There are questions that we are asked time and time again; why are bike shop bikes so expensive? What is the difference between a bike from Kmart and a Bike Shop? And what about the whole experience of choosing and buying a new bike? Do I have to put the bike together? Urgh!! Before we go through the two options and help you decide, I must first warn you, this is an opinion piece. It comes from over 20 years working in the bicycle industry, building a pure love of all things bicycle and servicing/repairing bikes from all purchase points and price levels. It comes from a place of positivity and enjoying seeing new people enter the world of bike riding! Read on, let’s help you get cycling and into a world of health, fitness and wellbeing.

Buying a new bicycle.

Walking into a department store to buy a bike

Walk into Kmart or Big W or whatever mass department store and navigate all the way to the back of the store to where they hide their small bicycle range. Start looking through the bikes and wait for a staff member to walk past. Grab someone quickly as they walk past trying to avoid eye contact and ask them a few questions like, “what size bike should I ride?”

Quickly, you learn little more than this young guy or girl has little to no idea of what bike suits you best let alone any interest in helping you. You ask if they can build the bike but, after realising the person building the bike has just as little knowledge in bicycles, you opt to grab the bike in a box and attempt assembly yourself.

bike exploded view

Walking into a bike shop to buy a bicycle.

Walking through the doors, you are greeted by a friendly staff member ready and excited to help you find what you’re looking for. Straight away you see a huge range of bikes of all types and sizes. OK, that may be a little overwhelming but with a sales assistant by your side, you’ve easily nailed it down to three models to choose from. You’re learning new things and understanding what the different types of bikes are used for. You’re beginning to feel like a bit of an expert already! Things are going along nicely.

Settling on a bike that seems to fit your purpose, you ask the dreaded question, “do I have to put this together?” With a short giggle, your assistant replies, “Nah, we have you covered! Oh, and all of your servicing for the next year; 100% complimentary!” Boom! That right, when you head into a bicycle shop, it’s almost guaranteed that your bike will come fully assembled, ready to ride and include some form of complimentary servicing. We here at Performance Bicycle, for example, offer complimentary unlimited servicing for the first 12 months.

And the price vs quality?

Department Store Bikes

Prices in a Kmart or alike vary from about $50 up to, what I’ve seen, about $300. To create, ship, market and sell a bike like this, at this sort of price, you better believe that corners have been cut. I’m trying not to sound like a jerk right now when talking about department store bikes but as I scroll through the big store websites, it’s kinda hurtful knowing these are out there. It reminds me when I’ve needed to work on these sorts of bike and doing my best to make them safe. Often, it’s hard to spot the skipped corners; sometimes it’s cheaper gear systems, cheaper bearings, low grade metals or plastics. Let’s say you spend the $50+ to have your department store bike professionally assembled, while that will help ensure everything is going to work to the best of its capability, it may not be enough. The bikes look all nice, flashy and appear to have all the same things as the bike shop bikes but as you move closer, with an understanding of what you’re seeing, it becomes apparent just how cheap and potentially dangerous these bikes can be.

Bike Shop Bikes

For about $200, you’ll get a kids 12″ bicycle at a bike shop. That’s about as cheap as they go but you can spend just about whatever you want to get the top of the line, custom built bike. When speaking to customers who’ve been riding a cheap bike but have just returned from a test ride on one of our bikes, their response is generally words to the effect of, “it just rolls so easily!” Ultimately, it’s a case of, you get what you pay for. Everything is upgraded, brakes pull you up easier and quicker, gears change smoothly and all the nuts and bolts are of higher grade materials. Comfort is a big thing, too. While it will still take a while to get used to sitting on a bicycle seat, overall, the quality of the seat and the position in which you ride is greatly improved. Buying a bike that has been designed with ride comfort in mind is huge and will help make those rail trail miles seem so much more effortless.

In conclusion…

The differences between a bike shop bike and one from the likes of Kmart are huge but where those differences come into play is up to you. If you want a bike that is great to look at, sits well while collecting dust in the shed and doesn’t entice you out to ride, buy a bike from Kmart.

If you’re looking to buy a bike that will be a pleasure to ride, suits your intended purpose, makes getting fit seem like a pleasure not a chore, lasts longer, and comes with free servicing, head down to your local bike shop and have them help you choose the dream bicycle.

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