When it comes to 2 wheels, there are countless choices So you want to get back into bicycling after all these years. Or, perhaps it's time to upgrade from your old gray mare to something more sleek and sexy. Shopping for a new bike can seem overwhelming, especially for neophytes. Fortunately, a wise (Belmont) Wheelworks employee like Michael Simon is on hand to help--and to pose all the right questions.
"What sort of riding are you doing?" the veteran salesman typically asks dazed and confused customers like myself. For fun or fitness or both? Occasional or hardcore commuting, casual cruising, or some specialized sport? Mainly riding on roads or pavement plus dirt paths? For many, the debate is between a road bike and a hybrid or mountain bike - and it often comes down to handlebars. "Usually [clients] have in mind drop handlebars, or they want to be upright," Simon said.
For rides or commutes of 1 1/2 hours or less, Simon suggested a bike with flat handlebars. This puts the cyclist in an upright position with hands set far apart for greater stability and a clearer view of the road. Older bikers or those with poor flexibility often prefer riding upright. A hybrid's longer wheelbase (the distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels), compared with a road bike, also means improved steadiness. "More stability means more confidence," said Simon. "We have a lot of interest in hybrid-style bikes for people who want to ride to work maybe twice a week."
Another consideration: comfort. A hybrid also will typically have wider tires than road bikes, making for a more cushioned ride. All these factors can make hybrids appealing to less confident riders (though their longer wheelbase can make hybrids slightly slower to respond when maneuvering). Most commuter bikes are in the same category as hybrids, he added; they have thinner tires than mountain bikes but wider than road bikes, and some include suspension systems. ( Read more.)
The Boston Globe article cited here offers many helpful tips, beginning with finding a trusted quality bicycle shop and consulting with shop staff. A good bike shop is a great partner for successful bicycle commuting. Don't even consider the cheap bikes sold by big box discount stores. The article also mentions several specific suitable models, including the Trek 7.3 FX, Trek 7000, Specialized Globe and Globe 6, or Bianchi Valle. Of course, many other brands offer comparable models, including most notably the commuting bike pioneer Breezer Bikes.
In general, for commutes less than 10 miles, I agree that a hybrid bicycle is likely the best choice. For my own commuting, I use a two-year-old Novara Randonee touring bike to make the 17-mile ride between home in Sacramento and office at UC Davis. For some multimodal commuting and around town rides, I have two hybrids, a Bianchi Boardwalk and a Jamis Commuter. I also own a road bike and a mountain bike, which I've used for occasional commute rides.
For many years the bicycle industry chased the athletic cycling consumer with high performance technological enhancements. The resulting carbon fiber wheels, carbon fiber cranks, and 10 gear cassettes offer almost no benefit to everyday bicycle commuters. We need reliable transportation, not high speed advantage. Thankfully, the bicycle industry is now producing a greater range of commuting-specific bicycles. This variety can overwhelm the new bicycle shopper. So before entering the store, consider your commuting needs, do your online research, find a trusted bike shop that welcomes beginning bicyclists, and make test rides on several models.
What advice regarding bicycle choices do you offer new or prospective bike commuters?