How to Choose a Bicycle
Seeing the myriad of bicycles on display when you walk into your local bike shop to buy one, can be intimidating. However, buying a bike is actually pretty simple. Here's how you do it. Pick a bike shop you like; determine what type of bike you need; decide how much you want to spend on it; get on the right size; test ride a few; and take one home. It's really that simple, but read on for the details.
First, Choose a Bike Shop You Like. It's nice to establish a relationship with your bike shop. You'll be going back for service, accessories, and information; and knowing the folks at your bike shop, and them knowing you, simply makes your visits there more enjoyable. Plus, a good shop will fit you properly, show you how to operate your new bike, and help you get started biking. It's a relationship kind of business.
Second, Determine What Type of Bike You Need. What type of bike you need, of course, depends on how you are going to be using it. These days there are numerous types of bikes on the market from which to choose. Moreover, different companies call them by different names, so what type of bike you're looking at can be confusing. Here are some descriptions of the most common types of bikes you'll see to help you determine what kind you need, excluding children's bikes and other specialty bikes.
Road Bikes, once called ten speeds or racing bikes, are those familiar bikes with the skinny tires and dropped-down, lean-over handlebars. They are light and fast, which makes them great for riding long distances, but they're pretty much restricted to pavement use. A road bike is a good choice if you want to add cycling to your fitness routine, to replace or supplement your running, or for maybe trying your first triathlon. Geared toward the enthusiast, road bikes start at around $700.
Mountain Bikes. No doubt you've seen them with their fat, knobby tires and flat handlebars. However, these days you'll see several variations on that theme as mountain bikes have evolved into several species. They're still offered with front suspension only, called hard tails, and in dual suspension models with suspension on both the front and rear wheels. These bikes have traditionally come with 26" wheels. However, in the past few years, mountain bikes have begun to be offered with larger 29" wheels. These bikes, called "29er's", have been mainly for sport riding with their big, fat, roll-over-anything wheels, but now we're starting to see these big wheels on what might be called urban mountain bikes as well. The difference in these urban bikes is that they use more narrow tires to make them faster on the street. Which type of mountain bike you pick: hard tail, dual suspension, 29'er, or urban mountain bike, depends on whether you're taking up the sport of mountain biking, or riding predominantly on the street. This is where a visit to the bike shop, where you can see and test ride these different types of bikes, will help you figure out which way to go. Mountain bikes start at around $400.
Hybrids & Comfort Bikes are basically the same kind of bike except that they have different size tires. Both types of bikes are designed for more casual riding with a comfortable upright riding position. Hybrids, with medium size tires, easily negotiate the rougher city streets and allow for the occasional cut across the grass or ride down the sidewalk. Comfort bikes have wider tires. The wider tires absorb bumps better, giving the bike a smoother, more stable ride. They're also better for riding on dirt roads. Comfort bikes do, however, sacrifice some of the nimbleness of the more narrow hybrid tires. Both hybrids and comfort bikes make good city bikes. They're ideal for pedaling around the neighborhood or park, riding with the kids, or for running the occasional errand. They range from $400 to $600.
Flat Bar Road Bikes are a relatively new type of bicycle. They are a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. With flat handlebars, they fit like a mountain bike where you lean over a little bit, but they ride like a road bike with their narrow tires. However, unlike most road bikes, they will, if desired, accommodate fatter tires to make them more rugged. These bikes also easily accommodate luggage racks and fenders. Thus, a flat bar road bike makes a good city, commuter, or utility bike, yet it maintains a good bit of performance for longer rides. These are very versatile bikes. You'll see some variations on this theme. Some bikes will come with fatter tires. Some will have front suspensions, others not. Some manufacturers call them performance hybrids, others may call them street performance bikes. Here again, a visit to your local bike shop will help you sort these out. This category of bike normally starts close to $600.
