What you need to know to choose a bike

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cyclist bike drop handles
Bikes with drop handlebars are made for road races and group riding
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What you need to know to choose a bike that best suits your needs and skills

Buying a new bicycle today involves making more choices than ever before. There are numerous styles designed to meet specific needs and inclinations. So whether youíre an urban commuter, a weekend warrior or just getting into cycling as your exercise of choice, do yourself a huge favor and narrow the field long before heading to the store.

What you need to know to choose a bike is not that complicated. First think about the kind of biking you intend to do in order to eliminate several categories at once. Because manufacturers offer such a vast array of models and component producers are coming out with the best of everything Ė best wheels, shifting systems and brakes, for instance Ė itís easy to get flustered. 

Look on the bright side. With more choices comes more opportunity to get a sporty new bike thatís perfect for you and competitively priced. Even if youíre not quite up to speed yet, the right style will help you get to where you want to go both geographically and in terms of long-term fitness goals.

On or off-road

Choosing between a mountain and road bike is the first big decision to make. Do you plan to enter road races or are the hard mountain trails more your style? New cyclists sometimes prefer the upright positioning of mountain bikes, but this style is best suited for off-road riding only. There are a number of hybrid road styles designed with the high-pressure tires that make for smoother coasting on the road.

Associates at bike shops tend to ask what your main purpose is, but plenty of new riders want to leave all possibilities open. Give your skills and abilities some wiggle room by selecting a more versatile model in terms of usability. On the mountain side, this means considering a full-suspension over a hard core downhill style. With road models, drop handle bars are a must for grouping riding and racing.

A myriad of gears

What you donít need to know is just as important as what you need to know to choose a bike. For instance, you donít need to worry about understanding gears because the style you choose makes that decision for you. Road models typically range between 16 and 20 speeds while mountain bikes have as many as 27 and those stylish cruisers have a whopping three speeds.

Money, money, money

Setting a realistic budget is critical. Some models cost more than a basic used car, but thatís only the top end of the spectrum. Donít let initial prices discourage you. Youíll also want to factor some essential bike accessories into the budget, including a helmet and athletic shorts with padding.

Budget will mostly dictate your frame material options, so it helps to know a little about what you get with each. Steel, aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber are the materials youíre most likely to see, though the latter is relatively new. 
  • Steel: This is typically the most affordable and itís strong so it absorbs shock well and, depending on the quality of alloy in the tubing, is known for comfort and rider responsiveness.
  • Aluminum: Urban cyclists opt for aluminum because itís extremely lightweight and therefore easy to carry on stairs when necessary and mount on walls to save space. From a riding perspective, the weightlessness makes for faster times and easy handling.
  • Titanium: The most durable and strongest frame material is also the priciest. Titanium frames are comfortable and ideal for improving riding performance, but the best characteristic is the springy feel that makes this the sportiest type to ride.
  • Carbon fiber: Unlike other materials, this one is actually a fabric made strong with a resin. The high tech construction makes this a costly choice but it's likely to come down in price in the next few years. Riders choose this for superior shock absorption and handling, which is something most new riders donít need to prioritize.

The good news is that you probably already know most of what you need to know to choose a bike. Go to a shop with an idea of how many miles you want to do a month, a general purpose and specific budget in mind and your gut will do the rest.

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