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Things to Know When You Are Looking for a Bike

By Patrick Brady

Buying a bike has gotten to be a bit like looking for a new vehicle. There are more choices than you can even make sense of. There are bikes for racing on the road, BMX, time trials, track and cyclocross. There are mountain bikes with hard tails, full suspension, 29-inch wheels and single speeds. There are bikes for urban commuters, for loaded touring and of course tandems.

So the first key when you go looking for a bike is to know what your interest is. You don't need to know exactly what you're looking for but you will be more successful if you narrow your interest before you walk in the bike shop.

Road or mountain? The greatest divide in adult bikes is between road bikes and mountain bikes. Many new cyclists choose mountain bikes for the more upright position they afford than the 10-speeds of yesterday. But if you plan to ride on the road, there are many options for bikes with smooth, high-pressure tires for easy rolling on the road. Choose a mountain bike if you plan to do more of your riding off-road, whether on singletrack trails or dirt roads.

Adaptability or special purpose? Unless you know exactly what you'll be using your new bike for, it is best to err on the side of broad usability. Give your taste and interest a chance to evolve. If you are buying your first mountain bike, a hard tail or basic full-suspension model is more advisable than a serious downhill model. Similarly, with road bikes, select a bike with drop handlebars if you think you might want to ride with groups or race eventually, but if all you want to do is ride around town, commute to work or take a spin with your kids, there are hybrids that blend the upright position of a mountain bike with tires that roll well on the road. If utility is your thing and you want to stay ahead of the rise in gas prices there is an emerging market in city bikes for practical use, such as market runs.

How many gears? The style of bike you select will actually determine the number of gears your bike has. Cruisers will have one to three speeds. Road bikes start at 16 speeds while most will have 20 speeds. Mountain bikes frequently have 24 or 27 speeds. Urban commuters might have as few as seven speeds or as many as 24 speeds.

The importance of the number of gears to the bicycle is relative to its use. Mountain bikes have the most gears because they get used in the most extreme and diverse conditions. Road bikes need a lot of gears because of the incredible difference between a rider's slowest speed when climbing and his fastest speed when descending.

Budget? Whatever you decide to spend, it is important to leave some money set aside for the necessities. At bare minimum you will want to make sure you purchase a helmet and padded shorts; there are a number of other accessories available that can make your riding more enjoyable and safe, but protecting your head and your hind quarters is in your best interest.

Where to shop? While you can save money by purchasing at a big box retailer, your experience will almost certainly suffer. A bike shop will help you select the ideal bike for you within your given budget. They will size the bike to you to make riding it more comfortable and efficient and they will have a full range of accessories to round out your other needs. They will also assemble the bicycle and properly adjust each of the components for perfect operation each ride.

So when looking for a new bicycle, your two most important choices are road or off-road use and recreation or utility. Keep these details in mind as you think about selecting a new bike. In the end, there's not much you need to know beyond your own sense of a good time.