What Kind of Bike to Buy
When you go looking for bike to buy, you will be faced with many choices in styles, brands, and prices. Deciding what to buy can seem like a daunting task. You can narrow the field down quickly by figuring out these two things:
1) What kind of riding are you thinking of doing?
2) How much do you plan to spend?
The words "Good", "Cheap", and "Light" do not go together.
- If you are looking for a "Good" bike, it will not be cheap, though it could be light.
- If you are looking for a "Cheap" bike, it will not be light. It's possible but not probable that it will be good.
- If you are looking for a "Light" bike, it will not be cheap, though it could be very good.
Casual Riding, Fitness, and Transportation Biking
If you are a casual, occasional rider looking to ride mostly on streets or smooth terrain for fun, fitness, or transportation then have a look at hybrid bikes, basic mountain bikes with smooth tread tires, an entry level road bike, or a cruiser bike.
Hybrid Bicycle - $269.99 +
Hybrid bikes are the best of mountain and road bikes combined. The wheels and tires are wider and more stable than road bikes, but smoother, narrower, and lighter than mountain bikes. These bikes also have good gear ranges for easy pedaling or fast vigorous workouts. This one has a wider, softer seat with springs. The handlebars are higher than the seat for upright seating comfort. Could be an excellent commuter or day touring bicycle with a rear rack and bags.
Mountain Bike - $299 +
Mountain Bikes are good choices for more rugged terrain, whether it be on or off road. They typically use wider wheels and tires with knobby treads for off road traction. Gears are plentiful and designed to help climb even the steepest hiils. Seats can be narrow and handlelbars lower for more efficient cycling. Front shocks are standard, and many are dual suspension with front and rear shocks. Dual suspension bikes under $500.00 are generally more show than go, and can be quite heavy and cumbersome to ride. If funds are limited, buy the best front shock equipped bike you can afford.
Road Bike - $500 +
Road bikes are the lightweight, efficient, high performance bikes that are well suited for high level fitness training, competitive cycling or racing events. Light weight frames, wheels, and components are the hallmark of this category, and these attributes don't come cheap. The result of spending the equivalent of a Mac Book Air will get you a bike with nimble handling, precision gear changing, stop on a dime braking, and an ultralight machine that translates nearly every ounce of your energy into forward motion. It can be a very addicting habit.
Cruiser Bike - $199 +
Cruisers are the classic comfort workhorse bikes popularized by the late great Ignaz Schwinn of Schwinn Bicycle Co. in Chicago. Characterized by "Balloon" tires, wide seats, and swept back handlebars, these are some of the most comfortable and durable riding bikes ever made. Owing to their simplicty of construction and equipped wtih fenders, kickstand, basket, chainguard, and steel components, some cruisers can also be quite heavy. Variations using aluminum frames and quality mountain bike components have improved the weight and performance greatly and are well worth investigating.
A Word About Bike Brands
When shopping for a bike, many people will want to know "What is the best brand?" The bicycle industry is full of excellent quality brands and no one single company is definitively the "best". More than anything, all companies want you to think they are the "best" and many spend signficant sums of marketing money on slick ads, videos, event sponsorships, cycling teams, product catalogues, engaging websites, social media, product placements, and anything else they can thing of to get you to think of them as the "best".
The main reason no one company can be the best brand is simply because big and little brands outsource to many common suppliers and they have to design products around very tight price points in the market place. Recognizable brands like Trek, Diamondback, Specialized, Giant, Schwinn, GT, Fuji and many more often purchase their frames and forks from a common selection of Chinese and other foreign suppliers. Giant bicycle company is and has been a supplier of frames to the entire bike industry for decades. Schwinn was one of their first major clients in the US as far back as the late 70s and early 80's. Specialized Bike company has had many models of bikes built by Giant and their major competitor Merida, over the years.
Shimano builds components like brakes, deraileurs, shifters, chains, hubs, sprockets, and cranks for every price point in the bike retailing world. These componets are often configured and sold in 'Groups" to bike companies to fit into a specific selling price point. For example a product manager at Trek and a product manager a GT bicycles have to have a mountain bike positioned to sell at the fiercely competitive $300.00 price point. Both will shop for a frame and fork with an outside supplier like Giant, Merida, or Acetrikes and get the best price for a bulk quantity. Then both product managers will strive to outfit their bikes with the best value components they can afford from Shimano, Suntour and other companies until they have a bike that retails around the $300 price point and still allows them and their retailer to make a profit.
The result is many companies having very similar products within the same price points. Seemingly different $300 bikes from 3 different well known bike companies may in fact have frames and forks from the same Chinese supplier and the same Shimano "Tourney" shifters and brakes.
The bottom line is that there is no one "Best" bike brand. There are plenty of excellent ones, and you would do well to stick to the big name players who have the clout to buy well on your behalf. Visit your local bike shop or quality sporting goods retailer to get familiar with the quality bike brands in your area.
Final Note: Name brand or not, you are not likely to find a quality new bike at the $100 price range. Quality helmet for $100, yes. Quality cycling shoes for $100, yes. Quality bike, no. So "mart" stores are out for quality new bike shopping. Consider spending $300 or more to get a name brand, well built bicycle.