Tips for Finding the Best Beginner Bike

old bikeAs I mentioned in the last post, Beginner Cycling Overview, once I had decided that I wanted to get started with cycling, the next step was to find the best beginner bike for me.  My goals at the start were to find: (1) a good bike for riding around with the kids and (2) a good cheap bike.  I also wanted a bicycle that I might be able to use as a good alternative to doing cardio at the gym — although I’m a regular at the gym, treadmills and stationary bikes in a stinky gym are just not as much fun as getting some fresh air and actually moving around.

At first I followed my cheap instincts and was looking around at bikes at the big-box retail stores.  After doing some research, it quickly became apparent that there were a lot of complaints online about the very cheap bikes at those stores — lots of people complaining of missing parts and damaged bikes, and having to take those cheap bikes to bike shops and pay for repairs and adjustments just to get them to work correctly.  Against my cheapest-wishes, I was slowly starting to understand that with bikes you really get what you pay for.

After almost buying a cheap mountain bike at a big box store, I ended up deciding that a comfort/hybrid bike from my local bike shop (LBS) was the best beginner bike for me.  I’ll give you more details about the bike I chose in my next post.  For now, here are a few tips for choosing the best beginner bike for you:

  • Intended Use — think about how you are likely to really use the bike, then consider the main bike categories below.
  • Mountain Bikes — like SUVs, most mountain bikes rarely tread on anything but pavement.  If this sounds like you, then you’d probably be happier with another type of bike.  However, if you know you’ll be off-road, a knobby-tired many-geared mountain bike is what you need.
  • Cruiser Bikes — these bikes usually have a single gear or very few gears, have big tires and big seats, and allow a more comfortable riding position.  If you are thinking of relaxed-pace riding with few challenging hills and either paved or gravel paths, a cruiser might be the way to go.  But a word of caution, if you decide to try to ride at a fast clip and/or go on really long rides, a cruiser is not the best idea — actually, those big seats are not ideal for more aggressive riding and can actually lead to chafing if you ride too hard.
  • Comfort/Hybrid — this is a pretty vague and varied category, though most will be 21 speeds or more.  I would say a comfort bike is a modified mountain bikes with a bigger seat, suspension to soften bumps and tires meant for pavement, while a hybrid bike is usually more like a road bike (no suspension) with a smaller seat and flat handle bars (sometimes called a fitness bike).  However, you will find a lot of variations in this category.  These are “jacks of all trades, masters of none” — so comfort bike might be good if you’d like a cruiser, but need gears for hills, while a hybrid will be good for those wanting serious workouts but whose backs can’t tolerate the seat position of a road bike.  One note: most of these bikes come with 700c tires that you’ll need to pump every day that you ride, whereas you can usually get away with pumping the cruiser tires less often.  The 700c tires tend to roll faster on pavement, but just know they are slightly less convenient.
  • Road Bikes — these look like the 10 speeds I grew up with, but are much lighter now and have more speeds.  These are the best bikes for long distance riding or strenuous riding on pavement, but understand that you’ll be in more of a hunched over position.  Quality road bikes also tend to be more expensive than the entry-level bikes in the other categories.  However, if you can see yourself riding hard or riding on long rides for hours, then a road bike is for you — most are truly fine-tuned machines that are excellent for their intended use.
  • Commuter Bikes — there’s a growing interest these days in cycling to work.  While you can do that on any bike, there are some that are set up with fenders, racks and even built in lighting to make commuting easier.  Folding bikes are also a subset of this category, and can be really handy to carry onto buses and/or trains.
  • Budget — Set a budget in your head, but prepare yourself to spend more.  I had a bit of sticker shock when shopping for a beginner bike.  O.k., I’m cheap, but I quickly saw the quality difference and read a lot of reviews by people disappointed with cheap bikes.

Whichever beginner bicycle you choose, you will need a bike helmet.  Honestly, I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of wearing a bike helmet, but I have young kids and wanted to set a good example.   I found the cheapest bike helmet in my local bike store, the Giro Transfer Helmet, and I have been happy with it so far.  In fact, now I don’t really mind wearing a helmet anymore.

In my next post: a review of the bike I chose as the best beginner bicycle for me.

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