Velosurance bicycle insurance

Velosurance is a national insurance agency founded by two cyclists in response to the insurance needs of bicycle riders nationwide. We partnered with an A.M.Best “A” rated, US insurance company to provide a multi-risk policy offering protection to all types of cyclists.

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Your guide to direct-to-consumer bikes

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You can add more bikes later
gear 04 Mar 2024 By Travis Reill

For many years, few options were available for buying a quality bicycle—you basically had to head to your local bike shop or even drive out of your way to get the bike you wanted. Yes, department stores sold bikes, but most of the time, they simply weren’t up to snuff. This business model remained the case until recently, when direct-to-consumer (D2C) bike companies burst on the scene.

Traditionally, bicycles made a couple of stops from the manufacturing facility to the customer. Let’s say you’ve purchased a new road bike from a bike shop. That bike was most likely manufactured overseas and journeyed to your local bike shop because of a few crucial steps. You, the customer, could buy that bike because of the bike shop's connection to the brand, which works with a distributor, who works with the manufacturing facility. The process usually looks something like this: Manufacturer→Distributor→Retailer (bike shop)→Consumer. In some cases, especially with more prominent bike brands, the brand itself will serve as the distributor.

bicycle manufacturer

So, direct-to-consumer is precisely like it sounds—bicycles finding their way directly to the consumer without the “middlemen.” Essentially, the distributor and retailer are removed from the bike purchasing model described above, changing it to something like this: Manufacturer→Consumer. Simply put, you go to a bike company's website, click “buy” on a bike, and it will be on your doorstep in a week or so.

How we got here

A few things got us to the point where so many bikes are purchased online. First is that we are, well, “online.” Obviously, without the Internet, D2C wouldn’t be possible. However, bike companies had websites for a long time that allowed you to “window shop” the bikes but not buy. So what changed? We changed how we consume products, and convenience became a priority. Now, anything we want is just a click away, all from the comfort of our home. Need new shoes? A couple of clicks, and they’ll be here in two days. Hungry? Why go to a restaurant when an app can bring it to you? Why not bikes, too?

While online convenience may have been the foundation for D2C, the pandemic certainly helped it along. To be clear, D2C bike brands are not a result of the pandemic – many brands were selling bikes directly to their customers years before we ever heard the word “COVID.” However, the pandemic certainly allowed D2C bikes to take off. While indoor spaces shut their doors, outdoor sports and hobbies boomed, and cycling was no exception. Mandates and closures had people looking for ways to leave their homes and be active and cycling was a great way to do just that. Road, gravel, and mountain biking all saw new riders joining the sport. They needed to purchase a bike, but the local bike shops were completely out of inventory. But buying a bike online and having it delivered was a viable option.

When the world seemingly came to a screeching halt, urban dwellers who previously relied on public transportation to navigate the concrete jungle suddenly lost their primary way of getting around: enter urban e-bikes. While these e-bikes existed long before 2020 and were enjoying popularity in Europe and Asia, they were only popular with food delivery drivers in the US. It took a fundamental disruption of the status quo to catapult them in popularity with the general public. As soon as it became clear that the pandemic was going to stick around, everyone from students to “essential” workers like grocery store clerks and nurses jumped on the urban e-bike bandwagon and changed commuting in our cities overnight, and perhaps forever.

Why buy D2C?

Usually, one of the biggest reasons to buy a bicycle directly rather than from a bike shop is the price. As you’ve probably guessed, removing steps saves money. To cover their end, both distributors and retailers mark up the bike's price. By removing those two steps and buying directly, the cost of the bike can be significantly lower than purchasing from a bike shop. Not only is this price savings passed along to the customer, but the bike company itself is also benefiting from better margins. Such savings allow them to reinvest back into the company, designing and engineering for future models and building the bikes with quality components.

