Disclaimer: There are a lot of lame and cheesy photos and illustrations in this article. What do you expect? Us to shoot our own stuff? Pshht. That’s what Google is for, man.
In recent years the quality of bike you can get when buying a compete 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 setup or you are a parent whose kid wants a new ride, check out these ten tips for buying a complete BMX bike.
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? Even though you can technically use the same bike for everything, there are key factors on completes that make certain bikes better for certain disciplines of riding. If you aren’t sure which bike is right for which type of riding, then ask other riders at the skatepark or the guys at your local shop for some help.
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 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.
Tubing. Tuuubing. Toooobiiiing. Is that from a movie?
3. Pick The Proper Size
Fractions of an inch seem miniscule, 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 20.75″ 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.
The size of the top tube is measured from the middle of the head tube to the middle of the seat tube.
4. Don’t Expect Things To Last Forever
Things wear out, parts break, and 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.
Loose chain? No problem. The bike ain’t broken, just pull back the back wheel and tighten it.
5. 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 be 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 SNAFU, you know you are getting something better than generic parts. Also, on the “small” topic, look for a small gearing. A small sprocket in the front means less metal to get in the way of certain tricks, and less weight. At the same time, you don’t need a 25t sprocket to be cool. A 30t sprocket will still do the trick. However, if the bike comes with a 45t, watch out because the whole bike is probably outdated.
Big generic sprocket…not as good. Small name brand sprocket…better.
6. 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, company Web sites, or company catalogs to get a good look at each of your options. Don’t get all worked up over the $1,200 complete if you can only afford to spend $500.
Do not try to print this photo to help pay for your bike. It won’t work. I tested it.
7. Look For Weight
We aren’t saying that you have to have a super light bike to be a good rider, but a lightweight complete bike usually means it has some good parts on it, and is made from good materials. Most quality aftermarket parts are lighter (and stronger) than the generic steel parts. Likewise, a stronger chromoly frame is lighter than an all-steel frame. Many people feel that a light bike can help you keep control over it better, and will allow you to ride longer without getting as tired.
A good, average weight for a complete is somewhere around 25lbs, give or take a few.
8. Don’t Get Sold On Gimmicks Or Colors
Sure you want your bike to be clean and have a certain look you are into, and it’s perfectly fine to want to match some parts or have specific colors on your bike. However 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.)
Flashy and eye catching frame? Yep. Practical and strong? Absolutely not.
9. Look For A Shop Service Plan
A lot of bike shops offer a 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. 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.
If your shop’s mechanic is as fuzzy as this photo, go to another shop. But for the most part, shop employees know how to work on bikes so let them dial it in for you.
10. 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 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.
11. 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. Did we say ten tips? Oh well…whatever.
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, talk with him and the guys in the shop, and get something that your he will be stoked to ride every day.
Hell yeah, dude! Righteous! Tubular! Gnarly! Siiiiick!
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.
(Thanks to Dan’s Comp and Google Images for the photos.)
Other Helpful Links:
– Video Instructions On Building A Complete BMX Bike (By The Shadow Conspiracy)
– Professional Flatland BMX Rider Matt Wilhelm’s Videos Of How-To Build A Complete BMX Bike
– BMX Tech Help From Dan’s Comp Mail Order
– BMX Tech Tips From Odyssey BMX
– 2011 Complete BMX Bike Catalogs