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Bicycle Buying Guide: What to Consider When Buying a Bike

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by SocialHummingBird (subscribe)
Life is about the journey - some roads are not always what they seem but you sure learn a great deal from them!
Published December 16th 2013
From the time the Penny Farthing was invented as a mode of transport, cycling became a worldwide culture. Of course, in today's era you will find a few more bicycles to choose from which is dependent on the recreation of choice.

Penny Farthing Race
A Penny Farthing Race held today. (photo courtesy of Randwick Botany Cycling Club)

There are many variations of cycling which make choosing a bicycle a little hard. Some cyclists may have 3 bicycles all used for different aspect of the sport. However, if you are contemplating on shedding a few kilos, getting a little fitter, or just want to enjoy cruising along the sea-side, choosing a bicycle can be pretty confusing. As a result, I put together a little guide to help you choose a bike, especially if you are looking at putting it under the Christmas tree. This will also include the difference between going to a bike store or going to a commercial store for your bicycle.

Firstly you may need to know a little "bike" terminology.

Flat Bars Flat Handlebars do not not curve down. They are generally flat, and can be found on bikes such as mountain bikes, urban cruisers and fixies.

Flat Bars Cycling
A image of a typical flat bar (photo courtesy of trek bikes)

Drop Bars This are handlebars you would find mostly on road bikes and track bikes. This is where the bars drop down forming a type of loop.

Drop Bars Cycling
Drop Bars Found commonly on Road and Track Bikes (photo courtesy of trek bikes)

Tri-Bars This bars are used in events such as triathlons or time trials. You will see them extend out from the handlebars often offering a padded area where the cyclist can rest their elbows.

Time Trial Bars Cycling
Time Trial Bars or Profile Bars as they are normally called (photo courtesy of trek bikes)

Single Gear A single gear bike is a bike with only one gear. You can find this on urban cruisers, fixies or track bikes.

Fixed Gear or Single Speed
Fixed Gear or Single Speed (Photo courtesy of Felt Bikes)

8 or 10 Speed You can even get more than this, but generally this is the amount of gears on the back wheel. If you count the number of cogs (or gears) on the back wheel, then this will indicate what type of speed it is.

Road Bicycles
This is a 11 Speed Bike giving you ample gearing options (photo courtesy of trek bikes)

Quick Release This is the way the wheels are attached to the Frame. A quick release has a little hook which you can open, turn, and then slip the wheel out. If you don't know how to do this, it is best to ask the bike retailer to show you.

Quick Releases are great for repairing a puncture. Most commercial store bikes found in places like Target, do not have have a quick release. This means you will have to carry extra tools just to repair a puncture.

Urban Cruiser

The urban cruiser is a bicycle built for comfort. It generally has a larger saddle, has flat bars, and possible one gear. Some Urban Cruisers may offer you more gears, however it is dependent on make and model. You may even find a basket in front of some urban cruisers where you can store your swim gear, shopping, or any things you would like to carry while travelling. You will probably find that the wheels do not have a quick release and are locked into the frame with a nut and bolt like system.

Urban Cruiser Merida Bikes
A classic urban cruiser. (photo courtesy of Merida Bikes)

City Bike

Although this can be classified as an urban cruiser I would like to give this bike its own category. A city bike has flat bars, the saddle can be a little thinner (or smaller), and offers the cyclist a greater option in gears. You probably would not find a basket in front of this bike. City Bikes can often be confused with a mountain bike because they look very similar. However most city bikes do not have suspensions and some city bikes offer a nut and bolt for locking in the wheel. You can ask the Bicycle Retailer to change this system for a quick release for a small fee. This enables you to remove the wheel quickly if you need to.

City Bike
A typical city bike that you will see in bicycle retail outlets (photo courtesy of merida bikes)

The Mountain Bike

You get a wide variety of mountain bikes, however mountain bikes will generally have either a single or a dual suspension. This means that if you rode over a big bump in the road the shock is absorbed in this suspension reducing the shock to your arms, and body if it is a dual suspension. You will also be given a wider range of gears.

