Are you a beginner cyclist or buying a bike for the first time in years? It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of choices on the market today. This Beginner’s Guide to Buying a Bike outlines all the important information you need to find the right bike in four easy steps. Finding the right bike is important and if done correctly, it will provide you with years of enjoyable and comfortable riding. In this guide, I’ve outlines the important information you need to find your perfect bike!
Step 1: Know Your Budget
The first thing you need to know when buying a bike is your budget. Your budget is a key factor in narrowing down your choice in a bike. Bikes can range from $200 and $50,000. As the price goes up, bikes become lighter and include higher-end components. Ultimately, you want to find a balance between your price range, your needs and style. For example, if you are a beginner cyclist, an entry level mountain bike may be all you may need, but if you anticipate mountain biking professionally, an entry level mountain bike would not maximize your performance!
Step 2: Select Bike Type Based on Riding Needs
The next step in find the right bike is understanding your riding needs and matching them to a particular type of bike. There are basically three types of bikes i.e. off-road (mountain), Hybrid, and on-road. For example, if you plan to ride your bike from home to work everyday and will not travel on gravel or off-road paths, a hybrid or commuting bike would suit you best. Below I’ve described each type of bike, including the various categories within each, and how they match to a particular riding need:
The Mountain Bike made its appearance in mainstream cycling culture during the 1970s. It was created for adventurous cyclists who wanted a bike that could handle a variety of surfaces. These cyclists wanted to forge new ground on fire roads, and down mountains, with unpredictable surfaces like sand, tree roots, streams, and anything standing in their way.
Mountain Bikes are built to give the rider as much control over the bike as possible for a variety of trail riding conditions (downhill, gravel, single-track). They typically have 26” wheels and have heavily knobbed tires to match the expected terrain. Higher-end mountain bikes will have disk-brakes to provide better stopping power, but for a casual mountain biker, the classic rim brake may be all you need. Mountain bikes frames are made out of steel, aluminum or carbon fiber, which impact the stiffness and weight of the bike. A range of gears allow you to adapt to every possible elevation. Mountain Bike are classified by suspension type , each designed for a particular terrain including:
- HardTail (no rear suspension) – Hart-tail mountain bikes have front suspension, but no rear suspension. Many cyclists view the lack of rear suspension as more than feature, but the truth is it is preferable for some situations. Having a rear suspension means a percent of the effort you spend peddling is absorbed into the suspension compressing instead of giving you more speed. Not having a rear suspension may be a rougher ride, but it’s also less effort. For the everyday rider, a great entry-level mountain bike is the Schwinn Men’s High Timber Mountain Bike, Grey, Medium and Schwinn Women’s High Timber Mountain Bike, Silver, Small or for mid-level mountain bike try Diamondback Bicycles 2014 Overdrive Sport Mountain Bike (29-Inch Wheels), 18-Inch, Blue
- Soft Tail and Full Suspension – These bikes include both front and rear suspension. If you do a lot of rough terrain, this is almost required. It also tends to be the most comfortable bike ride. The difference between the two is that a soft-tail bike relies on frame flex for travel, whereas full suspension bikes travel using linkages. Diamondback Bicycles 2015 Recoil Full Suspension Complete Mountain Bike, 18-Inch/Medium, Silver
- Rigid (No suspension) – If you aren’t doing any variety of off-roading at all, you may find that you simply prefer to have no suspension at all. Also, bikes with no suspension tend to be less expensive.
The rule of thumb is this: “How aggressively do you plan on riding your bike?” The more aggressive you are, the more suspension you’ll need.
Hybrid Bikes emerged on the market after Mountain Bikes. They were inspired by a desire for a lighter, yet versatile bike that allowed for travel on a variety of surfaces. Hybrid Bikes combine the most efficient elements of Mountain Bikes and Road Bikes. Unlike the Road Bike, a Hybrid will allow you to sit up straight – your mother would be so proud! The tires are slimmer than those of a Mountain Bike, but they are also generally larger. You’ll go faster while putting out less effort. In addition to road travel they’re suitable for gravel roads and smooth dirt trails.
For the active family, or city commuter a Hybrid is ideal. Hybrid Bikes also sports a comfortable saddle, and are usually considerably lighter than a Mountain Bike. For added convenience, Hybrid Bikes often come equipped with mounting racks to attach bags, or belongings. Like the Mountain Bike there are a variety of sub categories of Hybrids that are designed to suit a wide range of performance requirements, including:
- Comfort Bike – A Comfort Bike is the basic go-to entry-level hybrid bike which I always found the most popular for riders looking for a budget friendly, around town bike for roads and smooth gravel. Comfort bikes typically have 26” wheels, a mountain bike frame with a higher sitting position and upright handlebars. A comfort bike can also include front suspension, fenders, suspension seat-post, and extra padded seat. An example of a value comfort hybrid bike with great reviews is Schwinn Discover Women’s Hybrid Bike (700C Wheels) and Schwinn Discover Men’s Hybrid Bike (700C Wheels) and Pure City Cycles Classic Diamond Frame City Bicycle (8 Speed), 58cm/Large, Vine Blue
- Cruiser Bike (Beach Cruiser) – A Comfort Bike is designed for casual riding in an upright position. Cruiser bikes offer comfort, style and are usually very affordable. I love the Firmstrong Urban Lady Single Speed Beach Cruiser Bicycle, 26-Inch, Pink beach cruisers. This 5 star rated bike come in 17 colours and 5 different models!
