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Tips for Buying the Right Bicycle

An Introduction to Styles, Frames and Sizes

-- By Leanne Beattie, Health & Fitness Writer & Nicole Nichols, Fitness Instructor
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Hybrid bikes ($200+) mix features of mountain bikes (such as comfortable seating) with characteristics of comfort bikes (like wider tires), making them great for riding on both pavement and dirt trails. Hybrid bikes are ideal for both serious and casual riders who want more agility and speed than typical comfort bikes can offer, whether riding on-road or on trails. Most hybrid bikes will have approximately 27-inch (700C) wheels and 21-24 gears.

BMX bikes and dirt bikes ($150+) are general-purpose bikes that can be used for basic transportation or dirt riding. Smaller than other bikes, these typically feature: 20-inch wheels, one gear, hand brakes, short wheelbase frames, and knobby tires.

Bike Frames
Now that you have a good idea about the type of bike that will meet your needs, you'll also have to decide on a bike frame, which can be made from one of several different materials: aluminum, steel, carbon and titanium. While each has its own merits, what really matters is finding a bike that fits your budget and your needs.
  • Steel frames have classic style. They're durable, easily-repaired, affordable, and lightweight. But if left to the elements, these can rust easily.
     
  • Aluminum frames have modern style. They're durable, affordable, lightweight and rust-resistant.
     
  • Carbon frames have high-tech style. They're durable, lightweight, and more expensive than both steel and aluminum, but do not rust.
     
  • Titanium frames have a variety of finishes and styles. They're durable, lightweight, and the made of the most expensive materials, but will not rust.

Frame Size and Style
  • Finding a bike that fits the length of your legs and the size of your torso is very important. Women’s bike frames fit a woman’s longer leg and shorter torso, which makes riding more comfortable. However, men’s frame sizes are small enough to fit almost anyone comfortably. If you are tall, a bike shop can adjust a men’s frame for you. 
     
  • Bikes purchased from a true bike shop, not a department store, are sized to proportionally fit both your leg length and upper body.
     
  • Getting the right size of bike is an absolute must for safety. A bike that’s too large for you makes it difficult to start, stop and get on or off. A bike is a big investment, but you won’t ride it if it doesn’t fit your properly.
Before you go ahead a buy a particular bike, take it out for a lengthy test ride—a quick spin around the block won’t be enough. While you’re out, make sure the seat is comfortable and you can reach the handlebars easily. If you’re not satisfied, keep trying other bikes until you find the perfect fit. The better a bike fits you, the more you’ll ride. Now strap on your helmet and hit the open road!
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About The Author

Leanne Beattie Leanne Beattie
A freelance writer, marketing consultant and life coach, Leanne often writes about health and nutrition. See all of Leanne's articles.

Member Comments

  • I'm old school and am more interested in a coaster bike. I don't want to fool with gears and never liked brakes on the handle bars. - 4/6/2014 11:04:10 PM
  • Adjustable handlebars are a must for those of us with chronic neck and shoulder pain. - 12/20/2013 12:12:35 AM
  • You left out one very important style of bike - the recumbent. They come in 2 and 3 wheelers. I have a two wheeler and love mine. I ride so much more than I did on my road bike. - 7/13/2012 1:49:01 PM
  • JEPURSELL
    I agree with many of the preceding comments that much more thought should have gone into this article. Failure to mention recumbents was the thing that stood out to me. However, there were a number of other issues that could have been mentioned that were not, many already noted. I think SAFETY should have been stressed much more. Having a properly fitting helmet and wearing it are essential. I had two accidents this summer that would have been severe if I had not been wearing a helmet. But there are many other issues in terms of proper clothing, obeying traffic rules, and proper riding techniques that should be addressed or referred to another article for further info. - 11/9/2011 1:26:08 PM
  • @ Beatletot - for a triathlon you would want a time trial bike OR a very aero road bike. Cervelo (www.cervelo.com) makes the fastest time trial and road bikes on the market today.
    As an avid cyclist (3,000 - 4,000 miles per year), I was hugely disappointed in this article. It was not well written nor researched. I'd like to know when the authors threw a leg over a bike last. The biggest tips for buying a bicycle is to go to a Local Bike Shop (LBS) not Wal-Mart or Target, Be prepared to spend money and get a proper bike fit from a certified bike fit professional - and make sure part of that fit includes a saddle fitting too. There are bikes for every budget, but when you pay more you get more, just like with a car. The lighter the bike, the more comfotable it will be and you'll see an equally higher price too.