Mountain bikes also have a range of wheel sizes which is dependent on what you do. A "29er" is a mountain bike with 29 inch wheels. All other mountain bikes have smaller wheels which are about 27.5 inch in diameter. Another difference with a mountain bike is the braking system. Many mountain bikes in today's era have disk brakes which aid in a safer braking system. Another give away for a mountain bike is the tire and its thickness. Tires are generally knobbly and are thicker than most bicycles.

Trek Mountain Bike
A mountain bike with dual suspension. (photo courtesy of Trek Bikes)

A Road Bike

You will probably see a number of Road Bikes on the road. They have drop bars, smaller saddle and generally have an 8 or 10 speed option. You can get a wider gear rang, but this is dependent on make and model of the bike.

The braking system is generally in form of a brake pad, however discs brakes can be found on the higher end range of road bikes. Most road bikes come with a quick release making it easier for you to remove the wheel. The tire is generally thinner.

Road Bicycles Trek Bikes
A road bicycle with 11 gears. (photo courtesy of Trek Bikes)

A Fixie

This is the latest trend to hit the market. Fixies is a single gear bike. The back wheel can be flipped to offer you a fix gear or a free wheel. A fix gear means that the pedal turns as the wheel turns, which means you legs will keep moving as long as the bike moves. The free wheel allows you to pedal but when you stop pedalling the bike moves and your legs do not.

Fix gears generally come with a front brake, however you may find some fixies come with both front and back brakes. They can often be confused for a city or a track bike.

Fixie Bike
A fixie bike you would typically find in a bike store. (photo courtesy of bike exchange)

Track Bikes

Track Bikes have one gear. There is no brakes and track bikes are designed to be used on the velodrome. They will have drop bars and look like a road bike, however have one fixed gear which means that your legs move when the bike moves.

The wheels are secured with a nut-bolt system, and the tires is about the same size and thickness of a road bike. Saddles are generally smaller and are similar to what you would find on a road bike.

Track Bicycle
A Track Bike (photo courtesy of Felt Bicycles)

The Tri-Bike

The Triathlon Bike or the Time Trial Bike are fairly similar in that it looks like a road bike, however the bars might be flat with a profile extension with rests for a cyclist arms. You will generally have a range of gears from an 8 speed to a 10 speed, with some tri-bikes offering a disk breaking system.

At the end of the profile bars you will be able to change gears, however the brakes will be found on the flat part of the bars. Wheels have a quick release system.

Triathlon Bike
A Tri-Bike - also known as a Triathlon or a Time Trial Bike (photo courtesy of Trek Bikes)

The Cyclocross Bike

This bike is a combination between a road bike and a mountain bike. Wheels will be thicker, and you may have an option of a flat bar or a drop bar. Cyclocross bikes are used to ride through dirt and muddy terrain.

The biggest give away to a cyclocross bikes is the wheels which are knobbly.

cyclocross bicycle trek bikes
A cyclocross bicycle with thicker wheels that look a bit like mountain bike wheels. (photo courtesy of Trek Bikes)

Where to Buy a Bicycle:

Many people opt to buy the cheapest bike, and often gravitate towards a commercial store such as Target or K-Mart. However, one of the most important aspect a person must think of before buying a bike through this big commercial stores is safety. Most bikes you buy do not come assembled. This means you will have to assembled it at home. This requires tools and the know how on making sure all the parts are connected properly. For some, they believe they can follow instructions from Google. I, for one, have made this mistake, and it almost landed my daughter in hospital had she not had the quick thinking of diving onto the grass.

While you may feel you spend a bit more at a bicycle retail outlet, you can be assured that the bicycles are assembled by professionals with a guarantee and a service warranty. Furthermore, you will also be sized correctly to the bike. There is nothing worse than buying a bike you think is the right size, only to find that it is too small. And then you have the problem when you return it that they don't have one in your size. A bicycle retail outlet will not only have a bicycle to fit you, but will make sure that all aspect of the bike will ensure a safe experience.

I hope to see you out on the road after Christmas, and please remember the number one rule: Safety First!
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Why? For your bicycle needs
Cost: from $200.00
Your Comment
This is a really good guide for anyone wanting to buy a bike.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|12490) 2186 days ago
A very informative article - plus a discount! Well done.
by MaggieVP (score: 2|592) 2184 days ago
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