What type of bicycle is right for you?
Only you can answer this question. I will attempt to navigate a few of your options here, but you should explore others' opinions on this subject as well. Ultimately, you should investigate your goals, needs, abilities, the methods of properly fitting a bicycle, and frame & component quality before arriving at a final decision. Your primary travel routes, terrain and riding habits may require more than one type of bicycle.
- A hybrid may suit your commuting needs, while a road
racing bike might match your fitness routine.
- A sport touring bike may suit both your
transportation and fitness purposes.
- A hardtail mountain bike may satisfy your commuting
and recreational needs.
- A single-speed may be the only bike you need, etc.
The possible combinations are only limited by your imagination, your needs and your pocketbook. The size of your bank account should not be an impediment, however, with the ready availability of quality, used bicycles.
My Reintroduction to Road Cycling
I have been through numerous phases throughout my life when I would cycle daily, but I would gradually slip out of the routine. My reintroduction to road cycling as an adult (and the beginnings of my current addiction) came via the mountain bike.
I purchased a Raleigh hardtail (a mountain bike equipped with front shocks, but no rear suspension) in the summer of 2000 after being encouraged by my younger sister to tag along on some local trails. I soon became irritated by the prospect of having to load bikes and gear into (or onto) a vehicle in order get to the trails before darkness fell. Living a mile from the Cape Cod Canal, it was very convenient to simply hop on the bike and ride there each evening. Trips to off road trails quickly stopped as I got caught up in this much easier routine. My off road adventures became limited to the path from the road, through the woods, across the railroad tracks and to the Cape Cod Canal service road (a two minute trek). I continued this routine until I wimped out from the cold. I was only a couple of months into riding again, and the true cycling addiction had yet to take hold.
The following spring (the first week of May, 2001), my sister offered me her cycle computer after hearing that I was back into the evening ritual. This addition to the bicycle allowed me to time my evening jaunt, view my mileage, and check out my speed. In case you didn't know, knobby mountain bike tires on asphalt are S-L-O-W! I found that I was rarely breaking 14mph with the mountain bike tires, so immediately went out and purchased slicks (road tires) for the Raleigh. My speed, efficiency and enjoyment all improved immeasurably. The next step in my bike's metamorphosis was the addition of bar ends. Bar ends offer a more "road bike like" selection of hand positions to ward off numbness and fatigue, are beneficial when standing to climb (if that is your preference, I rarely leave the saddle), and encourage a more aerodynamic riding position. An even greater addition to fight fatigue, and the blustery headwinds that often whip down the length of the canal, is a bolt-on aero bar - which I added soon after the bar ends. The last accessories to adorn this machine were fenders I rigged up for rainy days, lights for evening rides, and lots of reflective striping for the roads at night.
This was my ride for four months in 2001... a hybridized Raleigh hardtail. More than seven-hundred miles later, in September, I was contemplating an upgrade to a road bike. My final decision was not quite a road bike... it ended up being more of a sidestep. I purchased a 2002 Trek 7500FX in early September of that year: my new hybrid workhorse. There is no suspension on this bike; low rider front pannier mounts, rear pannier mounts, and fender mounts make this a capable tourer. Its light weight, and its Bontrager Select road wheels allow it to keep pace with serious road bikes. I love this bike. My only complaint so far has been with the chain (it seems weak, I had a seriously jammed link after only two weeks of well lubricated use).
Where I used to use the Raleigh for most of my commuting and foul weather rides, I now use my Trek and my Bianchi Volpe. The Raleigh hardtail is still my winter "beater". I am not as concerned about drying it off after a long ride home in foul weather. I am also not as concerned about road salt or sweat, and the front shocks afford a little extra cushion over some of the frost heaves typical of our local road shoulders. The Trek, the Bianchi and the Raleigh hardtail are all very adequate commuter bikes.
How Serious Are You About Cycling?