The Townie is also a relatively new product. Invented by Electra, the Townies are their series of bikes that have what they call "flat foot technology". Unlike any other bike on the market, the Townies allow you to have the seat high enough for proper leg extension, which makes the bike easier to pedal, yet still have both feet flat on the ground. The riding position is comfortably upright, and the wide tires give the bike a very stable ride. This is a great bike if you haven't ridden in a long time or if you just don't like that tip-toe reach to the ground common to other kinds of bikes. These bikes start in the mid $400s.
There are Other Types of Bikes on the market aside from the ones discussed above: recumbents, folding bikes, single speed bikes, touring bikes, commuter bikes,and more. Most of these are bikes for specific uses. Once again, your local bike shop is the best source of information on these assorted bikes.
Now that we've reviewed the different types of bikes available: road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrid & comfort bikes, flat-bar road bikes, and Townies, hopefully you've gotten an idea of what type of bike you need, which, you may recall, was step two for buying a bike, after picking a bike shop.
Third, Decide What You Want to Spend. You'll find that bikes are very competitively priced from brand to brand and store to store. At a given price point, you'll see similar, if not identical, components used on the different brands of bikes. Although there are some high-end brands, especially for racing, you won't find designer brands for which you pay more merely for the name. Thus, you can be less concerned about the pricing. As with anything, the more you spend, the higher quality you'll get. With bikes, nicer ones ride better and last longer. Of course the more you ride, the more you may want to spend on your bike. Also, remember that you'll have your bike for a long time. So, spend what you can up front.
Fourth, Determine Your Size. Bike shop quality bikes come in different sizes to fit different size people. You determine what size bike you need by simply standing over it. In general, you want to clear that top bar by an inch or two, depending on the type bike and the type of riding you'll be doing. You'll find that the "stand over height" will vary from bike to bike, even though they may be labeled as the same size. That's because different manufacturers measure their bikes differently. Thus, you may ride a different size bike in a different brand. That's OK. Besides the stand-over height, the other critical dimension to be aware of when sizing your bike, is the reach from the seat to the bars. Like the stand over height, the reach will vary from bike to bike. In any case, the overriding goal is to end up on the most comfortable bike. You can best assess the size and fit of a bike by taking it for a test ride, which is the last step in selecting your new bike.
Fifth, Take Some Test Rides. Take the different types of bikes out for a short test ride. This will help you understand the differences between the different kinds of bikes, and help you determine which type you need. You'll feel the difference, for example, in the speed and leaned-over riding position of a flat bar road bike, compared to the stability and more upright riding position of a hybrid. Also test ride some bikes at different price points. You'll find that the features on the bikes don't change so much as you go up in price, they all have two wheels, a seat, and handlebars, but you will notice the difference in quality. The better bikes will have a smoother, lighter, more solid feel to them.
Finally, Take one home.
So let's summarize.
First, pick a bike shop you like; determine what type of bike you need; decide how much you want to spend on it; get on the right size; test ride a few; and take one home. Buying a bike is really that simple. You'll know when you find the right one. It's sort of like buying your shoes. It'll just feel right. Enjoy the process.
7 Comments so far...
With so many types of bikes and manufacturers today it is a bit difficult to make a good decision on which bike to buy. In addition, you will only know you bought the right or wrong one after you use it for a reasonable amount of time.
This article, nevertheless, is right on.
It would be nice if you do reviews of less expensive bikes, those in the $300 range for mountain bikes.
I enjoyed visiting your website, and thanks for the deralleur video.
-Posted on Aug 14th, 2008 by Noel
After visiting several bike shops in the area, I found yours to have the most affordable bikes and by far the most knowledgable staff. True, spending $800 or morecan hit the pocketbook pretty hard, but I think you get what you pay for, and I appreciate the information and instruction.
-Posted on Sep 11th, 2008 by mmbh
I think it does a disservice to the potential bike buyer to describe recumbents as so specialized to be outside consideration. Certainly the distinctiveness of their handling and performance as well as their relatively higher prices make them not the bike for everyone; however, they do suit a wide variety of riders and should be considered a viable an option as any other.
-Posted on Mar 28th, 2009 by Bent Advocate
I knew nothing about bikes but trying to buy one for my partner's birthday gift. This really helped!
-Posted on Sep 21st, 2009 by Nikasha
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