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Buying a mountain bike in Basel

This story originally appeared on 16th August 2002

Swiss bike prices are generally a little higher than other countries, but it’s not a huge amount when you compare like with like. Many people resort to buying apparently good-value bikes from French and German supermarkets. I’m sure they enjoy them a great deal, but we do have some advice for potential buyers of these supermarket bikes.This advice comes with 15 years of mountain biking experience and from working in both reputable bike shops and Halfords in the UK which, at the time, sold certain bikes that were just plain dangerous. I have also been asked a great number of times to help someone fix a bike they bought cheaply.

First and foremost you should always consider the after-sales support for your bike. Most local bike shops (by this I’m differentiating bicycle shops from supermarkets) offer after sales service and are there to advise if anything glitches or comes loose. In my experience, supermarket staff have no idea how to fix much more than the basic problems that you could have fixed yourself. Ask the supermarket staff some awkward questions about their after-sales support if you can.

Consider the kind of bike you need very carefully. I’d like to concentrate on mountain bikes here as this is the area I see the most potential for dissatisfaction. Ask yourself what kind of riding you want to do, will it be mostly roads and forest tracks or are you planning on venturing into the Alps and doing some hard climbing or rocky descents? For most people considering a supermarket bike, the former applies, but some may aspire to bigger things. This raises the question of suspension, which is really key to getting good value for money. I have yet to see a good rear suspension on a supermarket bike, and decent front suspension is equally rare. By and large they are heavy, under damped (they work more like pogo sticks than suspension, increasing the danger of losing control when you need it most) and inappropriate to the bike.

For most types of riding, a front suspension bike with a comfy saddle will be lighter, more responsive to pedal input (less energy up hills) and ultimately more satisfying. The supermarkets are appealing to the fashion market primarily with features like big forks, disc-brakes and out-of-the-ordinary shaped frames. These features come at the cost of other components on the bike so you may find that the brakes need adjusting frequently and the gear indexing doesn’t stay accurate for long. Try to find something that is simple in construction with good rim brakes and suspension that doesn’t spring right back at you when you push it down.

If you do find a bike that fits the bill in a supermarket, don’t ride it until you have checked that all the bolts and fastenings are tight and that all the controls are in a comfortable position. Brake levers should normally be angled down slightly while bar ends (if you have them) should point forwards in roughly the same direction as the stem (the bit that attaches your handlebars to the top of the fork) rather than vertically up. Ensure the wheels are in the frame straight and are done up tightly.

The gears and brakes will bed in over a short period of time (possibly a month depending on how much you ride) and will require some adjustment. The supermarket should do this as a free first service. Otherwise, and if you don’t know how to do it yourself, you will have to pay a bike shop to do it for you.

Should you decide to look elsewhere than the supermarket, I have found Germany to be the cheapest place to pick up a bike. You can claim some of the tax back and there are some good shops that know what they are talking about. Radsport Bieg in Stetten and FollowMe in Lorrach are both recommended, although FollowMe tends to have more high-end bikes.

Finally, don’t forget to factor in some protective clothing for riding. You will need at least a helmet complying to the SNELL or ANSI standards, but gloves and appropriate shoes will protect you if things go pear-shaped. Padded cycling shorts will greatly increase your enjoyment of riding as well!

Happy riding.


Excellent advice from an expert who has actually raced Mountain Bikes competitively.


Comment from Cara
Time 17th March, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Thanks for the info. I’m used to shopping for things the USA way (on the internet) and am finding that soesn’t really work here. I had great service at Athleticum yesterday, but am looking for a specific German city bike. I will look into the shops you mention and the tax break too.

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