Think Twice About Buying A Bike On Amazon (& Where Else To Look)

The inventory of most local bike shops pales in comparison to what you see on Amazon. Every common style, from a gazillion brands, often with free shipping to boot.

That’s awfully nice, especially amid a worldwide bike shortage that should linger at least through 2022.

But convenience doesn’t mean quality, and ease of purchase doesn’t mean ease of use.

There are good deals to be had, but far more bad ones.

This article won’t get into specific models, simply because I don’t think Amazon is the best choice for (most) needs. We’ll see why that’s the case, then cover a few other excellent retailers you should know about.

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Here’s whether you should buy bikes on Amazon

You’ll get more help from a bike shop or online retailer, but Amazon does have decent entry-level bikes for casual use. Look elsewhere for racing or aggressive riding, think twice about obscure brands (due to questionable warranty support), and avoid adult bikes under $300-$400.

Additionally, Amazon bikes arrive partially assembled, so budget another $50-$150 for a bike shop to assemble or fine-tune yours.

As with any online shopping, treat third-party recommendations with skepticism, since commissions may sway recommendations.

You can also find a wide range of quality bikes from several online bike retailers, as well as direct-to-consumer brands.

The pros of bike shopping on Amazon

Huge variety

Who doesn’t like a one-stop shop?

If there’s no bike shop within easy reach, then Amazon’s probably the most convenient way to buy a basic, entry-level bicycle.

To be clear, it’s not the only one.

Availability

What do we want? A bike! When do we want it? Now!

Amazon gets things to your doorstep lickety-split.

Reputable brands are available

Scan the Amazon brands list and you’ll notice the lack of industry mainstays like Specialized and Giant.

Still, you’re bound to recognize a few.

Schwinn, Diamondback, Mongoose, and Raleigh are classic labels—although totally different companies from their glory days.

State Bicycle and to a lesser extent Solé are both well-known direct-to-consumer brands that sell a limited selection on Amazon alongside their own sites.

Stick to known entities like these if you’re buying on Amazon.

We all know a recognizable brand doesn’t mean quality, but it’s a way to hedge your bets when buying sight-unseen.

Common pitfalls of Amazon bikes

Test-riding is off the table

There will never be a substitute for riding a bike before you buy it. Component and geometry knowledge help, but they don’t capture the entire experience—especially if you don’t have years of experience on hundreds of bikes to compare to!

In fact, that’s the irony of buying bikes online: it’s most suitable for experienced cyclists, yet most appealing to newer ones.

You’re on your own for sizing

Almost every bike brand gives sizing guidelines—even on Amazon—but they’re no substitute for sitting on the saddle.

What’s more, full geometry charts aren’t easily available. That’s a potential issue for road bikes in particular, since their aggressive posture requires a more precise fit than do most other styles.

(Check out this geometry guide to learn which measurements matter, and why.)

Some assembly required

Amazon bikes will reach you the same way they’d reach a dealer: partially assembled.

It can be difficult if you’ve never worked on a bike. Nothing you can’t handle with YouTube and some metric Allen wrenches, but still frustrating at times.

Some manufacturers provide model-specific videos, but here’s a generic example of what to expect:

Ideally, take the box to a bike shop for professional assembly. Not only will they make quick work of it, but they’ll be able to spot any subtle flaws or potential warranty issues before you find them the hard way.

Or, if you’re set on DIY assembly, then have a shop fine-tune your work. That should save a few bucks while still getting a professional eye on wheel trueing, headset tightening, and other important nuances.

Budget roughly $50-$150 depending on how much work they need to do.

Higher-end & specialty bikes are uncommon

It’s rare to find anything above entry-level bicycles on Amazon. They’re just right for cruising around or a low-key commute, but won’t stand up to racing or aggressive/freestyle/extreme riding.

(BMX bikes may be an exception. To the best of my limited BMX knowledge, some Stolen models and perhaps certain Mongoose models are usable, if not fancy.)

Diamondback (here is their shop page) is your best bet. However, large bike shops and nearly all bike brands sell online these days, so it doesn’t make sense to limit yourself to Amazon for mid-range or better bikes.

Untested support & warranties (sometimes)

Just because a warranty exists doesn’t mean the brand will still exist when you need it.

Is Raleigh or Schwinn going anywhere?

Doubtful. Both have changed hands behind the scenes many times, but one imagines somebody still picks up the phone.

But “TOUNTLETS” or “Happybuy”?

Your guess is as good as mine.

The easy solution is to skip obscure brands that don’t even seem to exist off of Amazon. But the even better solution is simply to buy from an actual shop, who’ll usually include at least a free tune-up or two.

Surprises in the box

It’s common to read reviews mentioning damaged or incorrect parts. Some are trivial but disappointing, like inexplicable scratches or the wrong derailleur model. Others are more consequential, like bent brake rotors, stripped bolts, or missing accessories.

The return policy should make these easy to take care of. Still, they’re disappointing, irritating, and probably more common than they ought to be.

3 red flags to avoid

It’s dirt cheap…with suspension & disc brakes

No bicycle with suspension and/or disc brakes under about $400 is worth it. It’s barely possible to buy a bare-bones city or hybrid for that price, even from direct-to-consumer brands.

