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Choose the right bike

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Advice to help you buy the right bike for you and make the most of your money no matter what your budget is or what type of riding you do

Buying a bike is something to be excited about. You are making a purchase for yourself that has the potential to be life-changing. It is not something to take lightly. It’s not the same thing as buying a new scarf or pair of shoes or workout wear. Getting the wrong type of bike can limit your enjoyment of cycling, and make you less inclined to ride.

So how do you navigate your way through the hundreds of options available to you? Ultimately, a great local bike shop is an invaluable resource for all of your cycling needs. They are experts in the field of matching bike to rider.

“You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy a bike and that’s pretty close”

Before you set foot in a shop, there are some things you should consider that will streamline your shopping experience.

Riding Goals

It’s very common, particularly for women, to ‘under buy’ when they are purchasing a bike. I’ve seen this happen more times than I can count. People will often shop for a bike based on the fact that they have a desire to take up riding, and they judge their purchase on the level of riding they do at the time they walk into a shop. The statement usually associated with this is “I just want something that I can use to see if I like it.”

When this psychology is at play, people buy almost entirely on price, rather than on what’s appropriate. From there, one of two things will happen: they’ll either stop riding because what they bought is too heavy/slow, or they quickly outgrow the performance level of the initial purchase, and wind up spending even more money on a bike that they should have considered the first time.

Think about what you hope to achieve on a bike. If you want to do your first sportive, or triathlon, then you’ll need a bike that will help you grow towards that goal. Conversely, if what you are after is a bike that you can ride with the family on bike paths, or in the park, then you don’t need a top-of-the-range-carbon-wunderbike, when a hybrid is just the ticket.

Visualise yourself a year from now, and three years from now, and five years from now. What type of rider do you see yourself as? Once you have this answer, then you’ll know what to say when a shop employee asks you what type of riding you want to do.

The myth of “one bike for everything”

Another common occurrence in bike shops, and one that is very closely related to the first example, are those customers who want a ‘do it all’ bike. When asked what type of riding the buyer would like to do, the response is generally “a little bit of everything”. This is vague, and often happens when someone hasn’t considered the first tip and thought about their riding goals. There is no ideal bike that you can use to ride singletrack, urban streets, canal paths, bike paths, fire roads, and country lanes. There are some bikes that do well on a few of these things, but nothing that is universally excellent at all of them.

Bikes are pretty versatile, and most bikes can tackle a variety of terrain. The issue isn’t whether or not you can ride a mountain bike on the road, it’s about using the right tool for the given application. Of the customers who want to ride a little bit of everything, they rarely do. Most of the time, they stick to one type of surface; maybe two. And that is a much easier match to make for a shop person.

Be Colour Blind

We are all fashionistas, obviously, but the one time you need to ignore colour is when you are shopping for a bike. The bike that appeals to you the most visually is not necessarily the bike that is the best choice for the type of riding you want to do. First, sort out the type of bike, then think about how it looks. This is very much a case of form following function. When the temptation to choose based on colour strikes, just remember that you are not looking at the colour of your bike when you are riding it.

Size Matters

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices to the category of bike you need, there is one thing that matters more than anything else: size. Bikes are very much like shoes in that improper fit means they will be uncomfortable and not enjoyable to use. Most bike models come in more than one size. A good bike shop should work with you to make sure that you are sized properly to your bike, and should help you understand the red flags your body will show you that indicate something isn’t right about your position.

Understanding Bike Fit

When you are on a bike, you are connected to it at three points: the handlebars, the saddle, and the pedals. Because these points are fixed, your body will be forced to arrange itself to meet these three areas of contact. If they aren’t positioned in a way that matches your body’s natural alignment, then you’ll feel discomfort. Bike fit means that you change the bike to fit the rider, not force the rider to change in order to connect to the bike. A good bike shop should be able to help identify changes to your bike in order to make it work for you, but the biggest indication that something isn’t quite what it needs to be will be the feedback from your body. If you have pain anywhere, this could be an indication that something isn’t where it needs to be. The most common areas where pain will occur are:

  • in the neck and shoulders
  • in the lower back
  • in the knees
  • hand numbness
  • saddle discomfort

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that these aches and pains are normal, and are just part of riding. It doesn’t have to hurt when you ride, and any pains in the above areas won’t simply resolve themselves. The good news is these issues are all very easy to resolve. Ask the experts at your local bike shop for information about bike fit, and be sure to let them know in what areas you are experiencing discomfort.

Bikes are technical pieces of equipment that can provide hours of enjoyment for both transportation and recreation. Buying a bike doesn’t have to be an in-and-out experience, nor should it be. It can be a collaborative process with your local bike shop, which can ensure that you achieve the maximum possible enjoyment from your new purchase.

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