Monday, June 15, 2009

Cycling Newbie: Buying a bike

As a cyclist I'm often asked for advice on how to get started in cycling. The question usually goes something like "So, how much does a new bike cost?" or "What kind of bike should I buy?" I've gotten the question enough of late that I decided to write a few short articles for "newbie" riders. Today we'll address the issue of what kind of bike to buy.

1. Don't buy a bike at a big box discount store. There are some things that big box stores like Costco, Wal-Mart and Target are great for, buying a bike is probably not one of them. As a runner friend is fond of saying, "You don't buy your running shoes at Payless." Sometimes low prices are bargains, and sometimes low prices are just cheap, and sometimes cheap means you'll be spending more money down the road.

2. What kind of riding are you interested in? Do you want to ride dirt trails and go off-road? Do you like riding fast on asphalt? Do you just want to ride with friends and family on the occasional weekend outing? How you answer these questions is critical because it will determine what type of bike you should probably buy.

If you want to be a roadie, perhaps you see yourself racing or riding with a local club, you probably want a road bike. These bikes are usually built for speed, they tend to be light and very responsive. The geometry of these bikes however makes riders take on a more "crouched over" position that may be uncomfortable for the novice rider. However, usually a good fit will minimize aches; this is one reason why you probably don't want to buy your bike at a discount store. Skippy, who makes minimum wage probably doesn't even ride a bike or even if he wanted to, couldn't fit you properly to your bike.

If you know you're going to do trail riding, then you want a mountain bike. Mountain bikes are built fortough terrain. Tires are bigger and the tread is made for dirt, and some even have shock absorbers. However, the thing that has made mountain bikes popular is that they allow riders to sit much more upright, which affords a more comfortable ride. Yet another advantage of these bikes is that they have three chainrings (the big gears attached to the pedals) that allows for more gears which makes going up hills a lot easier. This is why a salesman at a local bike shop was telling me that the vast majority of mountain bikes they sell probably never see dirt.

A third alternative is the hybrid bike. A hybrid as the name implies is a cross between a road and mountain bike. It offers the more comfortable upright position of a mountain bike, but it has the smaller tires and usually a lighter frame than mountain bikes. While these bikes are heavier than road bikes, they handle the pavement very well and do well on dirt and gravel roads. They probably don't do well on mountain trails however. These are bikes that beginners can enjoy as a beginning step into cycling. They are great for cruising, but have more gears than say a beach cruiser, they are good on the road, but are more comfortable than a road bike, and while they aren't the best on mountain trails, they hold their own on rough pavement or trails.

3. Bike Fit. I've mentioned this already but it bears repeating: No matter what type of bike you get, fit is key. Most bike shops, especially local shops, offer to fit, or adjust your new bike to your body. Good bike fit will prevent back pain and knee problems and improve comfort. The more comfortable you are on your bike, the more likely you will be to ride and the more enjoyable your rides will be.

Stay tuned for future articles and ideas for new cyclists. Let me know if you have any questions, I'll be happy to cover them in the future.

Ride on!

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