Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cody's Bicycle Buying Guide

In the past few weeks, I've had a couple different conversations with friends who were shopping for their first bicycle to begin commuting and doing some light recreational riding. I had a bit of difficulty really giving clear advice on this issue, so I thought I'd readdress it here to help me firm up my own thoughts and recommendations.

The most important thing to keep in mind when shopping for a new ride is comfort. I recently had a good friend who was in the market for a bike to do some utility riding around town and also some light recreational riding - mostly on the Katy Trail. The guy at his LBS told him he should start off with a Trek 7.1 hybrid bike. But my friend was more interested in dropping the cash on a much more expensive cyclocross bike. While the dude at the shop wasn't wrong to recommend the hybrid, if a $2,000 cyclocross bike is what's going to feel most comfortable, then so be it.

That brings me to a second recommendation: keep theft in mind. If your rig will rarely be locked up outside, especially overnight, then this isn't much of an issue. But if you're going to be locking up to an unmonitored bike rack in a shady part of town for 12 hours a day, then this may be pretty important. You can invest in a very good lock, but if someone really wants your bike and they're given ample opportunity to steal it, then its theirs. High end road, mountain, and cyclocross bikes have a tendency of eliciting this type of desire. Unless you can count on almost always storing your bike indoors in a secure location, don't use a Trek Madone as your daily commuter.

Another reason that high end racing bikes may not be the best choice for utility cycling is that it is often difficult, if not impossible, to add accessories like racks and fenders to them. If you plan on consistently travelling around town by bicycle or using your machine as your primary mode of transportation, a decent set of fenders and some cargo capacity can quickly become a priority.

I hesitate to make specific recommendations on particular bicycle models, because there's no way I can be comprehensive. But I can make some recommendations on styles of bicycle that I've found to be ideal for around-town utility use and light recreational/trail riding. Hybrid bicycles are designed with casual riders in mind, so these are often the best choice - especially for inexperienced commuters. These bicycles have become very popular in recent years and nearly all manufacturers are now producing entire catalogues of hybrid/comfort bikes. Lower end mountain bikes are also often designed with a more casual rider in mind, so these can be a great option too.

If you plan to put in heavy duty mileage, a touring bike, or even a cyclocross bike, can have some benefits. Touring bikes will have a relatively comfortable geometry, will often be made with lighter weight components and materials, and normally come with drop bars, which give you a number of different hand positions that can make longer rides more bearable. However, these bikes will generally be quite a bit more expensive than the other types that I've mentioned.

If you're somewhat handy or interested in learning how to work on bikes, an old road bike or cruiser can be a lot of fun. Going the vintage route is often pretty inexpensive initially, but older bikes require continual upkeep and maintenance that can bring the overall cost up substantially over time. I should also mention that there are a number of manufacturers that are making bikes that have a classic look and feel, but are made with modern materials and components. Dutch-style bikes, in particular, have become fairly popular and these bikes can give you the styling of a vintage roadster without the constant upkeep of an actual vintage machine.

I've based these recommendations on my personal experiences and those of my friends, but I'm in no way an expert. As I said, comfort is the key rule. If you feel most comfortable riding an S-Works Epic to and from the grocery store, then by all means, do it. The most important thing is getting out there and riding. So grab your rig and get out there and ride.

No comments:

Post a Comment