Good news! A good bike can be easy to find. A few simple, common sense things can make all the difference between fun and frustration. Many bicycle dealers are not offering their customers what we feel are "really useful bikes". Bikes that are built and equipped for the way most people really ride now or how they could ride in the future. Every bike has a purpose, and there is a place for road racers, downhill and mountain bikes. For the rest of us who don't compete however, it's hard to see past the marketing and hype to find the bicycle that's going to promise comfort, durability and stability on the roadways and paths where we enjoy riding.
What we'd like to show you and get you thinking about is how to keep your new bike from being a "one trick pony". Or shall we say "a one trip pony". It may even turn out that your current bike, with a few thoughtful tweaks, could become an even more perfect bicycle for you.
Before we list the 5 things to look out for, the one thing - the most important thing - you need to have on a bicycle is...FUN! It just feels good riding, doesn't it? There is nothing like the feeling of moving along, under your own power, the breeze on your face, breathing a bit deeper, moving those muscles, pumping the blood, doing something good for yourself. You can't lose!
Well, that's your right brain talking to you. Encourage that creative, sensuous, feeling side of yourself, but don't ignore what your reasonable left brain has to say. It needs something practical to chew on.
Owning a bicycle is like owning a pair of shoes. That $200 pair you love and have worn for years, they were a much better deal and more economical than the $20 pair you got on sale and wore once or twice because something wasn't quite right. Why? Your favourite pair probably "cost" you less than a dollar each time you put them on. The On Sale pair cost you $10 or even $20 per wearing if you only wore them once.
With a bike, we encourage you, the way a trusted friend would, to buy the very best bike you can. Bikes, components and accessories have changed so much over the last 20 years. If you haven't been looking at bicycles lately, don't imagine most new bikes are anything like your old "10 speed". A good salesperson at a good bike dealer will be able to explain why the newest material, component or accessory is better FOR YOU than the old one. Just because Lance Armstrong or "everyone's using (fill in the blank)", that shouldn't be enough to convince you. Equip it in a way that makes it comfortable and attractive to you, but then go the next step. What are the things that would make it more useful to you? What are the things that would make it easy to ride more often? How could you, like that pair of shoes, make sure you got the most enjoyment and use? What could help grow that investment: the one you made in your bike and the one you are making in yourself and your health?
In the end, if you're getting pleasure AND exercise AND errands done…well done! Your left brain and your right brain are both happy. How good is that?
Now, the 5 things to avoid.
1. Bad Fit: Nothing will turn a new bike into a "one trip pony" quicker than a sore bum, back or wrists. There is lots of advice out there from store staff, books and bike fit specialists. Seek out and consider all of that advice. The science of fitting a bicycle to an individual human body has become just that, a science. Once the privilege of only elite racers, proper bike fit can now benefit anyone on 2 wheels. It is a huge topic, but let's deal with a couple of myths.
Myth 1 My feet should touch the ground when I sit on the saddle.
Myth 2 I should be leaning over the bars, just like Lance.
Start with the basics of saddle height, saddle angle and handlebar position. With the ball of one foot on the pedal and the crank at the 6 o'clock position, your knee should have a slight bend to it. While riding, the person behind you shouldn't see your hips rocking from side to side. That's a sure sign the saddle is too high and is a recipe for a sore bum.
If that seems high for the saddle, think about walking. How would it feel to walk around with bent knees? A sore back, thighs, knees, even ankles can come from sitting to low on the bike.
What about when you stop? It might feel safer being able to stick your foot down and hold yourself up while seated. The truth is you won't have enough weight on either foot to make much difference - you're liable to induce a fall. Better to brake carefully, shift your weight to one pedal, slide forward off the saddle and then put your other foot on the ground.
The saddle itself may need to be tilted slightly up or down to keep your hands from carrying too much of your weight. The handlebars should be generally as high as the saddle or slightly higher or lower for comfortable riding. On a new bike, look for handlebar stems that have lots of adjustment for both height and angle. That way you can experiment with different settings to find what works best for you. It will be easier to change as your fitness, your comfort level or even your mood changes. Many new bikes come with thread less ("Ahead") style headsets that are cheaper and easier to assemble, but make adjustment for handlebar height and angle inconvenient and potentially expensive.
As for the handlebars themselves, the popularity of flat bars is one of those instances where they are suited to one type of riding, but not all types of riding. Imagine reaching out to shake someone's hand. That's a natural gripping style. Flat bars force you to twist your wrist and forearm perpendicular to your body and your elbows to stick out unnaturally.
2. Too Many Gears: Don't be swayed by these gear myths:
Myth 1 The more gears the better
Myth 2 Always pedal in the high gears because you'll go faster.
Consider this: a 27-speed bike may actually have only 10 or 12 different gears. The rest are duplications. And to get all 27 gears, the chain has to do some serious twisting and stretching. Even if you had 27 different gears, could you pedal all of them? Spinning a very low (easy) gear is different from pushing the highest (hardest) downhill gear. It takes training (and even good genetics) to be able to keep your legs moving around at say 100 revs a minute (a typical road racing cadence). The lowest low gear still may not be of any use to you if you can't keep your pedals moving. At the same time, pushing a high gear all the time can eventually do serious damage to your knees.
Watch most people; they stick to a few middle gears. So consider fewer gears and a simpler drive train. A double chain ring along with an 8 or 9 speed cassette can give plenty of gears and a nice wide range. Consider, too, one of the new 7 or 8 speed hub gears: low maintenance, weather protected, no overlap and easy shifting, even at a stop.
