Biking is booming, thanks in part to rising gas prices and more cycling-friendly cities. If you’re just getting on board with biking—or even an experienced cyclist looking for an upgrade, you know that choosing a bike can be overwhelming. Make it easy on yourself: These tips from cycling experts will help you avoid common mistakes when you’re choosing a bike so you can get the right fit for you.
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Not realizing that where you shop can be as important as what bike you buy.
A bicycle shop is more than simply a place to purchase a bike: Unlike many of the superstore chains, a good independent retailer offers maintenance packages, a wide variety of mechanic-assembled bicycles and has well-trained, professional staff eager to offer one-on-one assistance. Many shops even organize cycling clubs or events, which can be a great way for a beginner to meet other cyclists.
“As with any type of retailer, there are great shops and not-so-great shops, but a new or experienced cyclist should see buying a bike as the beginning of a long-term relationship,” says Stacey Moses, the marketing manager for Revolution Cycles, a popular bike retailer in the Washington, D.C. region.
Buying a bike for fashion, not function. Many people buy mountain bikes for their gnarly looks, but never take them off-road. But riding a bike in a different way than what it was designed for can damage the bike, and be uncomfortable for the rider.
When choosing a bike, start by considering the type of riding you want to do: Are you planning to conquer bumpy trails and hills? Then you’ll need a mountain bike. “There are many options of mountain bikes depending on how aggressive of terrain you intend to ride,” says Mike Sohm, a representative at Specialized Bicycle Components. “A full suspension bike has more shocks on the front and rear, giving you more control when the trail is difficult.”
Are you thinking about taking on a long-distance road ride or getting into road racing or triathlons? Check out skinny-tired road bikes with drop-handles that are built for speed and distance. If your desires are more leisurely—or you’re unsure—you may be in the market for a more general-purpose hybrid bike, Moses says.
Choosing a bike that doesn’t fit. In order to make sure your bike fits, make sure you work with a professional at a bike retail shop who is trained to assist with proper bike fitting. While some muscle soreness should be expected when adjusting to a new bike, numbness in the hands, shoulders or saddle area, and knee and/or back pain are signs that a bicycle does not fit correctly, according to Moses.
“Generally speaking, you want to have about an inch between the bike and your body when you stand over the top tube, and be able to comfortably reach the brake levers and shifters on the handlebars while positioned on the saddle,” says Moses.
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Not trying before you buy. Every bike fits and feels a little different, so test riding is crucial. Most shops will happily let you take a ride around the block or even rent a bike to try it out. Once you find one you like, the necessary adjustments, like saddle height and position, can be made to perfect the fit.
“Choosing the right frame generally begins with testing the stand-over height, but bike geometry varies by brand and style, so the best way to find the right bike is to try out a few different models and to work with a knowledgeable bike shop to find the best fit,” Moses says.
Settling too quickly. Beginning bikers sometimes don’t take the time to shop around, often settling on a bicycle out of convenience. Then, you run the risk of ending up with a bike that doesn’t fit correctly or you’re simply unhappy with. While bike buying doesn’t need to be a long and stressful process, like anything else, it pays to be patient and do your research. Before you buy, conduct a bit of online research, and ask experienced cyclists for their advice and recommendations.
Cheating yourself by being cheap. While you don’t necessarily need to buy a top-of-the-line model when you’re just starting out, keep in mind that you get what you pay for. A good entry-level bicycle may run anywhere from $700 to $1,200. Remember that while a quality bike is an investment, it will run more smoothly and last far longer than a cheap one.
“More expensive frame materials will be lighter, more responsive, more comfortable and more efficient,” Moses says. “There are many wonderful entry-level models available in hybrid, road and mountain bikes. And as you move up in price, your ride quality will increase.”
If you’re on a budget, consider shopping for used bikes through a reputable bike shop. A reconditioned road bike can be bought for as little as $200.
Along with the bike, you will need to purchase the necessary accessories like a helmet, spare tube and appropriate cycling apparel. “Save some money for accessories as they can improve your cycling experience,“ says Sohm. “A good pair of cycling shorts will make riding your bike much more enjoyable.”