Despite consumer-direct bikes saving you money over a bike purchased from a bike shop, that doesn’t mean they have lower-level or cheap components. On the contrary, D2C bikes often offer premium component builds that still beat prices found in bike shops. For example, a $4,000 carbon fiber mountain bike at a bike shop will likely have low to mid-level components. That same $4,000 put toward a D2C mountain bike will get you a comparable carbon fiber frame but a top-tier component build and possibly a carbon wheel upgrade.

bicycle in a box

As a consumer, you have many more options when shopping D2C rather than at a local bike shop. Bike shops have limited space to house bikes and must constantly consider what their customer base wants. You may be a road cyclist living in a mountain bike community. Chances are your bike shop will have a greater selection of mountain bikes than road bikes. A specific component spec for the road bike you are considering may not be in your local bike shop or even available from the brand itself. Or, perhaps the bike brand you are looking at isn’t even in your area.

Bike shops agree to become authorized retailers for specific brands. Some shops may carry one or two brands; others may have five or six — but it doesn’t guarantee they’ll have the brand you want, which can extend to all the bike shops in your area. When going with the direct-to-consumer route, that isn’t a problem, as you can browse multiple brands’ entire lineup of bikes and compare all the different component build options they offer, all from your living room sofa.

Unlike the bikes available from your local shop, many D2C brands also offer varying levels of customization. This can range from changing suspension, drivetrain, wheels, etc., all the way up to choosing every component on your bike from a list of component preferences. Some companies even allow you to select the frame’s paint color, allowing for a truly one-of-a-kind bike.

Why not buy D2C?

Like with everything else in life, there are downsides to buying a D2C bike, and you’ve probably already guessed the first one—the ability to test ride the bike is slim, if not impossible. When purchasing from a bike shop, you will always have an opportunity to ride the bike around the block at least a few times. Some bike shops will even rent you the same bike from their rental fleet for an extended test ride and put the rental cost toward the bike purchase.

Getting a bike that is the wrong size is usually the biggest concern when buying consumer-direct. Companies typically have a size chart on their website showing frame sizes corresponding to rider height. While this is a good place to start, it doesn’t tell the whole story of bike size and may have you falling between two sizes.

With that said, there are some options with D2C. Many have a return window, where you can test-ride the bike after assembling it and return it if it doesn’t work. Be careful on this test ride – companies expect the returned bike to be in excellent condition to qualify for a full refund. Also, depending on where you live, several D2C brands have storefronts and showrooms where you can throw your leg over one of their bikes and take it for a spin. Companies like Canyon, Van Moof, Rad Power Bikes, and Commencal all have locations you can visit.

Despite D2C bikes being shipped mostly put together, some assembly is required. In most circumstances, you must put on the front wheel, handlebars and possibly the seat post, air up the tires, and bed in the brakes. After minor adjustments, like getting your brake levers and seat where you like it, the bike is ready to ride. But, since you are the one setting the bike up, if things go wrong with the parts you’ve “assembled,” you will likely be the one paying to replace it.

The hybrid model

With the success of D2C bike companies during COVID, it is no surprise that many companies once only found in your local bike shop also began selling bikes directly to their customers. Even industry giants like Specialized and Trek have begun providing click-and-buy bike options directly from their websites, however, certain models may still only be available in local bike shops. Other brands have followed suit: Orbea, Salsa, Cannondale, Norco, and Giant, just to name a few.

They are “hybrid” because they still sell their bikes through authorized retailers, and many of the bikes you buy directly from these companies make their way through a bike shop. How it typically works is when you click “buy” on their website, the bike isn’t shipped to your house but to the closest authorized dealer. That bike shop receives a bit of a kickback from the bike company for their time assembling and setting up the bike for you and will notify you when it is ready to be picked up.

authorized bicycle dealer

If having a bike professionally assembled would give you the needed peace of mind, but a brand you’re interested in doesn’t have a local dealer, consider reaching out to a local shop or a mobile bike mechanic to see if they’d receive and assemble the bike for you. This way you can build your own “hybrid” bicycle buying experience.

What to consider when researching what brand to buy?

