For experienced cyclists, buying a bike is a thing of joy. It is usually the culmination of hours of thought and consideration about the particular needs and hopes of an experienced cyclist that results in the purchase of a bike that fulfills some need, real or perceived, on the part of the cyclist. It isn't necessarily a dream bike, and I know few people who don't compromise on one or more areas of their bike purchasing, but it is a logical end to a process which is navigated by the experience of the cyclist, with helpful input from other riders, various media sources and hopefully an experienced hand at your local bike shop (yes, consider this a plug for talking to Steve or Larry about your bike thoughts and needs).
For inexperienced cyclists, however, there isn't an easy guide to the process. If you pick up a cycling-specific publication you are likely to get a shoot-out between bikes that are remarkably similar, for example a whole wide range of four carbon fiber racing bikes costing between $1,500 and $1,700 that are virtually indistinguishable except to the marketing department involved. If you pick up an general interest publication with an article on bike buying, it is usually written by someone who doesn't know his bottom from his bottom bracket, and they spout platitudes that range from useless to stupid. Quick question for magazine editors - If you want a story on national politics, do you find someone in a cave (or worse, Alabama), and ask them for a few thousand important and insightful words on the push and pull of the legislative process? Of course not. Hell, even stories as fundamentally pointless as New York Fashion Week get covered by people who obsess about fashion. So why is cute over and over and over for someone to write an article about buying bikes who HAS NEVER PURCHASED A BIKE?
On the other hand, you rarely find someone who really knows bikes to write about the fundamental process of buying a bike, because, well, why would you? It is much more fun to consider the merits of two different carbon fiber wheelsets, particularly when it involves on-the-road testing, than to fundamentally consider the basics of bike buying. And that is why, I am going to endeavor to fill this important void with my comprehensive guide to buying a bike for the first-time bike buyer.