How to Choose a Bicycle
There many different types of bicycles and many different types of people with different biking needs. Some people like tricks, some like races, and some like speed control. You will need to take into account your own preferences when choosing the right bicycle for yourself.
- Learn how to ride if you don't already know. That's the first and most important step. You can do this on practically any bike that is the right size for you, but starting on a basic single speed bike with coaster brakes is usually best, since you don't have to worry about shifting gears and front/rear braking sequences.
- Learn about the basic types of bikes. Here are a few examples, with a brief description of each.
- Standard bikes. These are old-fashioned, single speed bikes with coaster brakes (pedal backwards to brake). Good for leisurely riding around town if there are no serious hills or other obstacles.
- BMX bikes. Low profile bikes with 20 inch, usually knobby tires. These are for "competition" biking on trails or courses. And have cable operated caliper brakes on the front and rear. These bikes are single geared bikes.
- Road bikes. This is a general term for traditional bicycles designed for good performance on pavement. There is a wide range of choices within this category; often they can be classified into the two broad groups of racing/performance or touring. Racing bikes are designed for pure speed with an emphasis on light weight, and place the rider in an aggressive posture. Touring bikes are designed for sustained comfort and carrying loads. They have heavier components for durability, mounts for rack and fender attachments, and have a more upright riding position. Road bikes traditionally have "drop" or "aero" handlebars which allow the rider a range of hand positions for comfort or for achieving an aerodynamic riding position.
- Mountain bikes. Bikes designed for offroad use, with compact frames, stable handling, clearance for wide and knobby tires, and higher handlebars for a more upright position. For hilly terrain these bikes will generally come with low-range gearing. There are many types designed for specific purposes, such as downhill versus cross-country racing. They can be equipped with sophisticated suspension and disc brake systems. Mountain bikes are also very popular as all-around bicycles due to their versatility; with slick tires they can be efficient on roads.
- Tandem bikes. These bikes have an extra seat and set of pedals for two people to ride together.
- Recumbent bikes. These bicycles seat the rider in a "reclining" position with the pedals forward, which is a more natural position requiring less flexibility than upright bikes. They can be fitted with windshields for good aerodynamic performance. However they are generally heavier and can't match the performance of racing style upright bikes.
- Choose a mountain bike if you like going over large bumps and dirt. Many mountain bikes have at least a front suspension, to improve comfort and steering control on rough surfaces. Mountain bikes can also be good for general urban riding, due to the stability and for going over curbs and the like. Beginners may find mountain bike handlebars and controls easier to use.
- Think about your intended usage. If you don't intend to ride on unpaved trails, a road bike will be more efficient. But the racing style bikes will not be very comfortable or practical for casual or practical riders. It can be difficult to find more comfort-oriented road bikes in shops; they tend to push either racing bikes or mountain bikes. A popular middle ground is the "hybrid" style bike.
- If you intend to mount a basket, saddlebags, or a baby seat, you will want to be sure the frame is compatible with these devices. Many bike shops have complete assemblies with these attachments already mounted, so there will be no doubt of their suitability.
- Road and mountain bikes usually have gears and shifters, usually operated by some kind of trigger. They are very useful for most riders, especially in hilly terrain, or for high performance. They let you adjust your pedalling effort to account for hills, wind, or your own fatigue. However, these systems also add significant cost and complexity (and weight). For this reason, or just for the challenge, some riders choose a bike with a single gear ("singlespeed" bikes). Any bike can be converted to a singlespeed, but unless the frame is designed for it, a chain tensioner will be required.
- The fit of the bike is essential to consider. Different bikes have different dimensions for varying body types. Make sure the straddle height isn't too high for you, so that mounting and dismounting will be comfortable and easy. Bikes come equipped with tires from 12" for children's bikes, up to a standard 26 inch, for adults, and even higher for specialized racing bikes.
- Test ride a bike before you buy it. If you can't get the bike shop to let you try theirs out, go to another shop, or borrow one from a friend. It is easier to get a bike that fits, than to adjust and get acclimated to one that doesn't.
- Buy or have your bike professionally assembled. This is especially true with derailleur equipped bikes, but having it done professionally insures all the nuts and bolts are installed and tightened correctly, and all the accessories are properly fitted and adjusted correctly, as well.
- Buying a bike will be much easier if you choose a bike shop rather than a "big box" store, since the shop should employ knowledgeable people who can help you make a good choice.
- Mountain bikes are often bought for use as general purpose road bikes. While they are comfortable and easy to ride on the road, there are two things to watch out for if you only want it as a general purpose road bike:
- Get mudguards: one problem with mountain bikes is that they are really intended for off-road cycling where mud, leaves and sticks could get caught in the mudguards, therefore they tend to not have mudguards. For your daily cycle on the road, mudguards are essential (otherwise you will get a muddy streak up your back, and other cyclists and road users will get covered in your spray when riding being you). Unless you really want your mountain bike for serious off-road cycling, insist on good quality mudguards, that cover the whole wheel (not just one of those so called 'crud catcher' style plastic guards that fit below the saddle - save those for off-road cycling).
- Avoid chunky tires: mountain bikes tend to have very chunky tires, with deep a tread. This sort of tyre is essential for gripping in muddy conditions, but on a road (even a wet one), the deep tread only serves to make cycling difficult. The extra energy required to pedal with chunky tires is considerable. You can hear the low hum that they generate! So, unless you really need the bike for serious off-road riding, you should get tires with shallow tread. Smooth slick-tires are good for road riding, but mostly for racing, they can be slippery in the wet and expensive. However there is a good range of general purpose road tires with shallow tread, these make an excellent tire for a mountain bike for use on the road.
- Mountain bike handlebars can become uncomfortable after a while when your hands are in the same position for too long. There are a couple of things you can try to do about this. One is bar ends: these are extra "horns" that stick on the ends of the handlebars and provide an alternative grip. They can also make it easier to get your body forward for climbing or pedalling into the wind. Another option is the grips themselves; some companies such as Ergon make grips with a more anatomical shaped bulge which you may find more comfortable than the simple round tube grips.
- Wear a helmet at all times. Head injuries can disable you for the remainder of your life.
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