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Sports Basement's Guide to Choosing a Bike


  


  

Part One: What Kind of Bike Do I Want?

Road Bikes

These bikes are going to be for anyone that wants to get out and put some miles behind them. Maybe you're riding with friends, maybe alone, maybe you're training for an event. Road bikes are made to be ridden long distances. They're designed to take you as far and as fast as your legs can go! They will have narrow, often treadless tires that are meant to be operated at higher pressure. Road bikes are meant to be ridden on pavement as the tires tend to be less durable than mountain bike or hybrid tires. The handle bars are usually referred to as "drop" bars and allow the rider to have 3 or more different positions for the hands. They will usually come in two types of frame material: aluminum or carbon. Aluminum will be less expensive than carbon as a trade off for more weight, weaker vibration dampening, and a less responsive ride. In contrast carbon frames are often referred to as 'snappy'; they do not flex as much as their aluminum counterparts and respond quicker to the rider's motions. It's worth noting, however, that many aluminum frames are more durable than their carbon counterparts, making them a good choice for everyday riding. 

Within the umbrella of road bikes there are two main categories that Sports Basement deals with: race geometry and endurance geometry. All bike manufacturers define these differently, but in broad strokes, endurance bikes tend to have a taller head tube, which allows the rider's position to be a bit more upright than a race bike. Endurance geometry tends to be a less 'aggressive' style of bike and usually a little more comfortable for the first time road bike purchase. Gearing will often be different between the two as well. Race gearing will be set up for speed while endurance is set up for comfort. You'll have a wider range of gear options on endurance geometry which will assist the rider in climbs, but are overall somewhat slower than a standard race geometry. The final major difference between race and endurance geometry will be clearance for tires. An endurance geometry will have a larger clearance allowing for a wider, more comfortable tire to be used on the bike.

Mountain Bikes

Mountain bikes are for anyone that wants to take their ride off road! Whether you want to go explore fire roads, single track or the many different mountain biking parks around, if you want dirt you want this bike. Mountain bikes will have a longer wheelbase to give more stability to the rider. They'll have flat bars for easier turning and significantly wider tires to again add stability for the rider. The tires themselves are their own little world in the realm of mountain biking and can get as specific as the rider wants depending on their style of riding, even down to specific front and rear tires. In this category we again have two main materials, aluminum and carbon. As with road bikes the aluminum frames will be heavier and not as responsive to rider movements. Carbon in a mountain bike is not going to feel like carbon in a road bike. Because of their shock systems, these bikes will absorb a lot of the motion of the rider regardless.

Within this umbrella we again have two major styles to talk about: hardtail and full suspension. The type of terrain you will be riding will determine which style fits you best. A hardtail bike will have one shock on the front fork of the bike. Typically this type of bike will be ridden on less technical trails such as fire roads and less technical single track. Because they only have one shock they tend to be less expensive, and a better investment for the first time rider. The full suspension will have two shocks, one on the front fork and one at the rear triangle, that allows the bike to flex simultaneously at the front and back allowing for better control on more technical terrain. These will be more expensive due to the technicality of the shock systems and are geared toward more advanced and experienced riders looking to get out and really shred some trails!

Hybrid Bikes

Hybrid bikes are just what they say: a hybrid of road and mountain. Many people refer to these as city bikes. These bikes have a road-like frame, but unlike road they come with flat bars. They will offer a wide range of gearing to give the rider lots of options on and off road. They will have wider tires often with some tread giving these bikes the ability to be ridden on and off road in the same ride. Unlike mountain bikes these will not have shocks and are not really suited to be taken on any type of technical trail. Many times they will have attachments on the bikes so the rider can add racks, panniers, and other accessories to the frame itself. These also can be all over the place in cost but tend to be the least expensive of the line. If you're a city commuter, want to go on easy rides with the family but want the ability to extend to somewhat longer riders, this bike's for you. Unlike road or mountain style bikes these frames will come in three common materials: carbon, steel, and aluminum. Carbon on these bikes will react very similarly to the road bikes. It will be very light and absorb vibration well. Aluminum again will mimic the road section. Steel is very good at absorbing vibration, very durable and nearly identical in weight to aluminum.