The best ways to choose between which bikes are best for you are investigation, analysis, comparison and test rides. Your final choice will generally be overshadowed by several factors:
- The type of person you are.
- How deeply you intend to devote yourself to cycling.
- The depth of your wallet.
- Your physical environment (crime rate in your neighborhood, terrain or road quality, distance from work, distance from stores, etc.)
Types of Road Bikes (an abbreviated list)
- Road Racing: You used to build up a
race bike from the frame... not necessary anymore!
Expect to pay $1,200 - $5,500 for a complete bike or frame.
- Road Riding: Recreation, fitness,
touring,or just plain old fast, fun & furious riding
is as affordable as it has ever been. For local,
long-distance, or even the occasional race, expect to pay
$500 - $1,500 for a "do-it-all" road machine.
- Women's Road Bikes and
Women's Hardtail Mountain Bikes: This
may be offensive to some, but these women-specific
bicycles are more widely available than ever. Designed
around proportions more typical of many women - smaller
frame sizes, bars and available short-reach brakes may be
a godsend for some... a much broader selection is
available than in the past.
Expect to pay $800 - $1,600, but investigate to be sure you don't pay more than the tag of a comparable men's bike.
- Mountain Bikes: Having some sort of
suspension (or shocks) is the highlight of this bike
breed. Often the reentry to adult cycling nowadays - add
slicks (road tires), and the hardtail (front shock only)
version of these bicycles can be made road ready. Many
are extremely trail worthy and ready-to-race off road
with their stock knobby tires.
Expect to pay $450 - $1,800 for one of these mounts.
- Hybrid or City Bikes: These are generally designated as "short-haul" bikes, mixing and matching many features of the above mentioned bikes. There are currently many exceptions to this "short-haul" label, however. Many hybrids are available that are quickly becoming the work horses, tourers and commuters of the new millennium; while there are some that are simply "comfort" bikes that have made bike path escapes an affordable and enjoyable past-time for many. These steeds range from $240 for a bargain (yet, well-equipped) comfort bike to $1,500 for a high end, multipurpose bike: combining excellent acceleration, smooth cruising and a more comfortable, upright riding position.
Making Your Selection
Differences between bicycle brands are found in materials, weight, components and durability. Each manufacturer also offers varying grades of these options. Choose carefully, think long-term and visit as many local bike shops as possible. Do investigation and price comparisons online as well. Having a bicycle and its suggested pricing in mind when shopping puts you in a position of power as a buyer. You know what you want, and how much you are expecting to pay. Don't hesitate to question a much higher price in a shop. It may be that the shop has made additions or improvements to the stock bicycle, or it may be that you are paying for "free" service for a year. Shop around, ask questions and make offers. You should leave the shop feeling you got a great deal, were fitted properly to the bike and have discovered a knowledgeable and qualified shop that you will enjoy dealing with for a long time to come. Even better: you walk out feeling that you have discovered a new friend!
The Used Bike Option
If you feel your budget is an issue... it does not need to be. A quality used bicycle can be affordably restored and, if necessary, upgraded for daily use. Check local bike shops, thrift stores, consignment shops, classifieds, yard sales, police auctions, estate sales and online for used bicycles. If you do go this route, your primary concern should be to first familiarize yourself with the following:
- The various qualities of steel in frame tubing. You
will be shopping for a good quality frame.
- The method by which the frames parts are attached to
each other: welds, brazes, etc.
- The bicycle's components (these may be upgraded).
I am not an expert on this subject, but you will find numerous links within this web to excellent sites that can help you in this regard.
It is my hope that your decision leads you to a bike that is comfortable (fits you), and is easy enough for you to maintain and utilize that you will be encouraged to cycle further and more often. Whatever your choice, frame quality, bicycle fit, seat height, hand positioning, your aerodynamics, and gear selection are all crucial to your enjoyment and comfort. Again, explore your options, and think long term.
Good luck in your quest,
and safe cycling!