New companies jumping onto the scene is exciting: many of them bring innovation into an already crowded marketplace. However, going with an established company is always a safer bet. Do a bit of research; if the company has been around a few decades, there’s a good chance it’ll stick around for a few years longer. While almost every bike brand has some sort of warranty that covers their bikes, a larger, more established company will likely have the inventory and resources to warranty those bikes for life, while smaller brands may only warranty your purchase for a handful of years. Brand longevity means that you’ll be able to get replacement parts for years to come.

Reading customer reviews can also help make your decision, although it is important to remember that people are more likely to leave a review about a negative experience than a positive one. There will always be some negative reviews—if there aren’t, the company perhaps hasn’t been in business long enough! It’s impossible to meet everyone’s expectations, but if the reviews are overwhelmingly negative, this might be a brand you want to stay away from.

Consider the company’s trial period and return policies. If the bike doesn’t work for you, make sure you can return it for a refund or at least exchange it for a different bike. Most companies will have a trial period, but make sure you know when it starts, as some may start on the day of purchase, and others may start when the bike is delivered. Depending on how long it takes to ship the bike, this could mean a difference in a couple of weeks for your trial period.

Warranty is another important factor to consider. Bicycle warranties can be somewhat complex, largely because the manufacturer’s warranty usually covers just the frame and sometimes the fork, while all other components are subject to the warranties of their respective manufacturers. For example, a bike may have a lifetime warranty on the frame, but the drivetrain may have a 2 year warranty, and suspension components a 1 year warranty. Nevertheless, a long frame warranty is attractive, as the frame is most often the most expensive part of the bike.

Below is a table containing the warranty period as well as the return window and conditions for popular direct-to-consumer brands.

BrandWarrantyReturn windowReturn conditions
Canyon6 years30 daysLike-new condition, visible signs of wear will incur a restocking fee
YT Industries3 year14 daysNew, unridden condition
Allied Cycle Workslifetime to the original owner30 daysBuyer pays shipping, 5% credit card processing fee
Specialized Bikeslifetime to the original owner30 daysUndamaged
Lynskey Bikeslifetime to the original owner30 daysNew, unridden condition
Mootslifetime to the original owner30 daysBuyer pays shipping
Trek Bikeslifetime to the original owner, 3 years to the subsequent owner from the original date of purchase30 daysLike-new condition
Yeti Bikeslifetime to the original owner14 daysNew, unridden condition, visible signs of wear will incur a 15% restocking fee
Commencal Bikes5 years, 2 years on downhill bikes7 daysNew, unridden condition
Factor Bikeslifetime to the original owner14 daysNew, unridden condition, 4.5% restocking fee
Fezzari BikesLifetime30 days
Revel Bikeslifetime to the original owner30 daysLike-new condition, visible signs of wear will incur a restocking fee
Ventum Bikeslifetime to the original owner30 daysNew, unridden condition. Partial refund for visible signs of wear
Lauf Bikes7 years30 daysLike-new condition, racing voids ability to return
Giant Bikeslifetime (downhill bikes excluded)60 daysNew, unridden condition with all original, undamaged packaging
Evillifetime30 daysNew, unridden condition with all original, undamaged packaging and tags
Alchemylifetime30 days10% restocking fee
Canfield2 year30 daysReturned items must be in the original box and/or packaging with all tags included
Rad Power Bikes1 year30 daysNew condition, $149 shipping fee, 30% on used bikes with under 20 miles on the odometer
Lectric1 year14 daysNew condition, $150 restocking fee
Aventon2 years14 daysNew condition, 50% restocking on used
Ride1Up1 year30 daysLike-new condition, less than 20 miles on odometer
Velotric5 years14 daysLike new condition $200 restocking on new bikes, 20% restocking fee on used bikes

It’s not uncommon for some models to be out of stock. Because bikes are made in batches, some might sell out due to their popularity while niche ones await for enough orders to accumulate to justify retooling the production line. If your mind is set on a model that’s out of stock, make sure you have a clear delivery date from the manufacturer before you put down the deposit.

