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On Your Bike: How To Choose The Right Ride Part 2

Sunday, September 14, 2014


Bicycle Racing

Photo Credit: Eleaf via Compfight cc

In part one of this series, we looked at the different types of bicycles available and utilized by most urban cyclists. In part two, we will explore how to assess the correct bike for your fitness, recreation and lifestyle goals to help prepare you to shop for the best bike for your needs.

What Kind of Bike is Best for You?

So many considerations go into determining the right kind of bike for a rider.

First off, where will you be riding? On paved roads, dirt trails or some of both? How far? How often? Will you be carrying gear, running errands that require storage? Is your route hilly or flat?

But perhaps the most important question is WHY you want to ride in the first place.

People ride for all sorts of reasons. Some ride to improve fitness and lose weight with a low-impact form of exercise. Others wish to save money on gas, insurance and repairs by adopting a car-free life, commuting by bike. A few get suckered into signing up for a triathlon with a buddy and end up hooked on bike racing.

Many parents get into it after their kids do, as a way of spending a few leisurely summer Sundays with the kids, cruising around town. And then there’s the rugged adrenaline/nature seekers who combine high-speed descending with grueling climbs in nature, high up in the mountains.

So the real question is…

Q: What kind of rider are you?

There are no absolute rules about which bike one should ride for what purpose. There are athletes who have ridden cruiser bikes with no brakes and one speed in some of the most grueling mountain bike races on earth.

And there are folks who happily commute 10 miles each way on a battered, 15-year-old mountain bike. Chances are you fall somewhere in between, and knowing how you intend to ride will help you choose the best bike to provide many miles of riding comfort and enjoyment.

A: I want to ride to get in shape, do a few charity/event rides with friends, and maybe try the Chris King Gourmet Century next year for my birthday.

You definitely want a road bike with drop bars. You’ll want to be as efficient as possible when riding for longer distances, and you don’t want to push a heavy bike around.

A: My kids are all school age and get around by bike and I want to go out and ride with them on the weekends… but it’s been 15 years since I’ve ridden a bike and I’m not even sure I can keep up on my janky old mountain bike!

Get a hybrid or a cruiser bike. Either one will have you seated more upright than on a classic road bike, so it will be more like what you’re used to on your own mountain bike. The larger wheel diameter and smooth tires will be more efficient, so you’ll automatically be faster than that mountain bike, too.

If speed is an issue, go hybrid.

A: I have been road biking for years, but I want to get into mountain biking. What should I get?

That depends again on where you want to ride. Trail conditions dictate which wheel size and frame design is best.

If you are going to be heading to Bend for the weekends in the summer, get a 29-inch hardtail bike (not recommended for people under 5’5”). Bend’s mellow but extensive trail system is perfect for hammering out miles of singletrack. The 29-inch wheel size will feel more like the efficiency you expect from a road bike, and you won’t need the added weight of full suspension for the majority of trails there.

If you’re planning to ride in the mountains closer to Portland, in the Gorge, Mount St. Helens or Mount Hood, these trails are more technical and full suspension is a better choice. Choose a 26-inch or 27.5-inch all-mountain bike. They’ll provide more nimble handling than a 29-er when faced with technical singletrack.   

A: I want to get rid of my car and just get around by public transportation and bike, commuting to and from work and running errands. My office is about 8 miles from home. And sometimes I may want to attach a trailer so I can ride on the weekends with my toddler.

Mountain Biking

Photo Credit: Tudor Buligӑ via Compfight cc

Riding around town with a heavy backpack—even just a short distance—can hurt your neck, back, and shoulders. You’ll definitely want either a touring bike or an urban hybrid with fenders and racks to ferry a change of clothing, laptop, or groceries picked up on the way home. Either will permit a trailer attachment at the seat post, but for added safety, be sure to choose a bike with disc brakes.

Disc brakes provide greater stopping power—especially in the rain—and are cleaner than rim brakes.

A: I want a road bike for around town but I’m sort of curious about mountain biking and I’m also thinking I might want to try cyclocross this fall after watching a couple of races last year. I can only afford one bike. What should I do?

You’ve got two choices:

1) get a cyclocross bike, which will make a fine road bike with a simple switch of tires (but even that’s not essential as most cyclocross tires have a very minimal tread).

2) Get a lightweight hardtail 29er and put smaller tires on it. You can use it on the road, on trails and in cyclocross, though it won’t be as easy or efficient when racing as a true cyclocross bike. Do not get a full-suspension mountain bike, as they are too heavy and the frame triangles are generally too small to carry the bikes comfortably around and over obstacles when racing.

Shop around.

The best way to pick out the right bike is to visit your local bike shop and spend some time talking to the staff and take a test ride or three. Most shop employees are avid cyclists, with decades of experience to draw upon.

Contrary to popular belief, most bike shop sales people don’t work on commission, and the vast majority of the people who work in shops do so because they love bikes. They can make sure you get a bike that fits your size, your interests and your expectations.

One last mention: Once you’ve test-ridden a few bikes and you have a sense for what you like best, go with that. If you need to custom order it in a different color or wait a week or two until the right size is available, wait. You won’t regret getting “the perfect” bike the same way you might regret buying the runner up.

Anecdotal evidence suggests if you like they way your bike fits and looks, you’ll ride it more often.

Üma on her bike

Üma Kleppinger is a Portland-based copy writer and advocate for full-contact anti-bummer living. She is a recovering sesquipedalian who writes about life in the saddle and outdoor adventure. She is also the author of BikeYoga, a yoga program for cyclists. When not writing, she can be found riding and racing her mountain bike throughout the Pacific Northwest.




Homepage Photo Credit: NickiMM via Compfight cc


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