OK, you’ve told us what not to buy, and hinted on getting a bike in the right size. What should I buy?
First, let’s review: we don’t want junk and we want a bike that fits. That really narrows things down a bit doesn’t it? Actually, if you think about it, that wipes out about 90% of the bikes out there for sale. So let’s see if we can figure out the other 10 or so percent.
Let’s answer some questions about you. Where do you ride? How do you ride? What are you trying to get out of riding? What’s your budget?
Where do you ride: Prior to the mid-to-late 1970′s there were only two kinds of bikes, regular and racing. Racing bikes might be 3 speeds or 10 speeds, but everything else was just a regular bike. Racing bikes had skinny tires so riding them offroad was generally not done. But a good ‘ol balloon tire’d Schwinn would go anywhere.
Now we have roadbikes, mountain bikes, comfort bikes, urban bikes, cargo bikes, and a whole bunch more. Roadbikes are still good for the road, but all the other bikes with the right set of tires are pretty good for the road, too. In fact anything but a roadbike may be a better bike on the road than even a roadbike. The exception is of course if you want to travel faster. Then you can’t beat a roadbike.
Offroad even has become a pretty specialized subject. If you are interested in riding in the dirt then read everything you can, talk to other riders, and talk to riders that ride where you want to ride.
How do you ride: are you in shape? Is that shape referred to as pear shaped? Are you a marathon runner that’s about to go through a set of knees? Is a big outing down to 7-11 for more beer?
Are you an aggressive rider? Passive?
How you ride and your level of fitness will also help determine your bike choice. If you want to go green, save some gas, and run to the store now and then, you’re looking for a different bike than say a marathoner looking to preserve his legs. If you’re old and fat and haven’t thrown a leg over a saddle in 40 years, you’ll probably not need a sub 20 pound bike.
What are you trying to get out of riding: health? Errands? Fresh air? Time with your kids? Grandkids? This question sort of goes along with how you ride, but also along with where do you ride. Do you see the pattern here? As we ask and answer more questions we begin to focus on the bike itself.
For example, I’m old, out of shape, I want to ride for health, and maybe a few errands with the grandkids, in the city but occasionally on the trails up in the hills. Ok, that last part was a laugher because the only way I’m going to get a bike up and down most of the trails around here (central Oregon) is in the back of a Jeep.
Let’s filter this down a little more: road, slow, easy to ride, and weight isn’t an issue. Ding! Mountain bike with quality tires. Mountain bikes sit upright–you can see and be seen, larger low-pressure tires make a more comfortable ride, the upright seating makes for a sprung, wider, more comfortable seat. Plus a true mountain bike is stronger as it is meant to take the shock and abuse of off-road riding.
A comfort bike would be a good choice as well in this case. They have an even more upright seating position than most mountain bikes.
Or, conversely, I’m in pretty good shape, I get tired of the same old neighborhood, I understand that carrying groceries is for the mini-van. I do like to ride with my kids however.
Or I’m really out of shape but plan to be in shape by next summer. We have trails around here…
And so on. As you add to the list your choice will become clearer.
There are two observations I would share however. One is that all bikes are a compromise. No one bike is perfect for everything. So use the 90/10 rule here, figure out what or how you will ride 90% of the time and go with that.
The corollary of that is that one bike, while not perfect, can do pretty much everything. Cyclocross is a sport where lightweight racing bikes are raced on mountain trails–usually muddy. I’ve seen riders on the Oregon Coast (360+ miles) doing fully loaded touring on mountain bikes.
Unless you’re looking for a specific type of bike for a specific riding condition (then all of this really doesn’t apply to you), you’ve got a bit of wiggle room when choosing a bike.
Observation number two is: whatever bike you choose, you will outgrow it or change your mind about it — very soon. And that’s OK. As you grow as a rider, as you get stronger, as you wander farther in your travels, the answers to the above questions will change. And then you’ll have good idea of what you’ll need or want then, too. And that will last until you’re ready for the next one.
Last one: Budget. This is actually pretty easy. You can get a decent bike for under a hundred dollars, often less than $50. I know this for a fact because I do it all the time. One to $200 will get you a fantastic bike.
I know bike shop owners won’t like this but, for your first quality bike I’d suggest buying a used bike. They’re cheaper, they typically hold their value better, and since you’re into the bike for less money, you can sell it easier when you move up.
Once you’ve ridden a while and know the answers to the last set of questions, invest in a good, quality bike. Better yet, have one made for you. At that point you’re more likely to have settled into a riding style and having that perfect bike will be the best investment you can make. And on your way to getting that custom bike, save your pennies, sell the bikes you’re growing on for a profit, put your gas savings in a jar–whatever it takes–invest in a good bike.
OK–next: Going shopping. Reading and deciphering ads, kicking tires, test rides.