This year’s cycling season is already knocking on the door. If you don’t have a bike yet, or you’re thinking about a new bike but don’t know how to choose it, this is for you. You will learn how to choose the type of bike, how to set a budget, what to look out for when buying it, and many valuable tips.
Before we begin, I have an important note. Due to the global pandemic, there is a shortage of bicycles and components on the market. Therefore, don’t delay your purchase because waiting times can reach even several months.
Step 1 – Where Do You Want to Ride and How?
The best way to choose the right type of bike is to ask yourself these questions:
- Do you want to ride on paved roads, gravel, dirt roads, in rough terrain, or do you want to combine different types of terrains?
- Are you rather performance-oriented, do you prefer casual rides, or do you just need a bike for commuting?
Once you have an answer to these questions, proceed to the 2nd step.
Step 2 – Choose a Bike Type
The type of bike is very important as it will affect where and how you will ride it. There are dozens of different bike types. But the basic ones are:
- Road bikes
- Mountain bikes
- Hybrid/trekking bikes
Road bikes are typical for their sporty geometry, drop bars, narrow tires, and relatively low weight. They are ideal for paved surfaces like tarmac, bike paths, etc. Road bikes can be further divided into several sub-categories like endurance, performance, aero, etc. Each is suitable for a slightly different riding style.
Road bikes are fast on paved roads. However, they are not suitable for off-road due to narrow tires and the absence of suspension.
To find out more about road bikes, feel free to read this How to Choose a Road Bike Guide.
Mountain bikes are the most versatile type of bike. Thanks to wide and high-volume tires, you can ride them on dirt & forest roads, gravel, trails, etc. They are also much more comfortable than, for example, road bikes because they usually have more upright geometry and a suspended fork that absorbs vibrations and bumps.
The disadvantage of mountain bikes is their higher weight and the fact that it will cost you more energy to ride fast on paved roads.
Hybrid bikes, sometimes called trekking or fitness bikes, form a compromise between road and mountain bikes. On paved roads, they are not as fast as road bikes. However, they usually come with wider tires that allow you to ride on light gravel or dirt roads. Their geometry allows for a more relaxed, upright position. These features make them one of the most popular types of bikes for most people. You can maintain your fitness level, take trips with your family, commute to work, grocery store, etc.
Hybrid bikes lag a little bit in terrain. Models without a front fork are not as comfortable and will not allow you to ride in rugged terrain as well as a mountain bike.
This How to Choose a Hybrid Bike Guide explains more in detail the individual types of hybrid bikes.
Step 3 – Set Your Budget
Once you have a closer idea of the type of bike that is right for your riding style, it’s time to set a budget. I will be honest with you: cycling is not a cheap hobby because bikes are expensive. The good news is that the additional costs (maintenance, spare parts, etc.) are much lower, and thanks to cycling, you can discover the beauty of your countryside and do something for your health (find out more about the benefits of cycling).
In general, I recommend buying bikes only from specialized retailers. Avoid buying bikes from supermarkets. These are usually equipped with the lowest quality components, which wear out easily and are not very reliable.
You can buy a decent bike for around $500. For about $1,000, you get a perfect bike that will be a pleasure to ride. The price category over $2,000 is for real enthusiasts who know what they want.
New vs Pre-Owned
If your budget is limited, don’t be afraid to buy a second-hand bike. You can often find a pretty good second-hand bike that someone bought out of enthusiasm, rode it a few times, and then put it in a cellar or garage, where the dust settled on it.
But, before you buy a second-hand bike, make sure it is in good condition. Ensure that the teeth on the chainring and cassette are not too worn (frequent use), the paint is not scratched abraded (mishandling), bolts and nuts are not rusted (poor maintenance), etc.
If you are a complete beginner and you are just starting with cycling, I recommend that you set aside, for example, 30% of your budget for a new bike for additional equipment. A cycling helmet is a must-have. The following accessories are nice to have:
- saddlebag with a repair tool kit
- mini bike pump
- cycling wear
- cycling shoes
You don’t have to buy these accessories all at once because they can be expensive. Feel free to build your equipment slowly over time.
Step 4 – Think About Bike Features
This step is probably the most complicated for beginners, and no wonder. The market offers countless possibilities and options. I would have to write a whole series of articles on this topic to cover it all. So, here are a few tips you can follow when buying almost any type of bike:
- Ensure that the bike has a front and rear brake (yes, there are also bikes without brakes on the market). If you have a very limited budget, go for rim brakes. If you can afford to spend more money, choose disc brakes.
- The bike should offer a sufficient number of gears depending on where you want to ride it. Ideally, more than 16 (2×8, 2×9, 3×8, etc.) so you can ride in different types of terrain.
- The mountain bike should have a suspended front fork. Some hybrid bikes have a suspended seatpost to increase your comfort. And a good road bike should not weigh more than 22lb (10 kg).
- Check the bike’s compatibility with other accessories, such as fenders or bike racks, if you want to take longer trips, or just be prepared for bad weather.
- Branded components from companies like Shimano, SRAM, or Campagnolo are usually better than unbranded components.
Step 5 – Choose the Right Size
The final step is choosing the right size of the bike. It will improve your riding comfort and prevent the risk of injuries due to the wrong size.
There are three basic methods how you can choose a bike size. My favorite method is choosing your bike size depending on your inseam length.
Once you measure your inseam length, check the bike sizing chart from the manufacturers’ website if you shop online.
If you buy a bike in a store, consult the correct size with a professional and take it on a test ride to see if it fits you. It is not much different from buying a new T-shirt, or trousers.
Speed, long distances, and paved roads are your cup of coffee? Great, a road bike will probably be the right one for you.
Do you prefer rougher terrain, where you can enjoy more adrenaline? Go for a mountain bike.
Are you somewhere between the above two categories? Don’t you want to limit yourself too much in terms of terrains and surfaces? The hybrid bike is the way to go.
But, choosing your next bike does not end here. Make sure to set aside some money for additional bike accessories.
And last but not least, pick the right size of the bike, so you maximize your comfort and prevent injuries.
To find out more about individual bike categories, feel free to visit Cyclists Hub – a free online resource for beginner cyclists and advanced riders.