If you’re shopping for an e-bike, beware that many bike shops may not be willing to work on an e-bike they don’t carry. Perhaps this is because the bike shop runs the risk of being liable, or maybe they just think it is bad for their business, but some shops may not work on any D2C brand e-bikes at all. Since you’ll likely want a home base to take your bike for repairs, it’ll be beneficial to gauge the bike shops’ attitudes in your area or go with a brand from the hybrid D2C model, as it is likely that some shops in your area will at least carry one of those brands.

If you have landed on a D2C company to buy from, call them first to get a feel for working with them. How quickly were you connected to someone? How friendly are they? Online, a company may seem perfect, but getting someone on the phone may be nearly impossible. Some companies don’t offer phone support at all, requiring all communications to happen in writing via a helpdesk or email. This might not necessarily be a concern, but it’d be prudent to test the quality and the timing of a response before purchase – it’s better to know this early rather than six months down the road when you are dealing with a warranty issue

What to consider in your specific bike

One of the most significant considerations is ensuring the bike will fit you. Bike frames are designed around the average body proportions, so if you fall outside of them by having short legs and long torso, or vice versa, or end up in-between sizes, the chances of you ending up with an ill-fitting bike go up quite a bit. It is always a good idea to consult an online bike fit calculator or even gather first-hand experiences from like-sized individuals on online forums. A letter size stamped onto the frame is not the only thing you want to consider, so consult the geometry charts for the bike you are looking at and discuss them with a professional if you are unfamiliar with what they mean.

If you already have a bike that fits you well, a website like Geometry Geeks can be a great resource. Here, you can look up the geometry of your current bike and compare it to the bike you are considering. You can also “reverse engineer” geometry, meaning you get the geometry numbers of the bike you are considering and try to find bikes with similar numbers that you can test ride, be that at a local bike shop or local social media cycling groups where you might be able to find someone with the bike you are considering. Some of the essential geometry numbers you may want to look at are reach, stack height, headtube angle, seat tube angle, wheelbase, and chainstay length.

bicycle geometry

Make sure the bike you are considering uses standard parts and sizes because this will make finding replacement parts much easier. Sometimes, sizes and parts will be specific to a brand, and brands have been known to run out of those parts. You don’t want to be off your bike simply because you are waiting for the company to send you something like a derailleur hanger or a suspension bearing.

And, if you are buying an e-bike, it is crucial to make sure the battery, motor, and all electronic aspects corresponding to the bike are UL-certified, which ensures the quality of those products. Low-quality batteries have been known to combust and cause numerous building fires, so much so that some buildings ban e-bikes outright. This may be an area to play it safe and go with an e-bike equipped with a Bosch or Shimano motor. Not only are these two of the most prominent battery/motor combos on the market, but it will also be the easiest to find a shop to service them.

Due to the economies of scale and the trickle down economics, most bikes within a specific price point are likely to have similar grade major components such as the frame and the wheelset. The difference is often seen in the drivetrain the bike is equipped with, which includes both gearing and brakes. While the improvements in the level of a drivetrain are incremental in both price and value, stepping up or down a level can yield significant differences in the feel of the bike. Refer to the table below for Shimano and SRAM drivetrain hierarchy.

 Shimano RoadShimano MTBSRAM RoadSRAM MTB
Entry-levelTiagraDeoreApexSX & NX
Mid-range105SLXRivalGX
High-endUltegraXTForceX01 / X0
Top-tierDura-AceXTRRedXX1 / XX

Assembling your D2C bike

While the bike you order will come mostly assembled, some wrenching is required of you. But, before you do that, pull out your phone and take photo/video evidence of how the box looks when it arrives, as well as the bike’s condition as you unbox it. Damage does happen during packaging or in transit, so document any you might see and contact the company if there are any issues.

