Bicycling can be a real joy when you've found a bike that's right for you. With so many different bicycle styles and variations, finding the right one can be daunting. But that's a good thing, because the more choice you have, the more likely you'll discover the best bicycle for your needs.
Before you shop for your new bicycle, a few answers to basic questions will steer you in the right direction. Will you ride short distances on the weekend as a casual cyclist? Are you thinking of commuting back and forth to work via bicycle? Does road racing interest you? Or maybe you'd like to get off the beaten path and into the woods.
How often do you plan on using your bicycle? How far will you be riding on each trip? Do you have a lot of hills to contend with or is the terrain relatively flat?
The old fashioned cruiser has made a comeback and if you're a casual rider, a cruiser is a great choice. Cruisers are simple, comfortable, inexpensive machines. They have a wide saddle, a single gear, fat tires that roll easily over less than perfect road surfaces, and a reliable coaster brake on the rear wheel. You'll have a good view of the road from a cruiser because of the upright seating position. A cruiser is a poor choice for hilly areas, that is unless you enjoy huffing and puffing up hills and pedaling like mad on the downhill. A cruiser is ok for short distances, but not longer rides.
The so called comfort bike is a good choice for a casual cyclist who needs more features than a cruiser. The comfort bike rides on 26 in tires so your feet can touch the ground when you are stopped. A comfort bike has a lighter frame than the cruiser and comes equipped with multiple gears so you'll have no trouble tackling those hills. It also comes with caliper hand brakes mounted on both front and rear wheels. Longer trips are no problem with a comfort bike.
These lightweight bicycles are built for speed and long distances. Drop handlebars, skinny tires and a minimal saddle are their most distinguishing characteristics. So is the cost. Prices for decent road bikes start at over $500 and go up to many thousands for the best. Road bikes are built for speed, not comfort. The riding position is aerodynamic with the rider bent over the dropped handlebars. Road bicycles come equipped with as many as 30 close ratio gears. They are nimble, fast handling, precision machines best suited to more experienced riders. They are designed for well paved roads and cannot be used for off road riding.
If you want to get off the road and ride in rugged terrain, the mountain bike is the one for you. You can buy a good mountain bicycle for under $500. Mountain bikes put you in an upright riding position for better visibility, and have flat handlebars for good steering control. They are equipped with fat, knobby, shock absorbing tires. A typical mountain bike also has a shock absorbing suspension system. Hill climbing is a lot easier on a mountain bike because they have a wider gear range than a typical road bike. They are heavier than road bikes, but are more comfortable to ride. In fact, switch the knobby tires for smoother tires with less rolling resistance and they make a good choice for paved road riding.
HYBRID OR CROSS BIKE
The hybrid or cross bike combines the comfort and upright riding position of a mountain bike with the lighter weight and responsive features of a road machine. They use the same 27 wheel size as a road bike but tires are wider and more robust. Tires are also narrower than a mountain bike's 26 inch tires. A hybrid shares the same wide range gearing as a mountain bike which makes hill climbing a snap. A hybrid makes a great commuter bicycle, and you can buy a good, entry level model for about $350. They also handle well on less than perfect roads. You can use one for trail riding, but a hybrid won't take the abuse of rough terrain.
The BMX is a popular bike with the kids. You've probably all seen them. They have smaller wheels and are built to take the kind of abuse only a kid could deliver. They can be ridden on the street or on dirt trails. They are generally single speed models equipped with a rear coaster brake.
Recumbent bicycles, or bents as they are known by their owners, are unique in the cycling world. Recumbents are built lower to the ground because you sit in a real seat with a backrest instead of straddling a saddle. Recumbents have 30% less frontal area than a typical racing bike and hold all the world speed records for bicycles, and are extremely comfortable to ride. Recumbents are still a specialized niche. They are more expensive than traditional bikes because they aren't mass produced. Most bicycle shops don't carry bents, but that could change if they become more popular. Recumbent adherents will tell you that many cyclists have switched from the traditional diamond frame bike to a bent, but very few bent riders ever go back.
BEST PLACE TO SHOP FOR A BICYCLE
You can buy an really inexpensive bike from a chain store, but you'll end up with a bike with the cheapest components. A good bicycle shop will give you more and better choices. You may pay more but you'll get better value and peace of mind. The bike you buy from a dealer will have been assembled and carefully adjusted by a professional bicycle mechanic. Your new bike will also come with higher quality components, and a solid warranty. Most shops will readjust your bike free of charge after you've ridden for a hundred miles or so.
Best of all, the professional staff can answer all your questions. You'll end up with a bicycle that is not only a good physical fit, but a good match to your riding style.