Bike Buying Guide

Looking To Invest In a New Bicycle?

Maybe you’ve found the need for another type of bicycle. Perhaps your bike just needs to be replaced with one that is more comfortable for you. Maybe your cycling skills have grown and it’s simply time to upgrade to a bike that lets you reach your full potential. Whatever the reasons, here is a simple guide on helping you chose the bike you need.

If you choose to buy through your local bike shop, be prepared to answer a few questions to help them understand what your needs are. Even though they know a lot about bikes, they do not know a lot about you yet. Any questions they ask are simply meant to help you be successful on two wheels.

-What surfaces do you plan to ride on?  Roads or streets? Off-road or gravel? Possibly snow?
-Are you riding with anyone? Group rides or friends? What do they ride?
-What have you liked about your bike(s) in the past?
-What have you disliked about your bike(s) in the past? Are there things you would like to change?
-Do you have any goals that you are working towards accomplishing, like a triathlon for example?

It’s very helpful for you to be open with the sales people and provide answers so they can assist with finding you the best bike to fit your needs. It’s also important to have a realistic sense of what a $500 bike can provide you vs. a $900+ bike. Like most things in life, bike prices have risen over the years and for most people it’s been quite awhile since they purchased a bike. These prices may be a bit of an eye opener, but the old phrase still applies “you get what you pay for.”  The least expensive bike in the store may seem very attractive relative to its price; however, it will come with limitations. The sales people make it their goal to find you the least expensive bicycle that will do the job for you and meet your needs, and most times it will not be the least expensive bike in the store.

There will be multiple types of bicycles to choose from, so here’s a rundown of the different styles that you can expect to choose from.

Types of Bikes

Road bikes: commonly referred to as 10 speeds, or racing/touring bikes. Surprisingly most do not get raced our toured on, but simply used for riding on the roads to go a long distance with the least amount of effort. These bikes will have the narrowest tires and the most aggressive body position, which makes them the most efficient style for speed and distance. Due to their tire width they will have limitations as to what surfaces they can safely be ridden on.

Cyclocross bikes: these bikes are very similar to road bikes, yet the major difference is the size of the tire. Cyclocross tires are slightly wider than road tires, have moderately deep tread, and are designed for off road use such as gravel roads or dirt track cyclocross racing. Gear ratios will generally be slightly lower than a road bike. A very common alternative use for these bikes is for commuting by changing to a smoother tread and adding full coverage fenders. 

Fitness bikes: similar to road bikes but have flat traditional styled handlebars, slightly wider tires, along with different gearing. The top end speed of these can be just as fast as a road bike, yet they will generally have lower gear ratios as well to help with climbing hills. They are ideal for those who are looking for a bike that is very easy to ride on hard surfaces yet may wish to sit slightly more upright than a road bike. They also make for a good, lightweight, and fast commuter bike. These would be classified as performance hybrids as well.

Hybrid bikes: also known as cross bikes or cross trainers. For paved trail riding with an upright body position these are the most common bikes you will see on the trails. They are made for recreational, paved trail, town, and gravel trail usage. Designed to be comfortable yet lightweight and easy to pedal with gearing designed to allow you to go fast yet be able to climb most hills with ease. The tires will be slightly wider than that of a fitness bike and be a nice, happy medium between a road and a mountain bike. Hence the term hybrid as it’s a cross between two things.

Comfort bikes: just as the term states, these bikes are designed to be comfortable, and give a very plush Cadillac ride. For comfort features these bikes have front suspension to soak up the bumps, the widest, most padded seats, along with suspension in the seat posts and wide tires with a slight amount of tread. The wider tires help give new riders confidence, along with extra traction and a more cushioned ride due to lower air pressures and higher air volume. Think of old, balloon tired bikes, like Schwinn cruisers. Big tires ride soft. The trade-off for all these comfort features is that they add weight, which requires extra effort to pedal, but the gear ratios are lower than hybrids or road bikes to compensate for this. Top end speed will be slower but most times these bikes will be ridden rather casually.

Feet First/Crank Forward bikes: the most confidence inspiring bikes for beginner riders or those who haven’t ridden in many years or for those who have balance and stability challenges. These bikes have lowest to the ground seat height, along with the most upright body position possible. As the term states, crank forward means just that. Your cranks are out in front of you more compared to other bikes where they are directly below you. With this design you still achieve an efficient extension of your legs while pedaling, yet have a seat height that allows one to stay seated and put their feet on the ground when they come to a stop. No other type of bike will allow that without compromising your leg extension while pedaling. These bikes will be lighter than comfort bikes, and for gearing most have a limited number of gears, such as three or seven speeds, sometimes even basic single speeds with pedal brakes. These could be considered the modern day cruiser bikes. 

Mountain bikes: Designed for the off road scene, these bikes are very versatile and can be used for much more than just off road. These bikes will come equipped with wide, deeply treaded tires, lower gear ratios for navigating hills off road, and sturdier front suspension. Some bikes have only front suspension some have both front and rear, and some do not have any at all, which is called rigid. The body position is similar to that of a fitness bike in that you will lean over somewhat aggressively in order to balance your weight distribution.  Mountain bikes can be considered an all purpose bike that can be used for recreational purposes as well as year round commuting.

Fatbikes: Designed with tires twice as wide as a typical mountain bike, these are like mountain bikes on steroids, designed for maximum flotation on surfaces such as snow or sand. They are most commonly used by mountain bikers who wish to continue riding off road throughout the winter and need increased traction and flotation.  Many find these bikes to be the most fun to ride, even for beginners, by giving extra confidence for rolling over obstacles and having the traction available to navigate challenging technical sections.  Much lower air pressures allow the big tires to conform and grip the terrain much better, yet still roll very easily.  Because of the very soft tires, these bikes also provide a very cushioned ride even without any mechanical suspension. 

Once you have an understanding of the different types of bikes that are offered, you will be able to determine what styles make most sense for your riding needs.  At that point, you are ready for the next step in the process:  the test ride.

The Test Ride and Accessories

Throughout the process of selecting a bike, one should expect to go out on numerous test rides in order to gain a sense of different body positions one could have, and to determine things that one likes or dislikes that can then be communicated to the shop employee. Many times bikes can be tailored to fit you better if they don’t yet feel quite right, and through communication with the staff, they will be able to help you achieve a comfortable fit, and in the end, a much more enjoyable ride. This is where communication is key, so don’t be afraid to speak up and tell them what you feel, or ask questions; even if you feel they might be dumb questions. The staff is dedicated to helping you achieve your goals and having as much fun on two wheels as possible. Anyone working at a shop who rides bikes has also been through the learning process of buying a bike so they can all relate to where you’re at. Rest assured that more often than not, they work with beginners who are just getting started in the world of cycling, and they are used to these types of questions.

Often times a person is so focused on the purchase of the bicycle that they forget to factor into their budget adequate room for additional accessories that will help make the cycling experience much more enjoyable and safe. Bikes don’t come from the factory with any accessories installed, and most bikes don’t even come with kickstands anymore, but whatever accessories you choose can be installed at the time of purchase. Many times shops will offer a discount on accessories with the purchase of your bike. As an added bonus, the maintenance of your bike will be free for the first year so that you can be assured that your bike continues to run properly throughout its wear-in period.

So now with a bit of knowledge on your side to help you understand how it all works, you’ll be able to shop with confidence and end up with a new bike that you will enjoy for many years to come. We’re all looking forward to another fun riding season, so to all of you from all of us at Decorah Bicycles, happy trails and thanks for riding bikes!