated bikes amongst them as well!

    Travis Power on

  • I was trying to decide whether to take up snowboarding or mountain biking and had just received a really cool 4-page brochure from this brand new company called “Burton Snowboards”.
    I finally realized that I could ride much more often and without having to drive anywhere so I bought a brand new mountain bike from Reseda Cyclery, a Specialized Stumpjumper! It cost an incredible $800.00!!!
    By the way, this was 1982 and I still have this, my first mountain bike, though I’ve gone through about two dozen or more in the last 38 years!

    Arin Resnicke on

  • Bought it new in 1977. It was just a little large but only slightly so.

    Mercian “King of Mercia”
    Full Reynolds 531 double butted steel tubing w/full wraparound one piece seat stays.
    Custom lugs.
    Campy Record/Mavic wheels
    Cinelli bars/stem
    Campy Super Record headset/seatpost
    Campy Record 52-42 crankset/BB/front/rear derailleurs, downtube levers, 2 × 5
    Regina Oro freewheel (14-26t), chain
    Dura Ace brakes
    Avocet II saddle
    KKT Pro-Ace pedals

    Allen Saul on

  • Made the same mistake on a Parlee Z5i. It was a screamin’ deal but i rode with basically a 3ft long seatpost. Made it work for 3 years before going custom…

    Jack London on

  • I made the mistake of buying a bike that was too long for me. Really wanted a Santa Cruz super light and found one with a great build. Deep down I knew it was not the right size but I bought it anyway and suffered thereafter from being too stretched out. Never made that mistake again.

    Becky Koski on


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