So, when you see flashy-looking “mountain bikes” (yes, those are scare quotes) equipped with ostensibly high-performance parts for the low, low price of $329…close the tab.

That’s about the retail price of a decent entry-level suspension fork on its own, so you can imagine what compromises it takes to deliver an entire bike for this price.

It has wheels that look like these

Equally worrisome is the presence of tri-spoke aero wheels, as shown below.

Done right, they’re possibly faster in triathlons and time trials.

Done, well, like they’d be done at this price point…they’re heavy, almost certainly lopsided, and probably an accident waiting to happen.

It came from a “best of” list that’s solely from Amazon

Most worthwhile bikes just aren’t available on Amazon.

There are some gems, but a lot more duds.

So, if you’ve searched for “best ___ bike for ___” and landed on articles where every single recommendation is an Amazon listing, you’d be right to suspect something’s off.

The odds of finding all the best fill-in-the-blank bikes on Amazon are similar to the odds of finding all the best value red wines at 7-Eleven.

Perhaps a couple good options if you know what you’re looking for, but that’s it.

What’s going on there?

Amazon offers affiliate sales commissions.

So does practically every online retailer and bicycle brand—often more generously, to boot.

And that’s just fine. It’s a reasonable incentive for providing helpful information. This very site refers to Amazon and others when appropriate, hence the big fat “I’m an affiliate” disclosure up top. (You know, FTC rules, plus being a decent human being…)

However, as a one-stop shop with thousands of bicycles of indeterminate quality, there’s an incentive to run through Amazon’s top sellers, slap the label “best” on them, and call it a day.

I’m not here to knock anyone’s hustle, as long as they’re forthright. And some bikes on Amazon may actually belong on whatever lists you’ve found.

But if you’re struck by the coincidence of finding literally all the “best” models in one implausible place, then consider what incentives may have led to that coincidence.

3 better alternatives to buying bikes from Amazon

There’s nothing unique or distinctive about any bikes on Amazon, so convenience is the main draw. But if it’s convenience you’re after, here are a few other options you should be aware of before pulling the trigger.

(By the way, none of the following are affiliate links. Whether you buy from these folks, from others, or nobody at all…it’s all the same on my end.)

Bikes Direct (link)

Bikes Direct is the grandaddy of direct-to-consumer bikes.

They have more than fair prices on a huge ranges of bikes, including more high-end options than Amazon.

You’re still on the hook for assembly, and it’s still worth having a shop double-check, but the low prices and high variety are hard to argue with.

Frankly, their marketing is a bit tacky. That’s partly a matter of taste, but it does bring up two things to know.

Brands aren’t quite what they sound like

Don’t get too excited by familiar names like Motobecane at Bikes Direct. They’re completely unrelated to their prestigious vintage counterparts.

Rather, they’re trademarks that have been bought and sold over the years.

It’s nothing bad at all. Just realize that you’re most certainly not finding the deal of a lifetime on some cycling legacy.

(It’s the same situation as current-day Raleighs or Schwinns on Amazon, for that matter.)

Ignore “compare at” prices

They’re notorious for showing, shall we say, optimistic “compare at” prices.

It’s a similar tactic to Macy’s stores, for instance, with perpetual 50%-off sales that render the retail price moot.

In truth, there are absolutely, categorically, 100% of the time, never $1200 bikes sold for $450 (or whatever the case may be).

Does that $450 Bikes Direct model compare to a $500 or even $550 bike at your local shop? Yes, odds are it does. But beyond that is a stretch.

If it seems too good to be true…

Newer direct-to-consumer brands

Bikes Direct owns the too-busy-saving-you-money-to-update-our-website ethos, but several newer brands have put together a slicker and more focused product line.

Not necessarily better, but equally good deals.

For practical bikes in the entry- to mid-level, I would start with:

That’s not exhaustive, but they’re all solid choices that I’ve enjoyed after ownership or extended test-rides.

Shop online from major brands

Huge retailers like Performance Bike and Jenson USA have sold online for as long as I can remember. (Which is getting to be rather a long time…)

And while they’ve always carried several recognizable brands, a few were in-store only. Getting a Trek or Specialized, for example, might have required a trip to the store.

But more recently, some of those in-store-only brands launched their own direct-to-consumer sales models. For a small fee or none at all, most will deliver it to a local dealer for professional assembly.

(Most won’t send it straight to your door, in this case. Professional assembly does raise the price a bit, but it ensures you get something perfect, and they’re not potentially liable for assembly issues. Besides, you’d need to budget for a tune-up anyway!)

Wrap-up: when (not) to buy Amazon bikes

You normally can’t beat Amazon for convenience, but bicycles are just too far outside its wheelhouse.

A few perfectly fine models exist, but they’re usually from common brands (like Raleigh or Diamondback) that are easily available elsewhere, too.

But there are more good alternatives than ever before.

From online bike retailers to direct-to-consumer labels to mega-brands, it’s easy to choose from thousands of bikes across every type and price point.

And if you’re still exploring what types and price ranges are out there, then these guides may come in handy: