Since I started sharing my cycling adventures on social over the last year I’ve been asked on several occasions as to what bike that one should get.
There’s no one-size fits all for everyone. So, I’ve put together this three-step guide on helping you finding the right kind of bike.
Step One – Clarify Your Honest Objective
What do you want to do with your new bike? Where do you want to go?
Your reason for getting a bike will help identify what sort of bike would be best for you.
Different bikes are intended for different types of riding and some are very specific to their purpose. However, most bikes are pretty versatile – you can ride to work, to the shops and round the hills on the same bike.
You want to get into riding and experience the joy that comes on cruising on two wheels. As much fun as that sounds, you still need to figure out what your objective is.
Are you looking to commute to work? Just ride on the weekends maybe? Get into shape perhaps? Go off road and explore the great outdoors?
Depending on what you’re looking to do, a particular type of bike can best fit that purpose.
This isn’t to say that one type of bike won’t allow you to do other things. Bikes are quite versatile. But, certain types of bikes can do one thing better than others. The key thing is know what you’ll be doing most often.
If you’re not sure, then take the time to discover, or perhaps rediscover where your interests are.
I recommend seeking out your local bike rental shop and spend a couple weekends trying out different types of bikes and seeing what sort best suits you.
Later in this post, I’ve outlined a list of various bikes and their purposes in step two.
I grew up in northern New Jersey riding department store mountain bikes for trail riding, and seeking out short cuts to get home from school faster. When I got older, got a license and bought my first car, it wasn’t long before thoughts or riding a bike left me completely.
Several years later a friend of mine suggested we go mountain biking. Not trail riding in the backyard woods, but actually taking a weekend excursion out to The Appalachian Mountains and spend the daytime carving trails for a few days.
We got into doing this at least a couple times a year.
Even later in when I relocated to DC, we continued our periodic adventures.
When I moved to DC, I noticed the culture was vastly different from what I experienced in NYC and NJ.
NYC urban cyclists are a whole different breed, and NJ biking isn’t all that popular compared to what you see in DC.
In NJ, I remember one of my supervisors was an avid cyclist, but he’d never come to work with it. He mentioned that he had a road bike. But, when he told me that he spent over 1000 dollars on it, and the frame alone cost over 700, my response was, “What!? Why? I can get a bike for less than $200!”
At the time, my impression of bikes was that there were only three types of bikes: skinny tire road bikes, mountain bikes, and BMX.
And, neither were worth spending more than $400.
He looked at me like I didn’t know anything. It was true, I didn’t know anything. But, I didn’t know that I didn’t know.
In DC, it’s not uncommon for people to bike 10+ miles to work. At my first job in DC, several of my colleagues would bike in. One of them was over 60 years old, and to my astonishment he would bike 19+ miles each way a couple times a week. He encouraged me to try it sometime but I didn’t understand how that would work without easy access to showers.
At my second place of employment it was a similar scenario, except this time my colleagues were really encouraging me to do it since we had a gym and showers in the building.
I didn’t see an excuse not to at least try it once.
So, now I had to get a bike. But, where do I start?
I was still of the opinion that bikes shouldn’t cost more than a few hundred bucks. One of my colleagues suggested that I check out Craig’s List for bikes, and so I did. But, None of them were to my liking.
They were all road bikes.
I thought I wanted an urban curb jumper than I can take on the trails too.
My search led me to commandeer my little sister’s allegedly junked department store Mongoose mountain bike.
At the time, my parents had just sold their house in New Jersey and were were moving down to Atlanta. The bike was placed among the things that were going to be thrown out. So I took it.
Although the bike wasn’t in any riding condition, I didn’t know my sister wanted to keep the bike. Later I learned she was really sour at the idea that I simply took her bike. Her hope is that one day I’ll buy her a brand new bike to make up for it.
(Prayers do manifest, so keep in praying sis!)
I took the bike back with me to DC and brought it to a local bike shop to get it ride-worthy. My colleague had warned me earlier that some bike shops can come off as snobby. I didn’t understand what she meant.
This was the first time in my life I was setting foot inside a local bike shop. When I told the service folks that I wanted to make the bike functional again, their response made me feel like I brought a junk yard clunker to a Mercedes service shop.
Maybe they were right about the “junk yard clunker” part, but this was no Mercedes shop. A hipster joint, maybe.
It’s a weird experience when as a first time visitor I’m told that what I have in my possession is of poor quality. I’m not an idiot, I knew its a department store bike, weighed a ton (close to 40 lbs), and didn’t have the best components.
I was just trying to fix my necessary parts so the bike can ride again without spending over $100.
When I clearly outlined what I wanted, instead of trying to understand my experience level, beliefs about bikes, and why I want to ride my bike by following up with the right questions, they instead tried to sell me on a $700 mountain bike to replace my existing bike that I got for free.
On top of that they suggested that I buy a $180 leather seat saying that it’ll last me a life time.
I never considered competitive racing, and at the time I hadn’t even thought about touring. I couldn’t care less if my leather seat can mold to my butt after several hundred miles.
By the way, if you didn’t know, the seat is called a “saddle,” something I was corrected about when I called it the former. As he talked about lubrication and caring for the leather. The only thought in my mind was, “Did I mention that I’m new at this? I just want to sit on something comfortable.”
I just simply wanted to have some fun riding my bike, like I did as a kid. I imagined riding around on the weekend, museum hopping with my wife, and a few times during the week commuting to work, and perhaps saving money on the metro fees in the process. Also, maybe getting in to slightly better shape than I was at the time.
Suffice to say I got my tires, brakes, and comfortable seat as I wanted it.
It cost me just under $200 to get it to be able to ride, but I didn’t go back to that place.
This was my first day commuting to work and back.
After my first commute, I realized then the bike really was way too small for me.
Only later would I learn the importance of “bike fit.” And, no, not fit as in fitness, but in geometry and comfort.
I’m 6′ tall and was riding a bike designed for a 5’5″ girl. It wasn’t long until I’d feel like my legs and shoulders were getting cramped.
But, I figured I’d stick with the plan of riding this thing to the ground and then contemplate getting a more appropriate fitting bike.
When I first started commuting to work, I’d always have to face two demanding hills. I had never successfully made it up all the way without getting off my bike to catch my breath.
One time as I was trying to peddle up the hill. Huffin’ and puffin’, and when I was about half way through, all of a sudden VOOSH!! this cyclist just bolts past me on my left.
The dude was decked out in bright red full sport bike gear. As he peddled I could see his ripped calf muscles bulging as he murdered the hill, disappearing beyond the peak in no time.
At first my reaction was, “That was incredible! How did he do that?!”
Getting off my bike to catch my breath, I realize comparing myself to him or anyone else for that matter was only going to make my cycling experience a frustrating one.
His road bike probably weighed at least 1/3 of what my mountain bike weighed. He probably was not coming from where I was coming from. I’d already ridden 11 miles to get to that hill, and he probably wasn’t going where I was going: another 7 miles to the office.
When you get into cycling, it’s easy to start comparing yourself to others, especially if you happen to have a competitive personality or peers that are competitive. It’s not a good idea. Especially since the context of one’s origin, destination, and resources are very different.
If you want to compare, then do it with yourself against the expectations you’ve set and your own goals, which most likely aren’t the same as others’.
Understand out your primary objective and go from there. It’s possible that your riding experience may result in your goals evolving, and that’s okay. You just have to get going.
Step Two – Selecting the Right Type of Bike
The following is a list of different locations you can get bikes and what types of bikes they typically sell.
Instead giving pros and cons of each, I’ve provided a brief outline of what it’s good for.
First let’s start with where you can get a bike from.
Department Store Bike
These are ones that you’ll find at places like Walmart, Target, Sports Authority, Toy’s R Us, and similar big-box stores.
They usually range between $50 and $400.
These bikes are designed to last up to 100 miles, maybe. After that, their components simply start falling apart. They’re meant for casual use and typically come in very few size options, thus it’s difficult to get a good fit.
If you’re close to the $400 range of department store bike, then you may be able to go perhaps 500 miles before they fall apart.
Used Bike via Craig’s List
If you’re willing to go to $400, you’re much better off buying a used bike.
There are plenty of folks out there who have bikes with very low mileage on them. Folks that put down good money and found that they aren’t that into biking anymore.
You can easily get a bike that might have retailed for $800 at under $400. The key thing here is to ride it to make sure that it’s the right fit for you.
The only down side of purchasing a used bike from a previous owner is that you may need to get it tuned up which may cost between $70 and $100. Maybe close to $200 if you need to get new brakes, tires, and tubes too.
Local Bike Shop
After used bikes, your local bike shop will give you the best bag for your buck. Not only will you find various bikes to choose from here that are quality construction, but if the shop happens to be a dealer of a particular brand of bikes, then you can probably be sure to get speedy service and parts when you need them.
Based on my experience and that of some of my peers, the top brands that provide the best support to bike shops who in-turn can provide better service to their customers are those that deal Trek and Specialized brand of bikes.
I personally decided on a Trek. I intend of sharing a follow up post on what led me to Trek’s Domane, which was an excellent lesson in branding for me.
If you’re reading this, them perhaps this is your first bike purchase in a while as an adult.
Step Three – Making Your First Purchase
Typically you’ll find bikes in the following price categories:
- sub 200 // Really cheap dept store bikes, avoid them like the plague
- 300-1000 // Good place for a first purchase. Go in with the mentality that for every dollar you spend on the bike, that’s how many miles you’ll put on it.
- 1000-2500 // Usually a second purchase. I went here after I rode my sister’s bike to the ground.
- 2500+ // Go here only if you’re a serious cyclist
My First Purchase
Technically, my first purchase was my sister’s bike, which itself cost me nothing. But, the parts and service over it’s life time was about $400 total.
Upgrading My Bike
Once I rode my sister’s bike into the ground, I contemplated the idea of buying a new bike.
But when I started a new job later that year, I opted for a local Capital Bikeshare membership, which is similar to NYC’s blue CitiBikes.
The system was simple. Sign up for a membership online, which is less than $80 year, and they mail you a key fob which allows you to check out a bike unlimited number of times for free as long as each ride is under 30 mins.
One thing that was great about Capital Bikeshare was that since these bikes were heavy as a tank, it was good physical conditioning when done every single day. I rode these things from summer, through the winter and snow, and into the following spring.
My friend that I go mountain biking with a few times a year proposed the idea of biking to Montreal from NYC as a crazy adventure trip.
I looked up the distance and it was over 400 miles. I was like, “um…lets see if we can at least do a hundred.”
So we planned a 100-mile day trip to go from my apartment to Mount Vernon and back.
I figured the bike I own is done, and the Captial Bikeshare bikes, although solid, would be too slow.
So, I looked into bike rental options and settled on renting a Trek Madone 2.1 for a day and a half. It cost me about $85. I figured it wasn’t a bad deal, considering I was renting a bike that was valued at about $1800.
When I got on the bike, I then realized how awesome a road bike is.
It felt like I was being propelled up hill. The bike was black, I was riding at night, thus natually, in my head I was Batman on his Tumbler.
We attempted the planned ride, but got 75 miles in before we ran out of daylight.
On the ride my buddy was like, “And, we were thinking about doing 400!”
I responded, “Let’s first try to successfully accomplish 100, then 250, and then we’ll really consider the Montreal trip.”
We agreed upon the goal and set on our training to be able to ride the sort of distances that we were aiming to do. And, just like that I found myself seriously considering a bike in the $1000+ range.
After a couple weeks of research, I decided upon a Trek Domane.
It was similar to the bike I had rented, but instead of aluminum, it was made of carbon fiber which absorbs road chatter much better. And, it has a flexible seat post, absorbing the bumps on the road and being comfortable over a long ride.
The bike was designed to be ridden on cobblestones, so I figured it would make for a good road bike that can occasionally go on some sorts of trails without too much trouble.
I was trying to decide between the 4 series and 5 series of the Domane. The latter was $1000 more. I took into consideration the accessories I’d want to get, such as fenders, rack, bags, Camelback, lock, lights, etc.
I decided on a 4.3 which cost me just over $2000. My wife’s initial reaction was, “What?! You spend two thousand dollars on a bike?!”
My response, “I did 0% financing over 12 months, and budgeted $200 a month of pay it off well before the deadline, which is actually cheaper than the monthly cost of personal training at the gym.”
So here I was, officially having become a cyclist.