5 Things To Know Before Going Into A Bike Shop

When I worked in a bike shop, we would ask customers some questions to clarify what products a customer needed. Sometimes they felt as if we were mocking their lack of cycling knowledge, hopefully, most bike shop staff are not.

As such I have compiled a small list of the things most people felt awkward about when asked a question. Remember there are no stupid questions, just stupid answers.

  1. Tubes

The first thing that trips most people up is what valve they have. On modern bikes, there are mainly two types of valve and a third on some Dutch style bikes.

Bicycle Tube Types

The Dutch bikes use the Woods valve and the best advice I can give you if you have a tube with a Woods valve is swap it for another type of valve. Do not care what the manufacturer fitted, just make your life easier.

A Schrader valve is generally fitted to a wider tube and as such is used with a wider tire. It is the car valve type.

A Presta valve is generally fitted to a narrower, higher pressure tube. It is the thin , skinny one.

This means you tend to find Schrader valves on mountain bikes and hybrids. Presta valves tend to come on road bikes.

The next thing you will need to know is the size of your tire.

You can find this on the sidewall of your tire.

Bicycle tire sizing


You can see a lot of numbers in the above picture.If you are confused take a picture of this bit on your tire and give that to the person in the shop.

The 700×25 is the more common version of the size of this tire. However, if you tell people in a shop 25-622 and they look blankly at you, go to a new bike shop as they have just failed a test and do not deserve your money. The 700 and the 622 both used to tell us we were dealing with a road or hybrid bike but now mountain bikes also come with rims of this size and this has made it all more confusing. Mountain bikes will use the 622 but generally change the 700 to 29. By putting the 25 with either of those numbers we know we are on a road bike as it is a narrow width, it is only 25mm wide. If it was a mountain bike this number would be around 47 and up.If it was a hybrid it would be 30 and up.

So road, gravel, touring and cross bikes will come in between 20-622 to 40-622 or it may be written as 700×20 to 700×40.

A 29er mountain bike will be 45-622 to 77-622 or 29×1.5 to 29×3.

A 650b mountain bike will be 45-584 to 77-584 or 27.5×1.5 to 27.5×3

A 26 mountain bike will be 45-559 to 77-559 or 26×1.5 to 26×3

A hybrid will be similar to a 29er mountain bike.

There is also a whole plethora of tire sizes outside these common ones, so never be afraid to ask. Some bike models change sizes between model years, so try and not just think of the bike model you have.

Your tube will also come designed to fit a range of sizes, so do not be worried about that. This advice will also come in handy when thinking about new tires.

2. Drop Bar Bikes

Marin Nicasio SS posing in the Scottish sunshine


It used to be that if you wanted a drop bar bike you wanted a tourer or a road bike, now they have niched out. So what differentiates all the niches?

Tourer – A tourer will come with all the mounts you need for guards and pannier racks. They also have a stable geometry and a longer wheelbase.

Race – A race bike is now exactly that. The only mounts it will have are for water bottles. It will have an ‘exciting’ geometry and a short wheelbase, as such, it will feel fast and less stable. Generally, it will have a smaller headtube to get you in an aero position, this may not suit your flexibility. It will also be a stiff bike, by this we mean it will respond well to when you try and pedal fast but it might not be the most comfortable bike in the world.

Sportive – A sportive bike is like a race bike but more relaxed. This means it will feel more stable, have a taller headtube to help your flexibility, and not be as stiff so as to aid comfort. Generally, it is thought of as an endurance bike, want to do 100-mile cycles then this is the beast you need.

Cross – Cross is short for cyclocross. Cross bikes come in two varieties. One is designed for racing around a Belgian field for an hour and the other is a commute version of the same bike. A cross bike for racing is a bit niche so I will presume you know what one is if you want one. The commute version is like a sportive version of a race bike but will contain water bottle mounts, mudguard mounts and usually pannier rack mounts, unlike the cross race version. This gives you a bike you can do light touring on, winter road training and commuting on, that was until gravel bike arrived.

Gravel – Is like an endurance version of a cyclocross bike. Cyclocross bikes in the commute guise kept the short headtube of the race bikes, gravel bikes went with a longer headtube like a sportive bike, to help suit more people’s flexibility. These bikes are also designed for 100-mile rides except they can also now cope with some offroad action. They are as if the bike trade suddenly decided to make bikes that customers had been waiting for. If you are new to drop bar bikes, this is the type I would go for.

3. Headset Bearings

Headset bearings are generally a nightmare, both as a customer and as a shop employee. If you need new ones, take your old broken ones into the shop. Manufacturers generally do not give enough information on the bearings that have fitted to their bikes, Canyon is especially great at this and using weird sizes. If you take the old ones in, they can be measured and in some cases, the numbers needed may still be visible on the bearings. You may be surprised how many people throw them away before they come to a shop.

Bicycle Headset Bearings

If you know everything about your bike, you may find the correct size of bearings you need on the Cane Creek headset finder. It is pretty much one of my favorite sites on the net.

4. Brake Pads

Much like headset bearings, brake pads are something that many people throw away before they come in to buy new ones. Especially as we enter the age of the disc brake, keeping those pads is a great idea. As there are so many types, shops can not keep them all in stock but you may find another make will fit your brake if you take them in. For instance, you can use Shimano pads in TRP Spyre brakes.

If you do not want to take a dirty pad into a shop with you, draw around it before you go. Do not decide that you will know the pad if you see it.

Outside of disc brakes, knowing what brake you have will get you the right pads.

Side pull road bike brake
Side pull brake



V-Brake bike brake


Cantilever Brake (Canti) bike bicycle
Cantilever Brake (Canti)

That should always enable you to get the correct rim brake pad.

If at all possible get yourself an insert pad and holder. This will be more expensive at the beginning but as time goes on the pads will be cheaper and higher quality than the complete pad options.

Bicycle insert and holder brake pads
An insert pad and holder


5. Hangers

A hanger is one of the most important parts of your bike if you run a geared bike.

The hanger is the bit that hangs down from your frame and holds the rear derailleur in place.

Bicycle hanger

It is generally the most easily broken piece of your bike and it is designed to be that way. Your hanger breaking can save you from needing to buy a new bike frame. It is also why if you are placing your bike down on the ground, you place it down on its left-hand side. Too much pressure on your hanger and it will bend, causing your gears to be really sloppy.

Too much bending and it will snap, it can be bent straight again though before this happens, so keep an eye on it. It should look straight up and down from behind the bike. If your derailleur has scrapes on it, the hanger is probably bent.


Bicycle gear hanger, rear mech hanger
It should look like this


One day you will snap your hanger, this could be a bent hanger and then you change gear incorrectly going uphill and it is now in two pieces. You will need to take these pieces with you into a bike shop to get a new one. There are hundreds of different types, so what you will find is that most shops will have a rake about in a big box of hangers and not have the one you need.They will then find it on a chart and the distributor will be out of stock for weeks. Wheels Mfg also has a nice hanger finder that you can use.

So my top tip here is. When you buy your new bike, haggle to get a free hanger with it. It will one day make you very glad you did.


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