Like most kids, I grew up riding a bicycle. I was fortunate in a sense, because I had a relatively safe place to ride (that is, I didn’t have to deal with motor vehicle traffic all the time). I stopped riding when I was 18 or 19 for a host of reasons (okay, excuses). When I moved a few years ago, I realized that the city tried to make it a friendly city for bicycles (and at some level, it has done a good job). But it wasn’t until last month that I decided to buy and ride a bicycle again.
As always, I started with the most important questions: why should I get a bicycle, and what kind of riding will I do?
I wanted a bicycle for two reasons: to get into better shape and to commute around town (and possibly save a few bucks on gas). I chose to ride on paved trails and paths, with no plans of traveling off-road or through mountains. That helped limit my options. Other considerations included something fairly lightweight (my old Kent was steel and fairly heavy), comfortable to ride, nimble on the roads, and within my budget. This limited my options to either a road bike or a hybrid.
Armed with some information, I started shopping. I traveled to a number of stores in town and tried out both new and used bikes, including Trek, Gary Fisher (both new and used), Schwinn, Fuji, Raleigh (used), and Marin. In the end, I liked the fitness-style bike: it was easy to ride, nimble, easy to shift, and just felt really good (even though it doesn’t have shock absorbers). I purchased the Trek 7.3 FX.
I learned a few things to consider when you’re out there searching for a bike (new or used). Here are some basic questions to ask yourself and to research before you start hitting the shops:
- What kind of riding will you do? This determines what kind of bike to purchase. Consider where you plan to ride and how often, and think about how steep the hills are in your area before considering a single-gear bike. This can help determine your budget as well as your style.
- Where should you shop? Consider a place that actually has bicycle technicians on staff that can assemble and repair bicycles. Bikes often come in boxes with many parts.
- What kind of warranty does the bike have? Some warrant against manufacturing defects if new. Used bikes may have some protection.
- Where can you take your bike if it needs service? If you purchase it from a bike shop with a service center, you can review its rates. Some shops offer free adjustments on bikes that they sell.
- What accessories should you purchase right away? This will depend on your riding style, when you plan to ride, and your budget. I strongly recommend the following:
- Proper fitting bicycle helmet; don’t ever buy a used one because you don’t know its history (that is, it might have been dropped a million times already).
- Water bottle and holder (aka “cage”).
- Parts to repair or replace an inner tube: inner tube patch kit, replacement inner tube, portable air pump, tire levers, and a small bag to hold all of this on your bike (the seat wedge style bags are ideal for this).
- Bike lock and cable, especially if you plan on commuting and/or parking your bike outside.
- Headlamp, especially if you plan on riding before dawn, at dusk, or at night.
- Rear strobe light for visibility, especially if you plan to ride on streets before dawn, at dusk, or at night.
- Rear reflector: required in some states and cannot be substituted by the rear light (probably because batteries wear out); these come standard on almost every new bike.
- Rain jacket: I recommend one made for cycling, or at least something breathable.
- Fenders (hover over wheels), to protect you and your clothes if you bike in wet weather or through puddles.
- Appropriate clothing for the weather you plan to ride in. I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone to spend a ton of money on technical cycling clothing (despite certain benefits), but you will want to consider comfortable clothing for the type of weather you’ll ride in.
- A better saddle or a padded cover may help your backside when you first start riding… optional, but can be quite beneficial.
- Where can you find more information on riding safely? Look for local or statewide groups that offer training. Your local bike shop may also have some information.
Other things to consider include where you’ll keep your bike and how you’ll transport it if you travel to other places to ride. For my storage needs, I purchased a Saris Bike Bunk storage stand that doesn’t require mounting anything to the walls of my apartment and keeps my bike out of the way (for the most part). For the car, the choice was the Saris Bones 2-Bike trunk-mounted rack (check to make sure certain racks will fit your vehicle).
Also, consider if you need to carry anything and how you will do it. For short and day trips, there’s an ongoing debate about using either a backpack or installing a rack with panniers (saddlebags or sidebags). Messenger bags are useful if you have to access items often (like a bicycle messenger or courier). Think about what you’ll carry and how comfortable each option will feel: backpacks may put stress on your shoulders and back if too heavy; panniers may change how responsive your bike feels when commuting; messenger bags tend to shift around your shoulder and neck and may not feel comfortable for long rides. As of today, I’m still evaluating a backpack vs. panniers for commuting.
So four weeks after buying it, I am finally writing about my new bike. I’ve spent a lot of time riding my bike (not as much as I want to, but at least enough to make it worthwhile), and I really enjoy it. Traffic can be harrowing at times, but my city has bike lanes and many bike paths that make commuting somewhat easier and riding much more enjoyable. See you on the roads.