Let's get cyclical
Training Wheels: How to Choose The Right Bicycle
The dictionary defines a bicycle as “a vehicle with two wheels in tandem, usually propelled by pedals connected to the rear wheel by a chain, and having handlebars for steering and a saddle like seat.” That certainly covers the gist of the invention, but after centuries of design evolution, the world of bikes has grown far more complex. Now, specialized types exist for nearly every kind of riding style and activity. So to help shed some light on the subject, we’ve profiled seven of the most popular bike categories as well as some suggestions for the best bike for both expert and beginning riders.
Our rundown begins right after the jump.
Don’t let the name fool you; batteries aren’t a part of these bikes. Instead, hybrids were developed for indecisive adventurers, or those who enjoy riding trails and roads alike. Built for comfort and utility — you won’t find many bells or whistles included, but they’re easy to add. Hybrid bike frames are more stout compared to other two-wheelers, and tend to be made from either aluminum or steel. Steel versions are designed with durability in mind, while aluminum alternatives excel in maneuverability and are easily powered. Aluminum frames can prove to be rigid, though, causing uncomfortable shock, but accessories such as carbon forks, seat posts, or better handlebars can dampen vibrations. Aluminum also has the added benefit of a higher resistance to rust and corrosion vs. steel. To this end, the Hybrid genre is perfect for the recreational pragmatist looking for a functional escape from fossil fuel commutes.
What to Buy:
Serious Rider/Enthusiast: 2011 Trek 7.5 FX
We chose the 7.5 FX based on the slew of features and size options available for less than a grand. In particular, IsoZone handlebar and grips, Bontrager hardcase puncture resistant tires, and a carbon fork provide control and comfort. Bontrager Flex Form technology added to the saddle that yields with your natural pedal stroke also enhances the sense of “oneness” with the bike. Finally, the option to upgrade to disc brakes makes it quite practical for those looking for value over the extended life of the bike.
New Rider: 2011 Specialized Sirrus Sport
This model lacks many of the bells and whistles of the Trek model, but still offers an impressive feature set for almost half the price. Featuring a 24-speed Deore/Tiagra drivetrain, a Light-weight Sugino Comp crankset, and double-sealed hubs for more fluid, enduring performance, it’s an excellent option for getting your feet wet with Hybrid bikes without soaking your wallet.
Pro Tip: Due to the wide range of component features in the Hybrid genre, buyers must consider practicality, operation, and fit, which according to United Bicycle Institute expert Stephen Glass “are more important considerations than frame material.” For example, if plans call for riding often in wet or damp conditions, investigate Hybrids equipped with disc brakes. Likewise, if you plan on doing longer rides or commutes, then selecting a lighter material frame and a drivetrain will make the daily trip to the daily grind far more enjoyable.
Hardtail bikes lack rear suspensions, making them much more affordable compared to their full-suspension counterparts. In extremely tough conditions, though, missing shocks can become a literal pain in the rear. Subsequently, hardtails are ideal for single tracks or other dirt paths that remain relatively flat with minimal ascent. Lower priced models will house an aluminum fork with minimal front shock design, while higher-end versions often feature more complex front shock construction with a sturdier aluminum frameset and fork. Carbon varieties are available from most prominent name brands at the top of the spectrum too if you’re incessant on buying the best of the best. However, at those kinds of price ranges, you’ll be better off buying a full-suspension alternative.
What to Buy:
Serious Rider/Enthusiast: Gary Fisher Paragon
Although many companies have started to flock to 29er geometry, Gary Fisher has been crafting it for about a decade to the point of perfection. The Paragon isn’t cheap, but it’s certainly a top choice before stepping up to the carbon class. Feature wise, it includes everything but the kitchen sink. Most notable though are a 6066 butted and hydroformed aluminum frame, G2 29-inch Geometry, and Bontrager 29 disc brakes and tires. Thanks to those specs, this bike glides effortlessly over Mother Nature’s toughest obstacles, elk carcasses included.
New Rider: Cannondale Trail 5
Lighten up with the Cannondale Trail 5. Featuring a RST Gila Pro TNL that boasts 100mm of travel the Trail 5 will soak up tough trail. A T6061 aluminum frame, 24-speed Shimano drivetrain, Promax Orange mechanical disc brakes for rapid stops, and 26″ Kenda Small Block tires wrapped on Alex Rims ensure you can push it through hell and laugh the whole way.
Pro Tip: If you’re hunting for hardtail mountain cycles and bulk isn’t an issue, consider “29er” models, which feature 29-inch wheels (as opposed to the typical 26-inchs) for a studier ride. These bikes are growing in popularity because the extra height provides greater clearance through muddy conditions.
