Maybe you are not ready for the Tour de France, but just about anyone with a sense of balance can enjoy a bike ride.

Cycling provides a good workout, at your own pace, with relatively little risk of damage to bones, joints or muscles — while letting you see the sights.

If you want to buy a bike but don’t know where to start, or need repairs for a bike you already own, Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook’s ratings of area bike shops will help you track down shops that will make things easy.

For the next month, Checkbook is offering free access to its ratings of area bike shops to Star Tribune readers via this link: Checkbook.org/StarTribune/bikes

Most bike models can be roughly classified into several categories — mountain bikes, road bikes, city bikes, touring bikes and cruisers.

So they have something to offer anyone, bike manufacturers often mix and match characteristics of several types to create new models. The result is a seemingly endless array of rides.

Be clear on what you need

To narrow your choices, think about what you expect to do with your bike. Will you run errands, commute, work out, compete? How often will you ride? Every day, weekends only, hardly ever?

What kind of surface will you ride on? Smooth roads, potholed city streets, off-road trails? How hilly will the terrain be? Do you care how fast you can go?

In general, the more you plan to ride and compete, the more the bike will cost.

Checkbook’s ratings of local shops will help you make a good choice, and you can do your own checks. Good shops will take the time to fit you carefully — checking factors like frame height, the angle of your legs when pedaling, reach to the handlebars, and handlebar width.

The most important factor in choosing a bike is simply how it feels when you ride it. Don’t purchase a bike until you have taken test rides on several.

For each bike you test, have the store’s salesperson fit you properly. Then observe carefully the smoothness of the ride, the bike’s responsiveness, how comfortable your body feels, the bike’s stability, and how easy it is to control, shift, and brake.

Tell the salespeople what you like and dislike, and let them make adjustments or suggest another bike that may suit you better.

Test several bikes in a wide price range. You may find that you can get a thoroughly satisfactory bike for much less than you expected.

Assembly varies, but prices don’t

When you are ready to buy, make sure the store will do a high-quality job of assembling your bike. Retailers are responsible for final assembly and adjustment.

When bikes arrive from the factory, some components are not yet attached and others are just that — attached.

If shop mechanics do no more than slap on the remaining parts, the bike won’t work: Brake pads might not contact rims, for example, and you might not be able to shift into all the gears.

Any shop will assemble and adjust the bike so you can ride out using all the gears; that typically takes about 45 minutes. But a great shop will do much more — possibly spending two to four hours on assembly.

Almost all bike shops offer a period of free adjustments after sales. Many offer free adjustments for the life of the bicycle, while others limit them to one year, six months, or less.

You will want to shop around for price, but it probably won’t take long: Checkbook found that because manufacturers have managed to limit price competition for new bikes, very little price competition exists on new bikes.

Even a $25 difference for major name brands is rare.

On the other hand, the market for bike components and accessories — ranging from handlebars to clothing to car-top carriers — is less stringent, with some stores charging much less than their competition for the same item. You will find even lower prices for accessories online.

Checkbook’s undercover shoppers also found very large price differences for bike repairs.

For example, the price for a basic tuneup on a 2016 Cannondale Trail 5 mountain bike ranged from $50 to $119.

The price to assemble and install customer-supplied tubeless wheels and tires on a Masi Speciale road bike ranged from $20 to $60.

 

Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. It is supported by consumers and takes no money from the service providers it evaluates. See ratings of area bike shops free of charge until Sept. 5 at Checkbook.org/StarTribune/bikes