The Beginner’s Guide to Picking the Perfect Bicycle

Choose the Right Bicycle Type Based on Your Needs.

bicycle choiseYou probably know the difference between a mountain bicycle and a cruiser, but there are a few types in between. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Mountain bicycle: Rugged and meant for off-road use, but you can use them on pavement, too.
  • Road bicycle: Meant for pavement use, like riding around in the city. Built for speed.
  • Hybrid bikes: A cross between mountain and road bikes. Not as fast as road bikes, and not as rugged as mountain bikes, but good for commuting.
  • Cruisers: Casual bike for, you know, cruising. The kind of bikes you see people ride around boardwalks near the beach.

This infographic also does an excellent job of breaking down the different bike types for beginners. Of course, there are all sorts of additional, specific types of bikes: tandem bikes, BMX bikes, fixed-gear bikes. But for us beginners, these four are a good place to start.

Calculate How Much You Want to Spend.

It goes without saying that bikes can be expensive. Those prices range quite a bit, though, from a hundred bucks to several thousand depending on what you buy.

  • The low range is $80 to $300. Usually these basic metal frames are just functional, though often still stylish. Target sells low-range models by numerous brands, including Huffy and Forge.
  • Mid-range bikes cost $300 to $1,000. These aluminum or lighter metal bikes are the best bet for everyday riders because their higher-quality wheels, chains and pedals increase their durability.
  • High-end bikes cost $1,000 and higher. These models are usually made of the lightest metals, including carbon and titanium, and are designed for more rigorous, everyday use or light competition. Riders can build their own model in a store or online by choosing from several different frame sizes, colors and wheel type.

You can also find decent, affordable bikes second-hand.
Once you know what kind of bike you need and what quality level you’re looking for, it’s time to dig into the specifics.

Make Sure Your Bicycle Fits You.

Your ideal frame size is based on the type of bike you choose, your height, and your inseam (the measurement from your crotch to the ground).
Handlebars matter, too. You want to be able to reach them, after all, so make sure the reach between your seat and the handlebars is comfortable.
The farther the seat is below the handlebars, generally, the more comfortable the ride. But higher handlebars let you apply more power to the pedals. The shape and position of your handlebars also depend on the bike you get.

Here are some common handlebar shapes and what they’re used for:

  • Drop bar: Found on most road bikes. Lightweight and aerodynamic, so ideal for fast riding. You are in a lower, hunched over position, which can be uncomfortable for your back.
  • Flat bar: Common on hybrid bikes, sometimes on road or mountain bikes. They allow you to sit upright in a more comfortable position that reduces strain on your hands, wrists, and shoulders.
  • Riser bar: Common on mountain bikes. They extend slightly upward and back and allow you to sit farther back to see ahead and maintain steering control.
  • Mustache bar: Found on some road and hybrid bikes. Kind of like drop bars but the drop isn’t as deep.

Once you decide what type of bike you want and the fit you need, it’s time to decide what you want out of its features: gears, wheel size, suspension, and brakes.

Know Your Gears, Suspension, and Brake Type.

To keep it simple, the most important things to consider are your fitness level and the terrain you’ll be riding. If you’ll be riding lots of hills and you find climbing challenging, then you’ll want to opt for more gears. If you’re a strong cyclist or you only ride flat terrain, you won’t need as many low gears to power up a hill so you can get away with fewer gears, which will keep your bike light.

You may also want to consider your bike’s suspension. Suspension is meant to keep you well, suspended, if you’re riding in a rough, rugged area. If you’re looking for a mountain bike, you probably want one with full or at least front suspension. Full suspension helps you maintain control and increases traction. Front suspension absorbs impact and makes for a smooth ride, and it’s ideal for hybrids, too. If you’re getting a road bike, your bike may not include any suspension at all.

Finally, there are the brakes. There are a number of different types of brakes, and they all have pros and cons. Here are the most common:

  • Rim Brakes: Pads that grip onto the rims of the wheel. They’re simple and easy to maintain, but they can wear out the wheel rim and they might be less effective if the rim is wet or muddy.
  • Disc Brakes: Pictured above, these are brakes that are attached to and grip onto the wheel hub. They can be more complicated to inspect and replace than rim brakes, but they work better in different weather conditions.
  • Coaster Brakes: These are the brakes that work when you pedal backward. There’s not much maintenance involved, and they’re good for kids, who may not have much hand strength. They may not be ideal when you’re biking downhill, though.
  • Drum Brakes: Integrated into the wheel hub. They’re low maintenance and weather-resistant. If the drum wears out, though, the hub and wheel may need to be replaced, too.

Depending on the bike, you might not have much choice over the brakes, but it’s good to at least be familiar with what kind of brakes your bike comes with.

Adjust the Fit and Go for a Test Ride.

When you’re pedaling and your leg is all the way down (pedal is in 6:00 position), your knee should be slightly bent. If your leg is straight (knee locked), your seat is too high. If your knee is very bent… your seat is too low. Either problem can hurt your knees, and a seat height that’s too short robs you of power and makes it harder to ride…Also, in normal riding position with the pedals parallel to the ground, your front knee (from almost the front edge) should be directly over the pedal spindle (the middle of the pedal). This avoids knee pain.

Take your bike for a test spin. When you do, there are a few important things to look out for.

  • Comfort: Are you comfortable with the posture of the bike you picked? If it’s a hybrid, are you okay with sitting upright? If it’s a road bike that you’re going to use for a commute, will you be comfortable pedaling in the amount of time it takes you to get to work?
  • Ability to handle the terrain: Ideally, you should test ride your bike on different surfaces. See how it handles corners, hills, and descents.
  • Carrying capacity: If you plan on carrying stuff with you on your bike, you want to see how it handles when you’ve got a load on you. If it’s a lightweight bike, you might find it difficult to ride. You may need accessories, like a tow trailer, or you might just need a heavier hybrid or mountain bike.

You may also want to test ride multiple bikes to get a feel for different styles. There’s a lot to choose from out there, and the process can be complicated if you’re not a bike enthusiast. These are just the basics, but they should help you get started and pick a bike that’s perfect for your needs and your comfort.

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