"So where is a good place to buy a bike?... but I don't want to break the bank."
"I want to start riding, what type of bike should I get?"
"Should I buy a used bike or new bike?"
Everyone asks these questions, and many more, before the first bike purchase. So here are some simple pieces of advice to take into account before you make that first big purchase.
A. Road Bikes - Road bikes are the designed to be the fast with skinny of tires and strictly used on paved roads. These types of bikes are what you would see the riders in the Tour de France using. While you may not have aspirations of racing in the classics overseas, you would definitely love to begin biking longer distances; perhaps with your friends. If you ever would consider the possibility of road racing you should get a road bike.
B. Cross Bikes - You want to ride on the road, perhaps even some group rides, but you want the freedom to take your bike on some gravel and dirt roads. You don't want to hit the local mountain trails filled with rocks but a nice smooth single track path through the country side would be great. Cross-bikes offer a nice mixture between the road and dirt. They are not meant for very bumpy terrain, but they can handle smooth dirt, mud and grass no problem. Also, the bike could be outfitted with the right wheels to go on your local group rides and keep up. In most cases, for a rider who is unsure of whether they want to ride strictly paved roads or have the freedom to ride dirt, I would recommend a cross bike.
C. Mountain Bikes - You want to go off-road and hit the trails. You wouldn't mind running over curbs, logs, rocks or whatever comes in your way.
D. Time Trial (Tri) Bikes - These bikes fit a very specific classification of riders. You are either a) strictly going to be a triathlete or b) experienced racer who wants to attempt to win a stage race. These bikes often are NOT allowed on group rides given their aggressive nature and design. You should not buy this bike unless you are certain you know you have no interest in group riding or you already have a road bike and you want a second faster bike.
E. Hybrid Bikes - You want to enjoy the ride with some style and comfort. You don't care how fast you get from point A to B but you want to be comfortable, have a reliable bike and maybe even some style along with it. You might even be considering commuting to work as it is within 5 miles from where you live.
Once you have decided where and how you want to ride, you can begin determining how you are going to get your dream bike.
Another option is to buy your parts one by one. If you go this route make sure you have the tools and knowledge to properly assemble a bike. If you have a good friend who is experienced in this area it is a great opportunity for learning but it is also the most time consuming. It can be the cheapest of all options, especially if you get lightly used parts at a discount. DO NOT go to your local shop with an assortment of parts you purchased and ask them to build your bike. They may not even be willing to do so. Even if they are, it is an unwritten rule to do so. They will not talk kindly of you when you leave that day.
If you buy new, go to your local bike shop. These guys know what they are talking about. All of my personal bicycles were purchased from shops and NOT online. They will take the time to answer all of your questions, make sure you have the right size and should anything go wrong with your bike they are there to help. Also if you need some additional accessories they will almost always give you a discount on them. Buying a prior year model is always a great cost savings option as these bikes are usually discounted anywhere between 10-30%.
Long story short:
1. Decide what type of bike you want.
2. Used - Will be cheaper but might run into issues if you don't know what you're doing.
3. New - A little more expensive but you will be happy with your purchase. Buy last years model if you want a discount.
4. The fancier, the more expensive it gets. Start with a solid frame.