Most D2C bikes will come with all the necessary tools to assemble the bike, except for a pump to air up the tires. The actual assembly is typically pretty easy, as it is usually just putting the front wheel on the fork and attaching the handlebars to the stem. Sometimes, you also need to install the seat post. Step-by-step videos can often be found on most companies' websites. Make sure you grease the axles before installing the wheels and use assembly paste on handlebars and the seat post to prevent these critical parts from slipping or fusing together. Both the grease and assembly paste can be gotten from a local bike shop, in case you don’t receive any with your bike. It is also advised to get a torque wrench, as almost every bolt has a specific torque spec that it needs to be tightened to. Consult the owner’s manual for torque specifications. On higher-end bikes this number is often written next to or on the bolt head itself.

If you are buying a mountain bike with air suspension, the company may or may not send a shock pump along with the tools. If they don’t, you can usually purchase one with your bike, which is recommended. When assembling the bike, make sure you check every bolt, not just the ones you tightened during assembly, as there is a chance that some bolts may have been missed or even rattled loose during shipping.

Beware that many higher-end bikes ship without pedals mostly because pedals are highly personal, especially if you prefer to ride clipped in, where at least a dozen of incompatible standards exist. If your bike does ship with pedals, it’s probably a very basic set and you should consider upgrading anyway.

If it just isn’t right

You just spent a good chunk of change on a bike, so make sure you’re happy with it. If you feel like it isn’t fitting, there are some adjustments you can make. Your seatpost can adjust up and down, and your seat can adjust forward and back, moving you closer or further away from the handlebars. You can also get a longer/shorter stem and/or roll the handlebars back or forward, which will help with reach adjustment. Spacers can be placed under or above the stem, getting the bars to your desired height. Hand and wrist pain might be mitigated by adjusting the angle of the brake and shifter levers. Before you send it back, make some adjustments and try different things – take advantage of the trial period.

Saddle comfort is a common complaint from people who haven’t ridden a bike in a while. Before you assume that the saddle doesn’t work for you, we encourage you to give it an honest try: it takes at least a dozen rides a few days apart for your body to get adjusted and glute muscles to develop enough to handle the rigors of riding a bike. If after putting in the time the saddle still leaves you sore, consider shopping for a new saddle rather than replacing the bike because it’s very likely the saddle problem might manifest itself on the new bike too.

If the bike still doesn’t work for you, go ahead and send it back. Give it a thorough wipe down to bring it back to that “like new” condition. Contact the bike company and get the process started for a return, asking them for a shipping label. Hopefully, you hung onto the box and all the packaging material because you will need to disassemble the bike and repackage it. Here, you should pull up the manufacturer’s assembly video and essentially watch it in reverse, repackaging the bike as best you can and fitting it back into the box. The big thing you want to be concerned about is making sure any pieces in contact with each other have packaging in between them, making sure nothing will be moving around (zip ties are your friend), and getting it back into the box. From there, the manufacturer should let you know which shipping carrier to drop it off or schedule a pick-up with. No matter how much money you save buying D2C, don’t keep a bike that doesn’t work for you.

Consider insurance

Theft, crash and physical injury are the three most common fears cyclists share. According to data from Project 529 Garage, a bicycle is stolen every 30 seconds and less than 5% of stolen bikes are returned to their owners, with 80% of cyclists in the US having had at least one bike stolen.

Crashing is an unfortunate and inevitable part of cycling, even experienced riders crash from time to time. A crash can happen for a number of reasons, from riding too fast for conditions, misjudging a turn, or hitting an obstacle. If you’re lucky, you can walk away from a crash with some road rash and maybe light cosmetic damage to the bike, but if you aren’t, you can total the bike or even end up in a hospital.

Whether you’re buying your first bike or adding another one to your stable, it is prudent to protect your investment into the cycling lifestyle. A specialty bicycle insurance policy, like the one from Velosurance, will cover your bike or e-bike for theft and accidental damage. Optional coverages like medical gap, liability, uninsured motorist, racing and worldwide coverage are also available. With over a decade in the bicycle insurance business, our experts can help you customize your policy to cover all risks associated with the cycling lifestyle.

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