What Are the Best Bike Brands?


“What is THE best Bike Brand?” Many potential bike buyers are asking that question. It seems like a fair question that must have a simple answer. But as with most issues simple answers only come to the less informed. In the interest of brevity this article too will be an oversimplification.

There are 150-ish bicycle brands in the US market. Those 150 brands can be divided fairly neatly into two groups, Discount Store quality and Bike Shop quality. I don’t know how many of these 150 brands are Bike Shop quality, but staying in the vein of oversimplification let’s say there are 110. (It is Bike Shop quality bikes that we are concerned with here, Discount Store quality bike brands are discussed in a previous post)

From those 110 brands we get, the “Big 3”, and  “The Top Ten”. Many people will limit themselves to purchasing bikes from among those brands. But if those top 10 brands were really unquestionably “The best bike brands”, why would the other 100-ish brands exist? There must be something those “Other 100” brands offer that allow them to exist in a marketplace dominated by giants. After-all todays “Big 3” brands all started-up as newcomers in the “Other 100” list of their day in a marketplace that was dominated by big players of that time. Some of those big players are now gone.

So why are there so many Bike Shop quality brands and why should anyone consider buying a bike that is not rated in someone’s top 10 list?

The oversimplified answer is;

There really isn’t much difference in quality between the “Big 3”, and the, “Other 100”

Does that surprise you?

I’ve worked at many bike shops and have worked with many brands. I’ve seen new brands start that are still around today and others that had been around for years that are now gone. Whatever brand a bike shop carried was touted as “The best”, but then a year later that shop might drop a brand for any of various reasons and the new-to-them brand became “The best”.

I’d work at another shop and their brand would be “The best” up till they brought in another brand which became “The best”.

How can this be? Well, first of all, by what standard are bike brands being judged to be labeled as “The best”? Best looking? Best price? Best innovation? Best warranty? Best components? Best manufacturing quality? Best frames? Best selection? Best availability? Best at working with bike shops to make it easy to carry the brand? Best selling? No brand can claim all of those.

Best Looking, though a valid point, is a bit too subjective for me to comment on.

Best Price is generally going to be awarded to brands lower in the “Other 100”.

Best Innovation is a tough one. There are lots of areas of design in which a bicycle brand can innovate. A larger brand might have a bigger budget to work with to drive innovation, but a smaller or newer company might have more energy and fresher ideas that have given them a place in this market dominated by giants.

Best Warranty? Bike brands warranties are similar to many other aspects of their marketing strategies, they all look at the competition and in their drive to be competitive they all end-up with very similar products on many fronts, including the warranties.

Best components? Well, most bicycle brands are going to be using derailers and shifters made by Shimano or SRAM. These component brands have a broad range of models of various qualities. No bike manufacturer has exclusive access to these components, they all use them. Additionally, there are many high quality “Name Brand” components such as handle bars, stems, seat-posts, saddles, wheel components, crank-sets, that are available in the open marketplace. More expensive bikes will often have such name brand components.  But most larger bicycle brands have their own “house brands” of such components which cost them less than using the name brands. These “House Brand” components can be of good quality, but in general are used to help keep the price down. No matter the brand of bike, the less expensive models will have lower quality components, the more expensive models will have better quality components.

Best Manufacturing quality? There are only so many bicycle factories on the planet with the infrastructure to mass produce bicycles at the quality level that has become the industry standard for Bike Shop quality bikes. Many Brands, dare I say All bicycle brands, including the “Big 3” are manufactured in the same facilities that other of the “Other 100” brands are made in. The same factories, the same workers, using many of the same components.

Best Frames? Again as far as manufacturing there are only so many factories. Many bike brands frames are made by the same workers in the same facilities using the same quality standards and carry the same warranty.

Best Selection? This is a bit of a moot point for consumers. You only need the type of bike that you need. It does not matter to you if a certain brand has kiddie bikes, comfort bikes, hybrids, off-road machines, as well as road bikes and time-trial bikes. All you need is the bike that you need. It can be convenient to the bike shop to have an all-encompassing brand but not to the consumer.

Best Availability? Again, this is more of a concern to the bike shop than the customer. Some smaller brands are likely to have an innovation that sets them apart from the bigger brands but they might not have the inventory to fill the demand if their bike should be a hit.

Some of the big brands can be a bit pushy. They are fully aware of their dominance in the marketplace and the benefit that gives the bike shops that carry their brand. Thus they are able to bully their dealers into doing things their way, which might not be in the best interest of the shop or its customers. Smaller brands are just thankful to exist and often try to accommodate dealers which in turn can spill-over to accommodating customers needs.

Best selling? This can be a bit of a self perpetuating circular reasoning that might explain the dominance of the “Big 3”.

Bike shopper 1:
Q; “What are the best selling brands?”
A; “Brands X, Y and Z.”
“OK, thanks, I’ll buy one of those.”
And so the “Big 3” continue to dominate.

Bike shopper 2:
Q; “What are the best selling brands?”
A; “Brands X, Y and Z.”
“OK, thanks, I’ll buy one of those.”

And so the “Big 3” continue to dominate.

Bike shopper 3:
Q; “What is the best bike for my needs, with the right components for my situation, with the look that I like, that is available in my size, that my local bike shop can provide me and help me maintain?”
A; “Good question! There is no easy answer, but your local bike shop can help you figure that out.”
And so the “Other 100” continue to exist, and for good reason.

The real differences between Bike Shop quality brands are ones of style and personality, color and specific component combinations and innovations. By buying a top 10 brand you are getting pretty much the same quality, and warranty you’ll get with most other brands.


So how do you decide which bike from this overwhelming selection is right for you?


What you need to do is first find a bike shop that is convenient to you that you can build a relationship with, then explore bikes that they carry that are right for your needs and you like the looks of. Whether they sell one of the top 10”, or one of the “Other 100” you are going to get a bike that will be a good value.

What if West Trails Bicycles carried one of the “Big 3” brands? Would that change my perspective on this? You bet, I’d suggest that you buy one of the “Big 3”, in particular the one that we carried. After-all it’s one of the “best selling” brands! What more reason can you possibly need?

But that would not change the reality that other brands could be just as good, and in-fact might be a better fit for your needs.

The only time you are getting a bad deal is when you are sold a bike that is not a good fit, size-wise or style wise for your intended use. Brand, in my opinion, is not nearly as important as getting the right bike for your needs.