We love professional road bikes as much as the next gear head, but they’re overkill for the afternoon errands of most casual city dwellers in the 5 to 15 mile range. Instead, the ideal cruiser is built for comfort and should allow for an upright riding position. Things to look for include North Road-style handlebars (commonly referred to as “townie,” or “upright”), since their curved back design is ideal for a more vertical and less aggressive riding position. Fenders and front or back racks are also critical features that come in handy when pedaling goods home. On the frame side, most are made from more affordable steel, since speed and acceleration are less of an issue.
What to Buy:
Serious Rider/Enthusiast: Electra Ticino 20D
Inspired by 40s and 50s European touring cycles, this bike sets the bar for higher-end city cruisers. Thanks to an aluminum frame, steel fork support and a Shimano 20 gear drivetrain, the Ticino 20D was born to glide around the neighborhood. What sets it apart from the rest of the pack though are details like Tektro Cantilever brakes, front and rear hand-hammered fenders, and a Chestnut Metallic frameset color — which combine to give the bike a dashing finish worthy of any tasteful rider. Sold in seven different models priced on a rolling scale, if you can’t afford the top of the line, chances are you can part with some notable features, without sacrificing grandeur.
New Rider: Felt Café 3
The Café 3 will gladly stroll you to the nearest brunch spot with class, while still leaving your pockets with cash to tip the waiter. That’s because it’s priced at under $500 in spite of featuring three speed variations. If you prefer your drinks on the go, reaching for the bottle in the handlebar cup holder is another way to turn heads — just don’t crash mid sip. Those that live in hilly areas should also appreciate its integrated three-speed drivetrain for easing tension up and down inclines.
Pro Tip: Consider your terrain before deciding on a bike. Most cruisers come only in a single speed, which may appeal due to their affordability; however, this also significantly limits your riding range. That said, we recommend upgrading for at least a few gears if you can afford it in order to ensure maximum enjoyment and versatility.
Most people are familiar with these ubiquitous pavement paraders because of their cultish riders. You know, the ones you see roaming in spandex-wearing packs on weekends, bullying anything else laying claim to the asphalt. Aside from their meaty hamstring burdens, though, road bikes are distinguished by their generally more aggressive stance with notable dropdown handlebars and a narrow saddle. Their tires are also narrow and bald compared to terrain counterparts. Frame composition can very on the rider, as casual weekenders can normally get by with aluminum, but racers opt for carbon frames that can be so light at the high end, you might as well be pedaling on air.
What to Buy:
Serious Rider/Enthusiast: Cervélo RS
The updated RS is one mean road bike and includes a longer headtube and longer chainstays for more comfortable riding. This creates a stiffness that allows for efficient energy transfer and better handling. With the available Shimano Ultegra kit, this bike comes complete. If you are into personalization, then your Cervelo retailer can fully customize the bike as you see fit. Riders will attest to the new geometry saving lower backs on long races, and the extended wheelbase softening the impact of rougher rides.
New Rider: Raleigh Grand Sport
The Raleigh Grand Sport will gladly coast you into the sport of cycling for well under $1,000. It doesn’t boast any outrageous specs, but instead humbly provides a relatively lightweight aluminum frame, carbon fork, and 16 gears for you to choose from.
Pro Tip: Road bikes are generally of a similar make-up, so focusing on brand names alone isn’t advised. Instead, focus on your needs. Are you new to the game? How many miles will you log on a weekly basis? If the answer is over 40 or 50, it may be smart to invest in a more forgiving carbon frame, especially if you will be doing a lot of climbing. Generally, the longer the rides, the more forgiveness you will need. If you want to cut some costs, then opt for an aluminum frame with a carbon fork to lighten road vibrations.
Single Speed/ Fixed Gear
Fixed gear bikes can be liberating to ride over short distances, since they lack complex drivetrains and stick to the same single speed. Generally their look is extraordinarily streamlined and without clutter or excess — often resulting in extremely low price tags. You may be more familiar seeing these bikes spray-painted in gaudy coloring and carrying someone in their mid 20′s, though, since “fixies” have become a must have for any self-respecting hipster. Still, don’t let the stereotypes dissuade you from seriously considering these bikes if you’re in need of an undemanding two-wheeler for quick jaunts around the neighborhood.
What to Buy:
Serious Rider/Enthusiast: Kona Paddy Wagon
This bike’s classic steel frame and fluid drivetrain allows owners to jump curbs and fly through gridlock traffic with ease. Fixed gears are challenging, but they can be an invigorating affair. The Paddy Wagon gives you the best of both worlds, however, by adding a flip-flop rear hub which includes a fixed cog on one side, and a freewheel on the other. Kona also focused in on speed with this model by including a 42T chainring in front and a 16T freewheel in the back, allowing riders to climb hills and reach speeds higher than most single gears.
