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Tips On Buying The Perfect Bicycle

Updated on February 28, 2010

Buying a new bike should be as easy as falling off a … well, you know. But these days acquiring a set of new wheels means sorting through everything from style and service to seatposts and stem lengths. Here's a short course on the options.

Before setting foot in a bike shop, think about whether your riding plans are high-intensity or smooth and stately, or a little of both. If you're contemplating weekend tours over rugged terrain, for instance, you'll probably want a mountain bike: Its fat, deep-tread tires are made to handle whatever bumps come your way, the straight handlebars let you sit tall in the saddle, and low gears give you a leg up on hills. Road bikes, with their smooth, thin tires and drop handlebars, offer speed over sturdiness and eat up the miles as long as you stick to smooth pavement. Hybrids are a compromise between the two: They have slimmer tires and higher gears than mountain bikes but are built to handle a pothole or two, including those you might encounter on that weekday commute. Then there's the cruiser, a retro-'50s design whose wide seat and plump tires bespeak its use as a beach bike.

Analyzing your biking style isn't the only issue, however: You also need a bike that fits. That's defined largely by the size of the frame, the diamond-configured tubes that create the core of the bike, and the reach of the handlebars. Although some parts of a bike, including the stem (which determines the position of the handlebars) and the seatpost (which holds the saddle), may be adjustable, you'll need to stand over any bike that looks promising and take it on the road for a test run. If you're really considering buying a bike, ride it!

In fact, how a bike feels on the road depends not just on fit but also on frame material. In years past bike frames were mostly made of heavy-duty steel, with emphasis on the word "heavy." Many bikers still swear by steel for a durable bike with a lively feel: Chromoly, a steel alloy, is a relatively lightweight frame at an affordable price, as is aluminum, whose thicker tubes generally produce a stiffer ride. Titanium and carbon fiber each make for a lightweight frame with good shock absorption; however, because materials and processing can be expensive, you'll pay top dollar for those frames.

As for where to find the best of all possible bikes, chances are that you'll get the most comprehensive advice on fit and features at a specialty bike shop, which constitute 30 percent of the U.S. market. Besides providing a tutorial on the bike's fit and features, a good shop will assemble the bike, make free adjustments for 30 days and provide a year's warranty. The average price at such shops runs about $450, although you could pay as little as $200 for a basic bike to as much as several thousand for a high-end racer. (Some shops will match or discount prices offered by competitors.) As for department or discount stores, bikes there cost perhaps $100, but don't count on getting the same quality or service as you'll find at a specialty shop.

Got everything? Not if you don't have a helmet, key protection for that precious cranium. A helmet with an expanded polystyrene liner starts at about $40 and can top $200 for a sleek, snazzy model.


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    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 6 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Nice article. I don't believe aluminium tubes are thick- in fact i've had aluminium frames I could pinch the walls on. I believe it's linear stiffness is the reason for the stiffer ride. The worst thing I found having previously worked in a bike shop is that men think 'Big is better' when it comes to frame size and often look at bikes which are too big for them so they should go into a bike shop open minded as to size required.