The magic of gears is how they help you put more power to the road. Unlike a car engine that reliably produces 150 hp for hours on end, most people put out much less than 1 horsepower and even that drops as we get tired and hungry. So good maintenance is key. Your bicycle's efficiency drops off steadily as dirt and grit build up on chains and sprockets. Remember you want to get the most out of you, The Fractional Horsepower Motor. A new, clean, well-oiled chain and new sprockets mean about 95% efficiency, and it drops from there.
Even putting all those efficient gears at your disposal, there will still be times when the road's too steep or the ground's too soft. At those moments, repeat this mantra: There Is No Shame In Pushing My Bike. Millions of people all over the world do it every day. And I've heard walking is good for you, too.
3. Not Functional: The sad truth is most of us were sold a bill of goods by he bike industry in the '70s and '80s. The first big bike boom of the early 1970s saw millions of unsuspecting bike buyers put on 10 speed racer-style bikes that had nothing to do with the way they rode or how they should fit on a bike. Skinny saddles and drop bars were what you wanted as a bike racer, but fewer than 1% of cyclists in those days were racing. People eventually figured out that a racer really wasn't what they wanted, so the bike makers invented the mountain bike to keep people interested. Again, a small, dedicated bunch of riders do serious off-road riding, but the beefy frames and fat knobby tires seemed out of place on the streets and bike paths where most people ride.
Riding for fun and exercise is great. But why not slide in a few utility trips you may not have considered taking - even leaving the car at home once in a while. You've immediately got more use - more value - out of your new bike. Three of the least expensive accessories you can find for a bicycle can make all the difference: First, a front or rear carrier, because you're not meant to carry it all yourself! Most bikes can carry a lot more weight than you or I. But people still insist on slinging a full pack over their shoulder before riding of. Why? Let a strong steel or aluminum bike frame take the load. With a lot of weight perched high up in that pack, gravity is going to love to pull a top-heavy cyclist one way or the other. Carry loads as close to the ground and as close to the centre of the bike as possible. A rear rack serves as a platform as well as a place to hang bags from. Take a load off, it's much easier on you and your back, it's safer, and you "the engine" are not so constrained. The second thing is a pair of mudguards. Roads get wet, roads are dirty, your tires pick it all up and throw it all over you (and your bike).
Finally, a set of lights. You might not ride at midnight, but you need to see and be seen at dawn and dusk (two of the most pleasant times to be out on a bike, by the way!). From simple battery powered front lights and rear flashers all the way to dynamo powered multi-LED dazzlers, big strides have been made in bike lighting in all price ranges. It doesn't cost a fortune to get the immeasurable difference a good lighting set makes to your safety, visibility and your own after dark riding enjoyment.
4. Obsessing about weight: Picking up a bike to feel its weight won't tell the whole story. A bicycle is not static, it's meant to be in motion, and a whole other set of influences will determine how "light" or "heavy" it actually feels. What's good for Lance may not necessarily be good for you or your bike or the way you ride. Here again, the majority of riders are often left feeling confused or inadequate when bike companies market to the serious enthusiast or competitor. What's more, people forget their own body weight contributes to the whole.
Simple things like a soft tire or the wrong type of tire can make a huge difference in how heavy a bike feels. Properly lubed and adjusted bearings, a well maintained drive train, even a well fitting bike all make for a lively feel and for efficient output from you The Fractional Horsepower Engine.
One very effective way to improve the feel and efficiency of a bike is to lighten any rotating mass. Your biggest rotating mass is a wheel and tire. Here is one place where being a "weight weenie" can really pay off. The lighter the wheel rim and the lighter the tire, the less of your energy will go to accelerating and maintaining the speed of the spinning wheel. Switching an older bike's steel rims for light alloy makes a difference you can feel. The other bonus is improved braking - your brake pads will bite better on alloy rims.
Now, if you carry your bike often, for instance if you have a folding bike, then it certainly does make a difference having something light. Our point is that a carbon titanium wonder bike may not be the comfy or useful thing you need. There's no reason to feel inadequate with a good steel, cromoly or even aluminum-framed bike.
5. Wrong Tires: Besides drive train maintenance, tires and tire pressure can make a massive difference in your enjoyment. Yes, tire size does matter. However, bigger and wider does not mean a better or more stable ride. A wide tire has a wider contact patch - the bit of tire that touches the ground. If that patch is made even wider by low tire pressure, you The Fractional Horsepower Engine will have to work even harder to overcome the "friction" where the rubber meets the road. The same is true of knobby tread off-road tires. Every one of those little "knobs" rubs against the pavement with every revolution of the wheel. That humming of the tires is actually your precious pedaling energy being dissipated in sound and heat.
Be realistic about where you want to ride. If you enjoy bike trails, 90% are hard packed or even paved, with the odd bit of large loose gravel or real dirt. Here, street tires will work just fine. Fitting knobby off-road tires for the sake of a few metres of rough stuff could make the rest of your riding literally a drag. Remember the mantra: There Is No Shame In Walking Your Bike. By walking your bike some of the time, you're still way ahead of walking ALL of the time.
Where wider tires are needed on pavement is when carrying or towing heavy loads. In that case, new tires like the Schwalbe Big Apple now offer a unique combination of a wide tire with very
low rolling resistance.
Well, those are the 5 Things we feel are important to avoid. They are our opinions and please take them as such. We are always open to hearing what is important to you in the area of your personal transportation. Contact us and tell us how you feel. Whether you buy a bicycle from us or not, the most important thing to have on a bike is…FUN!