New Rider: Republic Aristotle Custom Bike
These popular made to order bikes give you dead-simple options for creating a fully customized single speed/fixed gear on the cheap. Like the Paddy Wagon, the Aristotle features a flip-flop rear hub for your freewheel/fixed gear pleasure. Pick your frame size and color, rim color, and even add on flatbar handlebars, or choose bold bullhorn handlebars to make the ride your own. The end product is simple in design with minimal, if any, tags or decals on the steel frame and fork. It’s then packaged and shipped 90% completed to your door. Only a few basic tools are needed to finish the bike from there, but Republic still recommends taking it to your nearest professional to ensure proper assembly.
Pro Tip: Fixed gear and single speed bikes are similar, but not equal. Single speed/freewheels give you the ability to stop pedaling while the bike continues to coast. Fixed gears lock you into constant pedal movement where the only way to slow down is by using force against the forward progress of the pedals.
XC (Cross Country) Mountain
XC bikes are built to be all-terrain fools. Uphill, downhill, through a creek — they can go anywhere one can pedal, making them ideal for off-the-beaten-path explorers looking for more than simple trail rides. Gear heads also hold a soft sport for these bikes, since they tend to come draped in excessive paraphernalia. In terms of design, their frames are typically made from the lightest materials, and feature full suspensions to handle all of Mother Nature’s uneven glory. Those features don’t come cheap, though, so even at entry level, expect to start your search at the $2,000 mark.
What to Buy:
Serious Rider/Enthusiast: Santa Cruz Tallboy SPX
The Tallboy SPX comes correct with rousing 29-inch wheels to massacre roots and rock beds. Carbon is everywhere on this bike, and its Monarch 3.3 suspension is a joy to ride on. The low-weight and robust frame also provides maximum control whether struggling uphill or charging downhill. Sure, this is Santa Cruz’s first step into the 29 geometry field, but that hasn’t stopped it from being a resounding success.
New Rider: Trek EX 7
This is an excellent all-around, entry-level bike. It ships with all the necessary fixings, yet still keeps a low profile. Some feel its aluminum frame adds stiffness, but we seriously doubt you’ll notice due to the superior Fox rear suspension. Speaking of the frame, the Trek EX 7’s is hydroformed and butted for maximum strength and minimum weight. Together, these aspects combine to create an agile ride with relaxed handling, which is a great combination for newer riders still developing their skills.
Pro Tip: XC riders have to account for all terrain, so this includes steep climbs and similar downhill jaunts. If you want a truly do-it-all XC, then consider a light weight frame for long ascents and solid suspension for speedy descents. Also, keep a keen eye out for sturdy construction and quality materials.
Touring bicycles are all about comfort and robustness. To meet those needs, these bikes normally sit on a longer wheelbase that’s paired with a forgiving frame designed to care about your sensitive parts. Subsequently, speed is generally not a concern, and steel is often used as a frame material. Steel provides the bike with plenty of strength, without the stiffness, and it also happens to be cheap. The only drawback is bulkiness, which conveniently is desirable for touring bikes — since hauling large cargo over long miles (or km depending on where you’re touring) is this breed’s specialty. Fatter tires are also normally included to allow for easy rolling over obstacles.
What to Buy:
Serious Rider/Enthusiast: Waterford T-14
The frame builders out of Waterford, Wisconsin, know the true meaning of geometry, customization and durability. Case in point, the T-14 is a tig-welded steel beast that could probably survive bulldozing trauma (though we suggest you pedal safe distances from oncoming bulldozers). Still, weight is miraculously kept in check — ensuring maximum cargo loading potential. Extra eyelets, and mounts for water bottles and racks also provide plenty of options for storing all the stuff you just can’t bear to part with out on the open road.
New Rider: Fuji Touring
If you’re overwhelmed by the endless customization options of standard touring rides, then take a serious gander at the Fuji Touring. Sold with sizing options for all, the bike comes stock with a custom butted steel frame and a back rack. The cantilever brakes and 700c wheelset size also ensure proper mud clearance and stopping performance — meaning nothing should stand between you and the horizon except for possibly the occasional leg cramp.
Pro Tip: Touring bikes either come stock with rear racks, or at a minimum are built to accept after market versions. When considering how much storage space you need aboard your touring bike, it never hurts to go overboard. That’s because stripping off racks for recreational rides into town is a simple affair — Macgyvering additional mount positions is not.
Our thanks to Lexus and the all new CT 200h for helping make this month’s features possible. Welcome to the darker side of green.
Disclosure: Sponsorship provided by Lexus via Glam Media. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Lexus.