by Vicki Pierson, Personal Trainer
You’ve made the decision to buy a bike. Now it’s time to start seriously gathering information on how to select the best style for your needs and get a good fit. Here’s some tips that will help you purchase the right bike for your needs.
Know Your Type First, you’ll need to decide what you want to use the bike for. Where will you be riding your bike most, on road, off road, or both? The answer will help you determine the type of bike to purchase. There are five basic types of bicycles in three categories that you need to be aware of:
They used to be known as the "ten-speed," however road bikes now range from 12 to 21 speed. Within this category of bikes are touring, racing, and sport bikes.
This bike is not built for speed, rather, it’s designed to provide comfort for the long haul. A touring bike is an excellent bike for long distance riding. The drop handlebars provide comfort, good control and allow for multiple hand positions. Twenty one speeds will take you over any type of incline you’ll encounter and cantilever brakes can stop you even when you’re heavily loaded down.
This bike is built for speed, sporting an aerodynamic, thin and ultralight frame. A short wheelbase allows the bike to respond to the slightest movements and 12 or 18 gears will get you, and keep you, at top speed. If you’re into winning races, this is the bike for you.
This bike falls between the touring and racing bike. Not as light as a racing bike but more responsive than the touring bike. The sport bike’s drop handlebars provide comfort and control and the aerodynamic design allows for faster speeds. If you’re into taking rides of 10 or more miles while turning up the intensity by adding some speed, this bike can take you there.
Mountain or All Terrain Bike.
This bike is rugged. Built with a sturdy frame, straight handlebars and fat, knobby tires, it can tackle the rigors of off road riding. The upright riding position on the bike makes it comfortable while giving you leverage for steep inclines.
This bike is a cross between the road bike and mountain bike. It’s lighter than a mountain bike, but not as fast as a road bike. Straight handlebars, medium-width tires, 21 gears, and upright riding position makes the bike perfect for short distances, running errands or commuting.
The Perfect Fit.
Once you know which type bike you want, make sure the bike you select fits you properly. There’s essentially two ways to accomplish a good fit. If you want a perfect fit, for about $50, have a quality bicycle shop calculate your bike size using a computerized program called the Fit Kit. They’ll take various measurements such as, length of your legs, torso and arms then give you a printout of your measurements and which frame height and length best suits your body.
The second best way to get a good bike fit is to follow these guidelines:
Straddle the bike. You should have one to two inches of clearance between the top bar of the bike and your crotch, three to four inches if you’re going to be riding on off-road terrain. If you want to be a little more exact, measure your inseam, straddle the bike, pick it up until the top bar touches your crotch, then measure the distance between the bottom of the tires and ground.
Be sure when you sit on the bike you can comfortably reach the handlebars. If the handlebars are too far away you won’t have adequate control, if they’re too close you’ll be uncomfortable and tire easily.
Seat and Handlebar Adjustment.
A quality bike shop will make the necessary adjustments for you to fine tune the fit of the bike. A critical adjustment is seat height. Your knee should have a 25-30 degree bend when the ball of your foot is on the pedal at its lowest position. The handlebars should be one inch lower than, or the same height as, the seat. Check to be sure you can comfortably reach the brakes and that the width of the handlebars are approximately the width of your shoulders.
Take a Test Ride.
Just like purchasing a car, this is where the rubber meets the road. You should feel comfortable and in control. Your elbows should be relaxed with a slight bend and squeezing the brake levers should be easily accomplished. Slide your rear back off the saddle, stand up on the pedals, flex and round your back, and move your hands to various positions on the handlebars to assure you can move around on the bike easily while it’s in motion.
Once you select the bike to purchase, you’ll want to get some accessories to go with it. Most important is a helmet. You may also want to consider a tire pump, tube repair kit, pressure gauge, seat pack, water bottle and cage and a lock. The bicycle shop can help you select these and install them on your bike. Depending on how much you spend on your bike, you may be able to convince the salesperson to throw in some of the accessories at no charge.
Enjoy the ride.
References:"How to Buy the Perfect Bike", Fitness, October, 1996 p.76Buying a Bike: Rec.Bicycles FAQ Part 2/5 at http://www.cis.ohio-state.edu/hypertext/faq/usenet-faqs/html/bicycles-faq/part2/faq.html A Bike That Fits at http://www.geocities.com/Colosseum/2737/fit.htm
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