After three tries, I think I finally got it right with the bike that I want and need. Thus, I am eminently qualified to offer this sage wisdom:
– Match the bike to the type of riding that you do, or expect to do. By that, I mean road/race riding, touring, townie/grocery, trail, mountain, etc… There is no such thing as a “do-everything” bike, even though we like to debate about it and imagine how we’d build one up. If it can do well with one type of riding, than you’ve compromised it’s abilities with another type of riding.
– Do a lot of research and work to have a clear idea on the type of bike you need for the type of riding that you do. This should be a no-brainer, but one of my mistakes was thinking that a trail bike with slicks could be a road bike….nope. A lot more goes into designing a bike than just the frame size. Certain configurations, geometries, and features work better for certain types of riding.
– Give yourself options. Don’t limit yourself to any one particular make or model, because there are usually several that will fit the bill. I set my sites on an LHT early on, but I was ready to go after a Soma, used Riv, or an older Trek if things would not have worked out.
– Spend time talking to the LBS guys. Choose a shop that understands what you want, not just what they have on the floor at the moment. Certain shops seem to attract certain types of riders, and they may not understand the type of riding that you do. I can recall walking into a shop and mentioning cyclocross, and they just looked at each other. I was also surprised at how many shops really don’t know much about touring bikes.
-Corollary 1 : Once you choose an LBS that you are comfortable with, listen to their advice. Not only do they know about bikes; they know about the industry and things like suppliers, service, and time frames.
– Corollary 2: Give them the “power of attorney” to make some decisions on your behalf. If you order a part and it’s not available, they should be able to choose a comparable part for you. Otherwise be prepared for a lot of delays.
– Explore options for the build. Ask about take off parts, used parts that are laying around, used parts that they know about, etc… Discuss what work, if any, you plan to do yourself.
– Be prepared for delays. Even the best laid plans…. The LBS guys can’t control the suppliers. The suppliers can’t control the manufacturers. But if you have options, then you can work around delays.
– Be nice. No one is going to go out of their way for you if you are an impatient, impertinent cad. Show your appreciation, be understanding when life gets in the way, and let your excitement about the new bike be contagious. If they do a good job, let everyone know it and continue to give them your business.