    Oh and learn to wear a helmet properly. They DO NOT sit, tipped back onto the rear of one's head. Anyway that is my .02. - 11/9/2011 12:34:26 PM
  • Not only are recumbents a niche bike they tend to be extremely expensive. Usually this is sought by someone who for various health and comfort reasons just cannot make any of the other types of bikes "work" for themselves.

    It is OH-SO-IMPORTANT to work with your local bike shop in choosing a bike as they may help you explore issues and angles you may not have thought of in selecting your bike.

    For instance I thought I would want a hybrid bike because I thought I would be too uncomfortable with a road / touring bike with drop-down handlebars. However after discussing with the LBS and other experienced cyclists my desire to cycle longer distances (50+ miles) I received much encouragement to consider a road bike with drop-down handlebars. Taking the plunge I can now say in hindsight that this was SUCH a smart move! My hands used to go numb on my old mountain bike. With the various hand positions offered on my drop-down handlebars I no longer have this problem. PLUS the improvement in SPEED! Woo hoo!

    We each have our own personal goals, preferences and motivations which draw us to cycling. Your LBS will tremendously help you begin to hone in on this and make a bike choice that best suits your needs.

    Don - 11/9/2011 8:32:41 AM
  • Same as several other people who have commented, I feel it was a huge let-down that recumbent bikes were completely ignored. The two-wheeled recumbents seem a little scary (how do you balance when laying back?), but you learn how to do it. The trikes are incredible - so comfortable and easy to ride.

    What better way to ride over 2,000 miles in 2 months than on recumbent bikes? Several of my family members just did that! They put in some long, hard days and it was really cold to ride bikes over mountaintops, but they made it through everything. - 8/11/2011 7:27:06 PM
  • Hey..I looked at this article hoping I could find some type of home stationary bike to help burn calories and to replace the bike I have at home..which loosing it's just...but quick..thanks a lot for this useless article..I guess I have to spend time.."Googleing it..ooops...spell check...and this artical...check!! - 1/15/2011 12:32:48 PM
  • JULIEREIER
    I agree with Rick! I found the article disappointing in that it omitted mention of recumbents. Also, what about trikes? There are some very high performance recumbent trikes out there, Catrike being one brand. - 6/7/2010 5:00:44 PM
  • MILLERDOUGLAS
    This is a sad, sad article, the descriptions of the bike types doesn't include how pathetic hybrid biikes are, not good for anything...

    She doesn;t een mention cyclocross bikes, road-bike geometry with thin knobby tires, and beefed up frames.

    These are perfect for road and light train riding, I would never buy a comfort bike for anyone under 70.... - 6/7/2010 4:25:31 PM
  • I'm interested in Tandom Touring bikes. Have been looking on-line but haven't made the trip to the bike shop yet. Thoughts? - 6/7/2010 11:25:46 AM
  • What kind of a bike would a person use for a triathlon? I felt like every single description of every single type of bike was similar. I think I'm more confused than I started. - 1/22/2010 11:34:26 AM
  • Yeah, info on recumbent bikes would have been great. I love mine; I had not been able to ride a traditional bike without excruciating, screaming back pain for over 6 years. My 'bent has me pedaling again, and I was also able to ride a lot further than I ever could on a traditional bike on my very first 'bent ride! - 6/2/2009 6:49:09 AM
  • FENCE007
    Also not mentioned are the new "fitness bikes." These are a riff on the hybrid bikes described but have characteristics similar to road bikes without the drop handlebars. Fitness bikes are a great option for people who want something light weight and comfortable, but who want to be able to cruise the bike paths quickly. They're going to start right around $350. - 5/12/2009 9:27:49 AM
  • GIANT-STEPS
    Recumbent bikes are a nitch market. It is true that they work out great for a few cyclists for the most part an upright bike is a better choice.

    As far as materials go, beginners really don't have to consider this. The vast majority of low end bike shop frames are aluminum now because they are light and inexpensive to produce. Steel frames mostly exist at the extreme low and high ends of the market. Department store bikes with stove pipe frames and hand built boutique bikes. Carbon fibre and titanium bikes are very dear.

    New cyclists are best off going to the best bike shop in town and building a relationship there. It isn't worth it to save a few bucks and buy from a cheesy bike shop that will not stand behind their products or go out of business shortly. - 2/10/2009 12:18:46 PM
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