What factors should you consider when you are in the market for a new or used bicycle? I’m not thinking primarily about the composition — for example, steel, carbon fiber or aluminum — but rather the way you use it or the kind of riding you do.
If you go to a local bicycle shop, as I’ve suggested, they will likely ask you that question: What type of riding you do? That’s the place to start, but let me add one variation on that question. I believe that the kind of bicycle we ride depends to a large degree on the problem we’re trying to solve.
If you have problems with the bent-over position of a road bike with drop handles, then look for a bike that has a straight handlebar.
If you frequently find yourself riding slower than you want because of a headwind, look at a bike with drop handlebars.
If the problem is an uncomfortable seat, look at recumbents (or a better bike fit).
If the problem is you aren’t going fast enough, look at a lightweight bike (or better yet, lose 10 pounds).
If the problem is that you and your spouse have very different energy or fitness levels, look at a tandem.
If the problem is that you don’t like riding on the salted and sanded roads of winter, look at getting a beater bike with fenders that you can ride in any weather.
If you want to ride your bike while on trips, look at a folding bike that fits in a suitcase.
Another helpful way to look at what bicycle to buy is to consider the pros and cons of various bicycle styles: road, mountain, hybrid, recumbent and tandem. I would note at the beginning that there is no perfect bicycle. Each style has strengths and weaknesses.
Road and touring bikes
These bikes have 10-24 speeds and touring bikes have a triple crank set in the front to make it easier to climb hills.
Pros: Drop handlebars give you five hand positions — very helpful for longer rides where your hands tend to get numb on a bike with a straight handlebar. Usually lighter and therefore faster than a mountain bike. A myriad of styles, weights and costs. Great for touring, if they have places to fasten front and rear panniers.
Cons: Drop handlebars are uncomfortable for many people because of the need to bend your neck up at an unnatural angle while in the drops. Many women do not like the pressure it puts on tender tissues. The high-pressure tires tend to get more flats. The ride on rough roads can be jarring.
I call them city bikes since that’s where they are ridden for the most part.
Pros: The upright riding position makes it easier to see and be seen in traffic and is more comfortable for many people — that is, no bent neck. Has the ability to ride off road. Most have a triple crank set for riding in rough terrain off road. Lower tire pressure lessens the impact of the bumps of rough city streets. Lower tire pressure means far fewer flats than with a road bike.
Cons: Upright riding position gives only one hand position — not ideal for longer rides — unless fitted with ergo bar ends or extenders. You can’t really escape a headwind in the upright position so it’s not as fast as a road bike in those conditions. Slightly higher rolling resistance due to the wider, less inflated tires, making for greater effort to go the same distance than on a road bike.
These are half mountain and half road
Pros: Upright riding position has same advantages as a mountain bike. Narrower tires give less rolling resistance than a mountain bike. Not as prone to flats due to having less pressure in tires compared with a road bike. Ideal bike for rides on trails.
Cons: Heavier than road bikes. Straight handlebars give only one hand position.
These are bikes with your legs in front of you
Pros: Riding position is like sitting in an easy chair — goodbye saddle sores. Very fast on a straightaway or downhill.
Cons: Much slower going up hills due to the fact that gravity is not pulling legs down as it is on an upright bike. Has an initial learning curve to learn how to balance and steer. Less visibility for rider and harder to see for motorist when on the road. (Many use a flag to increase visibility.)
This is a bicycle built for two
Pros: Allows riders with different levels of endurance and strength to ride together. Can attain very high speed on a downhill. Allows child to ride with parents in situations too dangerous for a young child.
Cons: Weight makes it very slow going uphill. Rider in the rear (stoker) has no control over how bike is driven or what gear is used. Not suitable for partners with different biking philosophies (for example, one wants to hammer and the other wants to stop at every roadside attraction). Can be difficult to talk with the partner due to the wind.
Still confused? Well, many riders (including me) have different bicycles for different situations. Just be sure that you have enough space to store them.
John Yoder is an avid bicyclist and president of the Friends of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail. This column was adapted from a Dec. 14 post on his Cycling Sense blog at www.goshencommons.org.