How to Buy a Bike

Congratulations, we’re incredibly excited that you want a bike! While, the number of choices can feel overwhelming, the bike you select should feel comfortable for your body, fit your budget, and make you happy to ride. Of course, it also needs to be mechanically sound, so you can ride it safely.

There is no one perfect bicycle for everyone no one correct method to getting one. These suggestions don’t cover everything and we still encourage you to ask friends and family who ride their opinions.

First, figure out what you want you want to do on your bike

It can be helpful to list out what trips and attributes you want in a bicycle. Bicycles come in a mind-boggling and wide variety of types: electric tricycles for commercial delivery or recreation, bikes for going really fast, touring bikes for long-distance travel, folding bicycles for short trips, and the list goes on. But the standard classic image of a two-wheeled bicycle with flat handlebars and a basket for carrying stuff is also a great option!

Test Rides
A great way is to test ride a bunch of bikes. Borrow a friend’s or family member’s bike. Try a few models that would not typically attract your attention at first glance. It can be helpful to test bikes that might be out of your budget – what does a more expensive bike feel like?

Bicycling Size and Fit

Bikes come in a wide variety of sizes, some with lots of different options and other models with only a few options. For instance many cargo bikes are designed to have long seat posts so that different sized people can ride the bicycle comfortably.

General rule of thumb with bike sizing is that you should be able to ride without pain (being sore is okay), fully extend your legs without locking while pedaling and be able to comfortably hold the handlebars and use the brakes. For bikes with a flat top tube like a traditional road bike, there should be 1-2 inches clearance when standing over the bike. But every person is unique and how your arms, legs and torso will fit a bicycle varies by person. Often “women’s” sizing is a different calculation of body proportions from “men’s” sizing but bodies of all genders come in a variety of proportions so do not assume that a specifically gendered bicycle may or may not fit you.

Be sure to check out our tips for fitting a bike.

Bikes often have a a variety of sizes that is marketed toward “average” folks, which can often make it feel like there are less options for the wide variety of body types we all encompass. However, there are great guides on the internet for height and size considerations when riding a bike. Bikes do have structural weight limits which can be found in the owners’ manual (typically available online).

Just remember, the right bike for your body is out there somewhere.


Bicycles can cost a wide variety of prices from a $0 offer from a friend to a $10,000+ custom biking. But here are typical ranges:

Rental Options

Capital Bikeshare

Your local regional bike public transportation! Capital Bikeshare bikes are available in many places in the region for a one-time or membership model (as many 30 minute rides in your membership timespan). They are a great option for many people that want a sturdy, no-frills 2-wheeled bicycle for short trips. Though it definitely is a one-size-fits-most type model and cannot be comfortably ridden by all heights of adults. 

Dockless bicycles

There are a few dockless private rental companies throughout the region. They can be found through their smartphone apps.

Buying your own bicycle

Buying Used

There are a few different options within the used marke—local used bicycle shops, thrift stores, bicycle-centered social media groups, and online ads (ex: Craigslist).

You’ll need to have a more specific sense of what bicycle you want, including generally what size bicycles fit you, because the options will be more limited. It can be helpful to spend a few weeks looking through options before deciding.

There is a blue book for bicycle valuation though the used bicycle marketplace does widely vary in pricing and the DC region tends towards more expensive. Bicycles are a popular item to steal so be mindful and alert. Stick to popular and commonly-used groups and you should be fine.

Buying New 

There are two different types of places to get a new bicycle—bicycle shops and larger general retailers (ex. REI).

Bicycles are mechanically complicated and specific enough that there are definitely many benefits to buying from a bike-specific business. But everyone’s decisions, budgets, priorities, and access are unique. A shop should make you feel welcomed, answer questions, and support you in finding the bicycle that is right for you. There are a lot of passionate and knowledgeable employees in shops throughout the region, and it is okay to try a few different places to find the bicycle for you. Different shops can specialize in different types of bicycling.