Ride Boldly!

Bikes, bicycling, and road safety.

Buying a Bike

Spring is here. High gas prices are here, too.

With that comes a deluge of people asking: “What bike should I buy?” I end up answering that a lot for friends, relatives, random co-workers who see the picture of me and my husband on bikes I have in my office and who have heard rumors that I’m some sort of biker person.

I think my answers frustrate some, because they want me to tell them to go to a specific place, and buy a specific brand and model. Of course, it’s not that easy. Questions need to be answered.

What kind of riding do you intend to do? Be honest with yourself.

  • Are you looking to do short bike commutes to work?
  • Paved street and trail riding?
  • Charity events?
  • Off-road and unpaved journeys?
  • Do you want to be able to haul a Burley? A trail-a-bike?

Figuring out HOW you plan to use the bike is key. A few years ago, I helped a friend find a bike. He saw the sort of riding my club did, and wanted to join in. He liked the idea of a fitness activity that wasn’t murder on the knees. So we found him a good road bike, suitable for group rides, with the best possible frame that would fit him, and components worth using… but easily upgraded. Six years later, he’s still riding that frame, and has rebuilt most of the bike several times.

A lot of people get hung up on brand. Brand is irrelevant. If the frame doesn’t fit, the brand won’t matter. Every brand has its own merits and geometry. Pick one that fits your body and budget.

As a rule of thumb, the frame is going to be what makes or breaks the whole bicycle purchase experience. if you buy a frame that sucks or doesn’t fit, you won’t ride the bike. Period. Getting good components is a nice plus, but on most bikes, you can upgrade them later. If you use the bike enough, they’ll need replacement someday anyway – parts wear out on bikes, just like they do on cars.

Depending on your intended use, you’ll need different features of the frame and components. The second biggest mistake I see people make, after getting a frame that doesn’t fit, is getting the wrong wheels/tires. Most people are using their bikes on paved streets and trails. They will want a smoother tire. However, many get big knobby mountain-style tires thinking they’ll be better. Actually, on pavement, they slow you down a lot. Other people get sleek race-style wheels because they ‘look cool,’ but may be meaning to use their bike much more casually, and have little experience in wheel maintenance. Low-spoke, sleek race wheels require more care and maintenance than many are going to want to put in or learn.

Another thing I see is people messing up seat choice. The seat on a bike at purchase is always negotiable. However, it’s not always true that the biggest, plushest seat will be the most comfortable. Seat choice is going to depend a lot on your riding position (upright? traditional road?) and your actual tuckus. Many people are awfully surprised when they find that something without massive padding makes their butt happiest. (And early on, ANY seat is going to create a bit of post-ride ow – you have to break in both your butt and your seat!)

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Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.

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