- Cross Bike – A Cross Bike is considered a lightweight touring bike, although does not include the additional touring accessories. Built around a road bike frame, it has 700c tires and a flat handlebar leaving the rider in a more upright position. A cross bike is ideal if you are looking to do recreational riding, with a lighter bike that can handle smooth gravel paths (if needed). Looking for an excellent cross bike? See Diamondback 2013 Interval Elite Performance Hybrid Bike (700c Wheels, Grey, 15-Inch, Small)
- Commuter Bike – A Commuter Bike is a hybrid bike designed to meet a commuters needs. These hybrids typically include features to add comfort to your daily commute including panniers, racks, fenders, lights and sometimes a chain guard to protect your work pants! For a few great commuter bikes, check out Pure City Cycles Classic Diamond Frame City Bicycle (8 Speed), 58cm/Large, Vine Blue and for a chainless option Dynamic Hybrid Commuter Bicycle – Chainless Fitness Commuter Bike
- City Bike – A City Bike is built to provide ultimate urban biking experience. They typically use 26” wheels, offer a mountain bike frame with a higher seating position. Tires are flat and robust to meet the needs of hard pavement riding, including potholes and broken glass. A City Bikes can also come with a single speed, offering a lighter, simpler bike to operate and is a great option including the Pure Fix Cycles Fixed Gear Single Speed Urban Fixie Road Bike, 54cm/ Medium, Juliet Matte Black
Road bikes are built for speed while traveling on a paved road. Technically, you could consider hybrid bikes (described above) as a road bike, but I’ve made the distinction here specifically for bikes used for riding with speed and racing on the road. Road bikes have narrow, high-pressure tires, light frames and can have multiple gears or be fixed gear. As a beginner cycler, a road bike is a good choice if you plan to use the bike for fitness and expect to travel long distances on pavement.
Step 3: Compare Frame and Component
Once you’ve identified a price range and selected the type of bike that suits your riding needs, you should compare similar models for frame and components.
Frames: Bike frames are made out of a variety of materials including steel, aluminum, carbon fiber and titanium. The available frame material will largely depend on the price of the bike you want to buy, with steel and aluminium frames typical for entry-level bikes. A lot of people prefer steel because it’s more durable as long as you don’t let it rust. When it comes to aluminium frames, although it endures hard knocks, you will need to replace it after a couple of years, depending on use, since the life of aluminium is limited. Coming to carbon, a few cracks on the frame and the bike bites the dust. Carbon is advised only when you know you’ll be riding on good roads and looking for an extra light frame.
Components: Components include the additional pieces of equipment on your bike outside of the frame, including brakes, shifters, derailleurs etc. As the price of a bike increase, component design and lightness will increase. Entry-level bikes typically use V-brakes, whereas mid-higher end bikes will use disk brakes. Shifters are used to control the gearing of a bike and come in a variety of models. Look for reputable brands such as Shimano and SRAM which offer rapid-fire and twist options.
Step 4: Get the Right Size
In addition to type of bike, size is also a very important factor in choosing the right bike. If you are on a bike that is too big or too small, you will not have the proper ergonomics and risk being uncomfortable or worse, damaging your knees and/or back. I’ve outlined a general size guide below and if you’re doing any serious riding, I recommend having a professional ‘bike fit’ consultation. Outside of changing frame sizes, there are many other minor adjustments that can be made including seat tilt and slide, brake and handlebar adjustments.
- XS: Bike size 13-14in: for people between 5ft and 5ft 4in
- S: Bike size 14-16in: for people between 5ft 4in and 5ft 7in
- M: Bike size 16-18in: for people between 5ft 7in and 5ft 10in
- L: Bike size 18-20in: for people between 5ft 10in and 6ft 1in
- XL: Bike size 20-22in: for people over 6ft 1in
Other Essential Gear Buying Tips
Helmets are a necessary accessory to a bike purchase – to me a no brainer! A helmet protects your head, your most important asset, in-case of a fall or crash. In many regions, cyclists need to wear a helmet by law. Factors to consider when buying a helmet include, fit (see fit guide), ventilation, style and price. Make sure the helmet fits well over your head, sitting level across your head and middle forehead. Outside of fit, consider how many ventilation holes are necessary for your type of riding, what style you’re looking for (see 5 Stylish Bike Helmets for Women) and price.
Outside of a helment, the second most important acessory is a lock. Typically you should look for a lock that is approximately 10% of the price you paid for your bike. There are different types of locks available in the market today including u-locks, chain locks, foldable locks, frame locks, and spiral cable locks. Choose what you like best to avoid theft and robbery and see 5 Cheap Bike Locks that Don’t Suck.
Waterbottle Cage – These are typically cheap and very useful. Attach a cage to your frame to have water ready when you get thirsty. Standard size fits a 500ml bottle.
Fenders – Fenders are a great addition to any bike. Much as you don’t like getting wet in the rain, neither does your bike. Fenders protect you and your bike from sandy, muddy and dirty water (often mixed with gasoline particles).
Lights – If you are riding at night, bike lights are a must so you’re able to see the surface, approaching vehicles and pedestrians to be safe. Before purchasing light find out the battery life, weight and side visibility.
Bike Pumps – As for the pump, make sure that you select something that has a schrader as well as a presta valve attachment. Your bike might have just one kind of valve, but when you’re riding, if somebody needs help, you’ll be able to assist them with a pump that can do both.
Tubes – I think that everyone should know how to change a flat bike tire. Add a tube to your accessories for emergencies, making sure you have the right type valve stem for your rim.
Tire Levers– If you have the tube, you need the tire levers, which come in handy with a flat in the middle of no-where. Tire levers are especially useful in cold weather where you’ll have a difficult time with aching fingers from the cold of the Winter.
Know your budget, determine your riding needs, compare components and get the right size. Following these four easy steps to buying a bike and you’ll have success in find the right bike for you! Happy riding!