What you did to get your perfect bike
I have been into bikes for about 10 yrs now and have gone several routes and have an bike collection of about 6 plus a couple frames and parts that could possibly be built into a couple more bikes. While I own a variety of bikes, two stand out. One is a bike that I bought complete from my LBS and another is one that I spec'd out every single part and built up myself. So, I will tell you how to go about both of those routes.
If you are just ready to move up to a serious bike, buy a complete.
If you are ready to squeeze every ounce of performance out of your bike , and don't like compromise build your own.
How I did it
As far as the complete bikes go, It is the easiest and most cost effective route. Bike manufactures get their parts wholesale and it is pretty much impossible to get the same parts and build up the bike yourself for less; as a matter of fact, you'll end up spending quite a bit more to build up the same bike or something very similar.
Buying a complete bike
Buy from a bike shop and not online. Decide what level of bike you want and do your research. I do not suggest picking a brand and going in just for that bike, be open minded. I decided what level bike I wanted and went around trying several bikes from several manufactures. A bike shop can also make sure that your bike fits you well; this is probably the most important thing when buying a new bike. If it doesn't fit well, It might as well be a department store bike. Lastly, Buying a complete bike doesn't always mean you're stuck with that bike as is. Try to bargain with the shop. By paying a little extra, or maybe paying all cash, you may be able to get that crankset or brakes upgrade.
Building your own bike
I have done this several times but only once with new, high-end performance parts. One thing to keep in mind is that if you do this, you're going to need a lot of expensive, specialized tools. Sure you can use regular tools to do many of the things, but when you're working with $200 cogs... to you really want to bang on it with a towel and a screwdriver? One chip, bend, or dent can ruin the performance of your new part (ESPECIALLY when you're working with carbon fiber).
Still want to build that perfect bike? Good. Now, when looking for a frame, you should have a good idea about the geometry you want, (nearly impossible to test ride a frame). For parts, decide what you want and make sure that everything will work together! nothing worse that buying a derailleur that can't handle the gear range you've chosen. Call the manufactures or retailers if you have to and don't accept "I think so" for an answer. After you have your parts list, start scouring the bike shop, online shops, craigslist, and ebay for the best deals. Almost EVERY online retailer will price match, so make sure you do a search based google shop or something similar and sort by price, that way you can price match the lowest possible price at your retailer of choice. Also, don't be afraid to spec last yrs model, usually not much changes. If needed, have your lbs prep your frame. Tools for this are REALLY expensive.
What I'd Do Differently
- Don't settle! for anything!
- Don't settle on a complete bike that's "o.k." because it's all the shop has in stock or they only carry bikes from that manufacturer. Wait till the next shipment, or go to another bike shop. Drive to the next town if you have to.
- If you're building up that dream bike, don't settle for prebuilt wheelsets that are instock if it's not what you want. Check online for wheel builders that can and will build that PERFECT wheelset for you.
- The places where novice will notice the MOST performance difference is in the frame and the wheelset.. (gears up to a certain level)