In recent years the quality of bike you can get when buying a complete has steadily been on the rise. Back in the day if you wanted a top of the line bike you had to build it from scratch, piece by piece. Nowadays you can get a great bike at a decent price with some real quality parts on it straight out of a box. But you have to know what you are looking for, so that’s where we come in. If you are in the market for a new BMX setup or you are a parent whose kid wants a new ride, check out these 12 tips for buying the best complete BMX bike. Disclaimer: There are a lot of weird google-found photos and illustrations in this article, because that’s what Google is for, man.
1. Know Your Intentions
There are bikes designed specifically for certain types of riding, so knowing what you will use the bike for is huge when selecting a complete. Do you want to ride mostly street? Park? Dirt? Flaltand? For the most part, any bike you buy can be used to ride everything. Buuuut, there are key factors on completes that make certain bikes better for certain disciplines of riding. Below is a simple breakdown of different types of bikes, but like I already said, most bikes you can buy today will be ready to shred on anything.
2. Look For Chromoly
Chromoly is the type of strong, lightweight alloy metal all high-end BMX frames, forks, and bars are made from. Many complete bikes use high-tensile steel construction in their frames, bars, and/or forks, which makes the bike less durable and a bit heavier. When looking for a complete bike, pay attention to the amount of chromoly used within a certain price range. For instance, if you see two bikes you like that are both in your price range, compare which one uses the most chromoly in their tubing. If you need to save a few bucks, it’s a good rule to make sure the “bottom” of your bike is chromoly. So basically your forks, downtube, and chainstays, because they’re more likely to come in contact/get dented as you’re learning.
3. Look For Sealed Bearings
Sealed bearings in wheels (hubs), bottom brackets, and headsets will allow your bike to roller smoother for longer. Unsealed bearings are much cheaper and require a lot more maintenance for them to work well. If you have unsealed bearings and they become loose and start to wobble, then your entire bike will feel like crap and you won’t even have fun riding it after a while. Tip: When you’re reading bike descriptions online, most companies will list what parts have sealed bearings. For example, if they don’t say “sealed cassette hub), then it’s probably unsealed.
4. Pick The Proper Size
Fractions of an inch seem minuscule, but can actually change the feeling of a bike drastically. Many complete bikes come with 20″ top tubes, which can be on the small side for a lot of riders. Luckily since companies have been stepping up their game recently, they have started to make complete bikes with 20.5″ or even 21.5″ top tubes, too. Also in the past handlebars on complete bikes have been notoriously low and/or narrow. If you have the luxury of going to a shop to buy your bike, test out the bike in the parking lot and make sure you feel comfortable on it. If the bike comes with wide bars, you can always cut them down to your liking for free, but you can’t make narrow bars wider without dropping some extra cash for a new set.
5. “Is This Company Good?”
There’s lots of great BMX brands these days and there’s no “best bike” out there. Your best option is to start looking around. Some suggestions of places to start are the brands that support what we do here (which is pretty much most of the best brands in BMX). Listed in alphabetical order to not be bias in anyway, haha: Colony, Haro, Fit Bike Co, Kink, Mongoose, Sunday, Stolen, Volume, Wethepeople,
6. Don’t Expect Things To Last Forever
Grips, pedals, pegs, and tires wear out. Some parts will break. That’s okay. The harder you ride (or crash), the faster your bike will start to fall apart. This is just a part of the game. Also, you get what you pay for so don’t expect a $250 complete to hold up to as much abuse as a $1,000 bike. Be prepared to have things go wrong, but don’t let that discourage you. Learn to work on your bike, and refer to #9 on this list. Also, things on a new complete will have to break in or settle, so parts like headsets, chains, and spokes will need to be tightened shortly after your first few sessions.
7. Small Parts Make A Big Difference
The components on a bike can make the complete really good, or really bad. It can also make the bike really expensive, or really cheap. So check out all the parts on the bike to see what kind of quality you are getting. If the bike is spec’d with name brand parts like Shadow, Odyssey, or Eclat, you know you are getting something better than generic parts. Also, on the “small” topic, look for a small gearing. A small sprocket (25 or 28-tooth) in the front means less metal to get in the way of certain tricks, and less weight. If the bike comes with a 45-tooth sprocket, then it is most definitely old, out-dated, and not worth buying.
8. Know Your Price Point
If this list was in any kind of order, this point would probably be at the top. Once you figure out what kind of riding you’ll be doing (which will help you decide the style of bike to look for), you need to figure out how much money you can spend. Set your limit, and do some hardcore comparisons of each complete in that price range. You can use mail order web sites, or company websites to get a good look at each of your options. Don’t start falling in love with a $1,200 complete if you can only afford to spend $500.
9. Look For Weight
We aren’t saying that you have to have a super light bike to be a good rider, but a lightweight bike can definitely help when you’re just starting out and all your “BMX muscles” haven’t developed. A side effect of a lightweight bike usually means it has some good parts on it, too. Most quality aftermarket parts are lighter, stronger, and better than generic steel parts. Likewise, a stronger chromoly frame is lighter than an all-steel frame. Having a light bike will help you keep control it better and will allow you to ride longer without getting as tired.
10. Don’t Get Sold On Gimmicks Or Colors
Wanna know a secret? Color doesn’t make your bike ride any different. We all have our preferences on color and you definitely don’t want to have a bike that you think is ugly. But you shouldn’t buy a bike solely based off of the color scheme or some kind of gimmick. You don’t see it as much anymore, but lots of completes used to come with pad sets, number plates, or “flashy” stickers that were designed to draw attention to the bike in hopes of making you fall in love with it. Those days are mostly gone, but just keep in mind not to get sold on a bike just because it has wild looking graphics with lots of bells and whistles. Remember, you can always paint your frame or parts later… (Check out our how-to paint a frame article.)
11. Look For A Shop Service Plan
A lot of bike shops offer a (hopefully free) service plan when you buy a complete bike. It may be six months, or it may be a year, but whatever it is, take advantage of it. Especially if this is your first bike. By bringing in your bike for some routine maintenance, you’ll keep her running smooth, and you may even learn some tips on how to work on your bike yourself. When you bring it in for a tune up, the shop will do things like tighten the chain, spokes, and bolts, dial in the brakes, and tell you if anything needs to be replaced.
12. Build It Up Right
If you order a complete from a mail order site the bike isn’t showing up ready for you to jump on. It’ll come in a box and you’ll need to put on the pedals, front wheel, and handlebars. You’ll also have to set up the brakes (if it has ’em). If you don’t feel like you know how to build up a bike properly, bring it to a friend or your local bike shop that can help. You’ll be bummed if you mess up your new bike before you even get a chance to ride it.
Bonus Tip For The Parents: Don’t Try To Guess What Your Kid Wants
Don’t try to guess what kind of bike your child wants. The last thing you want to do is waste money on something that Timmy isn’t stoked on and doesn’t want to ride. Have your kid go to the shop with you or do research online together. You want him or her to get something that they’ll be stoked to ride every day.
Good luck! If you bought a complete and have some tips of your own, feel free to post them in the comments. Also, if you have more questions, leave them in the comments and we’ll try to help you out.