Skip directly to content

Buying a Bike

Before you buy there are 3 things you need to know:

Think of a bicycle as a shoe. The size matters. Really, it matters. And the more you bike, the more it will matter.

So does the type of bike. A too small shoe is painful and awkward, but so is a work boot when worn for ball room dancing. Just as with a shoe, your bike needs to be the right size and the right type, and of course at the right price:

1) What Kind of Bike?

What kind of bike to get depends on what kind of riding you do. The  "right" or "best" bike for you is the one designed and built for how and where you ride.

Each type of bike will have a configuration that gives different rider posture, different gearing, different component strength, and so on. This combination makes it the right choice for a particular type of riding, and a bad choice for the other kinds.

A bike is a tool, not a fashion accessory. How it looks is secondary, what matters is how it rides. Think ballet slippers on a construction site or work boots on the dance floor; even a great fit will still not work very well.

Summary:

Road bike: Speed and distance

Cruiser bike: Comfort and simplicity for short hauls.

Mountain bike (MTB): Rough and tough, but slow and heavy

Hybrid: Compromise between Road and MTB

Other: See below

Road: Good for speed and distance, whether regular commuting for more than a few km or recreational touring. Light and easy to pedal, but not able to take much punishment. For a road bike your regular travel routes should be paved and well maintained. The heavier frame of an older road bike can be a good choice for areas where the road conditions are not so ideal. They are a little more durable than modern road bikes, but not as heavy as a hybrid.

Cruiser: Good for comfort and local errands. Wiith upright posture and flat handle bars Cruisers are both durable and comfortable, not to mention safer. Designed for short hauls and carrying loads they are great for short trips and errands in an urban setting.

Mountain: Built with heavy components and possibly shock absorbers on the front or front and back forks, mountain bikes are meant to take the punishment of off road biking. Also popular as a work bike in a rural settings, or any setting where they will get rough treatment. Mountain bikes are tough and will take it, but the are not meant to go fast or ride easy.

Hybrid: A compromise between a mountain bike and a road bike. Hybrids are for communting where the roads are not so well maintained or some types of touring. If your recreation involves easy trails (packed dirt or gravel) without too much rough terrain, a hybrid is a bike that both gets you there fairly painlessly and lets you enjoy the trails as well.

BMX. A BMX is a trick or performance bike. Stripped down, but with a heavy, durable frame, it is not really meant for transportation so much as recreation.

Other: Folding, tandem, recumbents, tricycles, and so on; all are designed with a particular purpose in mind. Each does well for it's intended purpose, not so great for other uses. The main thing is to have some clarity about the kind of biking you are going to do, and then choose the right bike.

2) What Size of Bike?

The ebicycles Common Sense Guide to Bicycles makes it easy for you. For most people the two critical things to know are:

Bicycle Size Calculator: get the frame and wheel size you are looking for before you start shopping.

Bicycle Saddle Height Calculator: make sure the bike you buy can set the seat at the correct height for you.

but by all means check out the full guide to bike right sizing at What Size Bicycle Do I Need?

The more you ride, the better fit you need. Exact sizing won't matter so much for toddling around the neighbourhood now and then. It will matter a lot for long trips or regular commuting.

3) How much to spend?

In general it is fair to say that the more expensive the bike, the more years of trouble free riding you will enjoy, assuming you do regular maintenance and don't abuse it. The more you are going to bike, the more you will want a really good bike  A low end department store bike will be more than fine for 'toddling around the neighbourhood now and then.' It would be painful for commuting any distance on a regular basis, both in terms of difficult riding and frequent maintenance problems.

A more expensive bicycle can also be economical in that a properly maintained a high end bike can give two or three (or more) decades of reliable riding. Compare that cost to buying a new "junker" every 2 or 3 years.

That said, you don't want to over buy. The more expensive the bike, the greater the risk of theft, and hence the greater the need for really good locks that you always use.

You will also want a dry, secure storage space whereever you are likely to leave it overnight. Finally, bikes do still sometimes get damaged, whether by accident or because they are vandalized. It is easier to be philosophical about it if the bike was not too expensive.

Be realistic about both what you need and how you will use the bicycle. If you don't actually need a really good bike, can't store it in a dry and secure place, and will likely use it roughly, then a lower quality, cheaper bike is probably a better choice for you.

The best bike is the one that is the right size AND fits your riding habits and needs.