Forget the gym! There's so much to do outside, from running to hiking to swimming, that you can save your money on that monthly membership and sweat it out in the sunshine. Biking is the perfect Spring and Summer sport, because moving at a faster pace means you'll stay much cooler than if you were walking or running. If you've never bought a bike before, here's a simple guide to help you get your first set of wheels.
Choose Your Ride
Before even setting foot in a bike shop, you need to figure out what you want to use the bike for. This will determine what kind of bike you get, and here's a general list:
Comfort bikes (also called Cruisers): If you're into a relaxed ride, maybe cruising around the park or taking a leisurely Sunday ride on the bike path, you'll appreciate the wide tires for a smooth ride, the comfy bike seat, and the upright sitting position. These are great for flat surfaces like pavement or dirt, since they only have a few gears.
Road bikes: Used on pavement for exercise, commuting, or racing, these bikes are lightweight with thin, hard tires, so they're perfect for long distances and if you like going fast. They offer two styles of handlebars: drop-bar or flat-bar. Drop-bars are curved and aerodynamic, so you can lean farther forward to increase your speed. They allow for a few riding positions, which is great for longer rides to prevent your hands from getting tired. Flat-bar handlebars go straight across and put your torso in a more upright position, which may be more comfortable for someone who has lower-back or hamstring tightness, and they also allow the rider to see the road better.
Mountain bikes: As the name suggests, these are for woodsy or rocky trails. They have a thicker frame and wider, knobbier tires to handle uneven terrain. These are also great if you're commuting on dirt roads or roads with lots of potholes, since they offer better shock absorption. You can choose hardtail models that offer only front suspension, or full-suspension models that offer both front and rear suspension. The first type is good if you'll be on both uneven terrain and pavement, and the second type is best if you're sticking to the trails, but it's also pricier.
Hybrid bikes: A blend of road and mountain bikes, they offer everything comfort bikes do but have smaller tires, so you can go faster. They're great for leisurely rides on a variety of surfaces and commutes, and like road bikes, their range of gears helps you climb hills as well as go fast on flats.
How to Shop
You'll want to hit up a bike store, since not only will it offer a range of brands and price points, but also, the knowledgeable and experienced staff can answer any questions you have and help you get the perfect fit. Tell them what style you're looking for and what your price range is. You can spend anywhere from $400 to well over $2,500 (and that's not including accessories; see below). Keep in mind that all brands fit differently, so be open-minded about trying them all out, even brands you've never heard of. This may mean checking out a couple of bike stores, since they don't all offer the same bikes.
How to Get Fitted
Each style of bike requires a different type of fit, since the seat-to-handlebar distance varies between styles. When sitting on the seat, you want a slight bend in the knee when your pedal is pushed all the way down. A bike-store staff member can get you on a bike and adjust the seat and handlebars to make it fit your frame. You should be able to reach the handlebars and brakes without locking your arms or straining your back. Look for a solid frame (as lightweight as you can afford) and a comfortable fit — you can always upgrade components like tires, brakes, cranksets (which hold the chainrings), derailers (which shift the chain from one chainring to another), etc.
How to Test-Ride
Now's the fun part. Make sure you're wearing clothes and shoes comfortable enough to get on the newly fitted bike and give it a go. Hopefully the shop you choose has a big area for you to ride in. Some stores even have trails or routes nearby so you can go for a good five- or 15-minute ride to really get a feel for the bike. Make sure your ride includes inclines and declines as well as flat surfaces so you can try out the gears and really get a feel for whether or not the more expensive, lighter-weight bikes are worth the extra pocket change. Note how well the bike handles speed and if you feel steady enough to stand and pedal. And don't just test one bike! Test many, many bikes. Don't feel shy about asking to retry bikes, and even though you're eager to bring one home, you don't have to decide in one day. Come back a couple of times just so you're sure, especially since you may be putting down a lot of dough.
Extras You'll Need
When figuring out your bike budget, factor in accessories you'll need, such as these:
- Bike helmet ($25 to $80-plus; spend the money on one you really like, since you'll be wearing it for up to three years)
- Water bottle cage (holder that attaches to the frame) and bottle ($20 total)
- New seat ($25 to $200-plus) if you're not in love with the ones the bike comes with
- Bike lock ($20 to $100-plus) if you plan on leaving your bike anywhere
- Car rack ($50 to $500-plus) if you plan on driving to where you're going to ride
- Padded bike shorts ($50 to $100) if you're riding a road bike for fitness
- Fitted bike shirt ($35 to $75); bright colors will make you more visible
- New pedals ($20 to $100-plus) if you need to go clip-less or want baskets to hold your feet in place
- Bike shoes ($80 to $150) for your clip-less pedals
- Gloves ($20 to $40) to ease blisters
- Handlebar mount ($20 to $50) to hold your phone
- Racks ($20 to $40) for carrying stuff
- Zippered bags that attach to the bike ($10 to $70)
- Extra tire tubes ($5 to $10)
Yep, this new hobby of yours is far from cheap! But since your health and well-being are worth it, it'll make you feel better.