Written by Vanessa McCracken Friday, 21 May 2010 09:00
I get this a lot from customers looking for a new bike for the first time in years. I get it, I really do. If you haven’t been around bikes in awhile, chances are “bike” means a single-speed cruiser or a 10-speed from back in the day. But bikes have evolved quite a bit over the years. Shoot, bikes have evolved quite a bit over the last two years! It’s hard to keep up, even if you’re a card-carrying enthusiast like me. Yes, a bike is still a bike – with two wheels, a frame, and pedals that “make you go” (to quote Adventures of a New Commuter) – but all bikes are not created equal. Getting the right size and right type of bike for your riding style and purpose is directly correlated to how much you enjoy your ride. Don’t believe me? Ask the 6’ tall guy riding the small mountain bike 5 miles to work how much he loves his ride. Chances are, he’ll hate it or tolerate it at best. Now put him on a large flat bar road bike and watch him grin from ear to ear as he tosses that small mountain bike in the trash (er, I mean, donates it to Goodwill – we don’t condone being wasteful!).
Two different types seats. Wider typically means comfort andnarrow speed.
Give both a try and see which you prefer.
So how do you find the right size and right type of bike? The first step is visiting a local bike shop. A friendly salesperson there will ask you some questions to help assess your needs. They’re not being nosy, I promise. They’re just trying to determine what type of riding you’ll be doing and what type of bike will serve your purposes best. Remember, the better your bike fits your needs, the more you will enjoy your experiences on it. Some of the questions you should be prepared to answer are:
- Do you have a bike now? What do you like and dislike about your current bike? Is it uncomfortable? Too heavy? Do you lean too far forward?
- What have you had in the past that you liked? What have you had in the past that you disliked?
- Where do you plan to ride? Will you be riding around the neighborhood with your kids? Riding 20 miles back and forth to work? Hitting the trails with your buddies? All of the above?
- Who will you ride with and what do they ride?
- Do you have any back or neck injuries to consider? Do you have bad wrists or shoulders?
Based on your answers, your salesperson should be able to guide you towards the right type of bike. But to help you walk into the bike shop with some background knowledge and to help you make the most informed decision, I will break down the most common types of bikes out there now:
ROAD BIKES (a.k.a. “Lance Armstrong bikes”, as they are most commonly referred to by my customers!): Fast, light, and easy to pedal, this type of bike is best for people riding long distances on the road only (i.e., no dirt!). The riding position and narrow seats intimidate some people at first, but you get used to it faster than you think.
MOUNTAIN BIKES: With its fat tires and flat handlebars, these are more versatile than a road bike because you can ride it on a variety of surfaces. Most come with some kind of suspension, too, which makes for a cushier ride than an all-rigid road bike.
BEACH CRUISERS: What you probably remember from your childhood. Big, fat, wide tires and handlebars that sit you nice and upright for cruising at a relaxed pace. Since these typically only have 1-7 gears, these are ideal for people looking for simplicity.
COMFORT BIKES: These are highly uncomfortable. Just kidding! These are extremely comfortable bikes that are kind of a blend of mountain bike and beach cruiser features: fat tires, upright seating position, flat bars, multiple gears, and suspension (usually).
HYBRID BIKES: These take the big, efficient wheels of the road bike and combine them with the more comfortable flat handlebars and riding position of the mountain bike. These usually have a wider seat than what’s found on a road bike, too, which seems to make a lot of people happy.
Bikes aren't limited to two wheels! Trikes can be great solutions
for those who have trouble balancing.
There are more types than this, but I want you to be informed, not overwhelmed! If you have a good salesperson, he or she will be able to take the information you have given him during 20 Questions and lead you to the perfect bike. Expect a bit of back-and-forth as you fine-tune your needs and wants.
Once you have found the perfect bike, it’s time to get you on the right size. A common misperception is that your height determines what wheel size you should ride, but this is not true. Most bikes come in different frame sizes to accommodate different heights and inseams.
These bikes have the same frame size but allow the rider
to sit at different comfort heights.
The first thing your salesperson will probably do is have you stand over the bike to ensure that you have proper clearance over the top tube (the top part of the bike frame). You want at least an inch of clearance there so that you do not, um, hurt yourself if you come to a stop and straddle that top tube. Next, the salesperson might have you take it for a test ride (wear comfortable clothing!). Are your elbows locked and do you feel too stretched out? On the contrary, do you feel like your knees are hitting the handlebars? It’s important to get a bike that fits you properly because it will make the ride so much more efficient and less taxing on your body. Your salesperson will help find the right frame size for you, as well as fine-tune other sizing issues like seat height, stem height and length, and saddle placement. After that, all that’s left is a quick check-over by one of the mechanics in the back, a little paperwork, and you’re off to enjoy your new bike.
You can see in this picture how the person would have trouble straddling this bike.
You want at least one inch of clearence when you straddle the top tube.
Hopefully, the information I’ve given here helps you feel confident when you walk into the bike shop so that you can get exactly what you need to pedal happily. After all, Biking = Joy, but only if you love the bike you’re riding!