Where (and How) to Buy a Bike
Need a new ride? These bike shops in Arlington and Falls Church can hook you up. But first, a few key questions.
April 2020. We all remember that time. Now the lockdowns have ended, you’ve been in your house so long, maybe you’ve been eating too much take out, the flowers are blooming and you think, I should go outside for a bike ride! I’ve got my old bike in the garage, I’ll just pump up those tires . . . Hmm, are those spider webs? And are chains supposed to be a rust color? Wow, those tires are not just flat, they are cracked. Hey, maybe I should get a new bike.
If you’re in the market for a new set of wheels, you’re not alone. After years of slow but steady growth, the cycling industry saw a massive uptick during Covid. According to a World Economic Forum report, Americans—likely feeling cooped up by pandemic restrictions—spent $6.9 billion on bicycles and equipment in 2020, nearly $1 billion more than the year before. Remarkably, that number was expected to jump up even higher to $8.2 billion in 2021.
Booming sales, combined with supply chain problems, flushed out bike shop racks like never before. “Pre-pandemic, we had over 75 bikes on the floor for sale,” says John Harpold, manager at Papillon Cycles in Arlington. “By May of 2020, almost everything had been grabbed.”
Demand remains high and supply chain delays are still producing hiccups into 2022, but the good news is there are now plenty of bikes for sale, with more choices than ever.
Looking to buy some new wheels? To navigate the options, it’s worth visiting your local bike shop in person for expert advice on fitting the right bike to your body. You’ll have the opportunity to try as many bikes as you want, the ability to switch out parts for better fitting ones, and, usually, free maintenance for the first few months or even the first year.
So, you walk into the shop, see racks upon racks of bikes and paraphernalia and feel a little overwhelmed. Now what?
Don’t be intimidated by lycra-clad cyclists clomping around the store in their cleats, or by the expensive, aerodynamic bicycles on display. Bike shops are just as happy to help out beginners and casual riders, and they will have suitable bicycles for you. A few pointers to make your bike-buying experience a success:
Roads or Trails? The first question you will hear from the salesperson is: What do you want to do with the bike? Be ready to describe, as best as you can, where you want to ride, how often, how far, and what kind of surface you expect to be riding on. Road bikes are best for asphalt. Hybrid and gravel bikes can expand your range to packed dirt and gravel trails. Mountain bikes are the jeeps of the bike world—comfortable off-road and rolling over tree roots, but slower on pavement.
The Test Drive. Give yourself enough time (at least 45 minutes) to discuss your cycling needs and then try out a few different bikes. Shops will set the bike up for you and lend you a helmet so you can give it a spin on nearby roads and trails. Weekends—particularly nice ones in the spring—tend to be busy, so doing your shopping on weekdays will be less stressful if you can swing it.
Materials and Pricing. Don’t fret too much about the bike frame material. Generally, more affordable bikes (starting under $1,000) tend to be steel alloy or aluminum. Carbon fiber-frames, which are just as sturdy but weigh less, start at around $2,000.
Other Necessities. In addition to the bike itself, remember to budget for accessories such as a protective helmet, pump, water bottle and maybe a tire repair kit. If you plan to ride early or late in the day, spring for some lights to ensure you are visible to vehicles and other riders.
Shopping for Kids? What if you’re buying a bike for a child who will outgrow it in a year or two? Many shops offer a trade-in program where you can swap out the one your child has outgrown for a larger one. As George Lee, a senior manager at Conte’s Bike Shop in Falls Church, points out, ”Kids trash their bikes. It can be worth it to get a good one that will stand up to that abuse much longer.” Although many kids choose their bike based on the color rather than how it feels (go figure) it’s smart to let them try out a few to ensure they can ride comfortably. Another option is to look at refurbished kids’ bikes.
How will you finally know which bike is the right one? It’s “the one that makes you smile” when you take it out for a ride, Lee says. Below are some local bike shops that can hook you up with a new or refurbished bike and get that smile.
Big Wheel Bikes
Well positioned adjacent to the Custis Trail heading into DC, this Arlington shop is one of four locations for the D.C.-area retailer, which touts itself as the most “affordable bike shop in town.” Using refurbished parts, their mechanics can often perform repairs at more affordable prices. Big Wheel Bikes has a variety of brands, especially Fuji, and has started stocking some electric bikes. Along with new bike sales, Big Wheel sells and buys used bikes and has a robust rental service. The Arlington location also rents electric bikes. // 3119 Langston Blvd., Arlington
Conveniently located near the W&OD bike trail, this Falls Church shop stocks a nicely curated selection of mid-range bikes for both adults and kids, along with a wide range of accessories. The first thing you’ll see is the repair area, where you are likely to find owner Jan Feuchtner installing new cables or hammering out a jammed seat tube. For quick walk-in repairs, Biknetic may be your best bet. (Pro tip: A six-pack of non-alcoholic seltzer water may or may not get you even quicker service.) // 201 W. Jefferson St., Falls Church
Conte’s Bike Shop
The store that originated in 1957 out of Virginia Beach now has two nearby locations—one on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington and the other at Birch & Broad in Falls Church. Conte’s offers a wide range of well known brands and different types of bicycles for beginners to more experienced riders. As with any shop, you’ll get helpful advice on finding the right fit. And if you really want to dial in your fit with the latest technology, including 3D motion capture, both locations offer a Fit Studio to help you find that perfect match for your riding style and body type. (Fit Studio sessions start at $150.) Conte’s also hosts a free, weekly “Hills for Breakfast” open group ride that leaves from its Falls Church location every Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m. // 3449 Wilson Blvd, Arlington; 1118 Broad Street, Falls Church
The Old Bike Shop
This shop on Pershing Drive in Arlington sells some new bikes, but specializes in restoring used bikes, catering to all types of bicycles and riders. If your older bike meets their specifications, they will buy it from you. They offer full repair services as well. // 2647 N. Pershing Drive, Arlington
Operating out of its Columbia Pike location since 1984, Papillon describes itself as “Everyone’s Non-Judgemental Bike Shop.” Owner Bailey Garfield and manager John Harpold are both Arlington residents and emphasize neighborhood and community ties. The shop caters to commuters and families, with a large selection of refurbished bicycles in addition to new bikes in stock. If you need repairs, there is probably not a single bike mishap that Harpold has not seen in his decades as a bike messenger and mechanic. // 2805 Columbia Pike, Arlington
Tucked into the new Arlington Mill Community Center on Columbia Pike, this local nonprofit combines a youth bicycle education program with a full-service bike shop. Phoenix offers an ever-changing selection of refurbished, donated bikes for sale. Young people ages 12-17 can participate in its Build-a-Bike program, in which teens learn bike repair skills while building their own bicycle that they can then take home and ride. Even if you don’t purchase a bike here, consider donating your used bicycle to Phoenix when you are ready to upgrade. // 909 S. Dinwiddie St., Arlington
For more information about local cycling events, resources, maps, routes and trails, visit BikeArlington.com.
Born and raised in the D.C. area, Jeffrey Yeates works for the federal government. He and his wife and teenage daughter enjoy bicycling, roadside produce stands and kayaking. His last major bike ride was a 103 mile jaunt among historic battlefields and Catoctin Mountain at the 2021 Civil War Century ride. Find him at email@example.com.