If you haven't bought a bicycle lately, you're in for two surprises: one, sticker shock, and two, you'll need to work hard not to get a good bike.
I bought my first new bike in 1976 for $165. Double that today and you can buy very nice handlebars. Bottom line is that new entry-level road bikes cost about $600 to $1,000. But they are good bikes.
My brother Paul, new to cycling, bought two bikes — an entry-level one to ride while visiting here and one that cost three times as much for his home in Colorado. He was afraid that after riding his Colorado bike that when he returned to his Florida bike he'd be disappointed, but no. "The cheaper bike still seemed like a nice ride to me," he said.
So how to decide on a new bike?
First, what kind of riding do you want to do? Commuting might require a hybrid with beefier tires and a more upright position. Beach cruising, time trials and mountain biking each demand different bikes. But let's assume that you want to get fit, lose a little weight and get the endorphins flowing. Road bikes are what you mostly see on the street.
First, decide your budget, says Val Tavanese, owner of Outspokin Bicycles in Tampa and St. Petersburg. "Most people have a budget, even if they say they don't," she says. "That budget must include a helmet, clipless pedals and cycling shoes."
Mark Yeager, owner of St. Pete Bicycle and Fitness, says if you can afford it, buy a bike with the latest components, meaning an 11-speed one, referring to the number of cogs in the rear wheel gear. "If you decide to upgrade later," he says, "you can get a better return if you have the latest components, or you can upgrade other parts of the bike incrementally." Both he and Tavanese say that under most circumstances, they will take your old bike as a trade-in.
Both sellers say bike fit is most important, and that's not just a matter of measuring your pant inseam. If you're buying a higher-end bike, you can benefit from a computerized fit, but a reputable store will at least take the time to see how you sit on the bike, ask about the type of riding you want to do and then suggest different brands and models that would work best.
"The best thing you can do for new riders is get the fit right to ensure they're comfortable," says Yeager, who added that he will switch a bike for a customer if the fit doesn't seem right after a few rides.
And as Tavanese puts it, "We want a long-term relationship, so we want to help make sure they'll enjoy riding."
Today, road bikes are usually categorized as either racing or endurance geometries. Endurance bikes allow you to sit more upright. But that's not be the only reason to consider one. A lack of flexibility may make a traditional frame uncomfortable. Or you may be built funny — like me. I have long legs and short arms, uncommon for men. I need to look long and hard for a bike that fits me, and though I like fast group rides, I recently bought an endurance bike.
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Once you have the right frame, you can tweak the fit by changing handlebars or the stem that holds them, or by adjusting your seat's fore and aft position or its height and tilt.
Bike manufacturers are becoming more sensitive to the needs of women, Tavanese says. Due to their build and center of gravity, she says 80 percent of women would benefit from a bike designed specifically for them.
Ride as many bikes as you can because if you haven't ridden in a while, you'll need time to understand the differences among them and learn what's important to you. Take your time. A good shop allows test rides — and not just around the parking lot. Insist on a good 30 minutes to take it on a road or trail and see how it — and you — feel. However, keep in mind that when you ride regularly, your needs and fit may change based on the type of riding you do.
Should you consider a used bike? Randy Grace of Zephyrhills has bought more than 100 used bikes over the years. He says that if an ad is too good to be true, it probably is. You can spot scams if you've bought as many bikes as he has, but it's risky business. Hairline frame cracks and counterfeit components could spell disaster if they fail. Use a payment method such as a credit card so you have recourse if you need it.
Plus, developing a relationship with your local bike shop can pay dividends down the road. A shop that stays in business does so because of good customer service. And they know that if you like riding, your first bike won't be your last.
Bob Griendling is vice president of the St. Petersburg Bicycle Club and a member of the Mayor's Bicycling and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. He blogs at bobgriendling.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.