Part Two: How Do I Find My Size?

Obviously the best way to determine fit is to actually go see the bike, discuss with a trained fitter, ride several different types and decide on the correct one. If that is not an option, there are a few basic guidelines we can look at to determine proper fit. Different styles of bikes will be sized differently. Road bikes will typically be sized in centimeters from 44cm-61cm or more, while mountain and hybrid bikes will be sized S - XL, or sometimes in inches from 15-23.

The most basic guideline to consider is the height of the rider. Many people will fit into more than one size of bike and some will even have different sizes of the same type because of geometry differences. We've included a simple guide in the chart below, but remember that this does not take into account variations in body type such as longer legs or longer torsos. Ideally, it is best to talk to a trained fitter in person to get the correct size of bike.

Rider height

Road size

Mountain size

Hybrid size

4'10" - 5'1"

47-48cm

XS or 13-14

XS or 13-15

5'1" - 5'6"

49-53cm

S or 15-16

S or 15-17

5'6" - 5'10"

54-56cm

M or 17-19

M or 17-20

5'10" - 6'1"

58-60cm

L or 19-21

L or 19-22

6'1" - 6'4"

61-63cm

XL or 21-23

XL or 21-24

 

When you're with your bike, there are three quick tests we can use to determine if you've got the correct size:

Person standing over a bike

Standover height test: This is when the rider stands over the bike with their feet on the floor with shoes on. There should be approximately 1" of space between the top tube of the bike and the top of the inseam of the rider. Somewhat more or less is okay but this is typically where we want to see the rider.

Person on bike with knee slightly bent and foot on pedal.

Knee bend test: To do this test we need to make sure the saddle is at the correct height. Different riders will like their saddle positioned in different ways, but a good starting point is to get the saddle at the same height as the iliac crest (that's the curve of your hip) of the rider. From there the rider will mount the bike and when the pedal is at bottom dead center (the lowest part of the pedal stroke) the knee should have a very soft bend but still be able to be fully straightened by the rider. 

Image of bike handle bars from top down.

Front axle test: When the rider is actually riding the bike in a comfortable and correct position, the rider will look down at the handle bars toward the ground and see if they can see the front axle of the bike or if it is obscured by the handle bars. If your bike fits you correctly, you should not be able to see the axle. 

It's important to remember that these are basic guidelines and can be different based on body types.The nice thing about that is that there are tons of ways to adjust your bike so that it fits you perfectly, from saddle positioning to stem length. It's rare for a bike to fit perfectly right out of the box, but we are here to help!

Part Three: I've Got My Bike - Now What Else Do I Need?

Well, you've gone and done it. You've got a fancy new ride, looking all slick and shiny and new. You're ready to ride! Well… almost. There's a few things you're gonna make sure you have:

Helmet:

This is a pretty critical part of safe bike riding. Helmets come in all sizes, shapes and colors. Every bike helmet that we sell has passed the CPSC (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) safety test. MIPS is an additional safety feature that exists in the world of helmet technology, but is not required to pass CPSC. The MIPS system is a 'floating' system that is designed so that during a crash the helmet moves independently of the head reducing the chances of neck injury. It's definitely nice to have! But your brain will be safe in every helmet we sell, regardless of price or technology.

Proper helmet fit is essential for safety, and it's simpler than you think: a properly fit helmet should be placed on the riders head and adjusted comfortably, and left unclasped. The rider should be able to bend forward and, in a correct fit, the helmet will not fall off. Make sure to wear your helmet correctly, too: the brim of your helmet should sit just above your brow, not tilted up or down. The two final considerations to make in helmet selection are weight and ventilation. Cost will rise as ventilation goes up (and weight goes down) because it is more difficult to pass safety standards with less material.

Pedals:

Platform pedals: This is what most everyone is familiar with and what a bike will come with if it comes with anything (yeah, some don't!). Platform pedals can have toe clips installed to help the rider stay on the pedal and get a bit more power - this is definitely the least costly of the options, and a great choice for commuter or hybrid bikes since you can ride with the shoes you normally wear. These will be common on mountain and hybrid bikes, but will work on a road bike as well. 

Clipless pedals: Next are the two most common clipless options. A clipless pedal is a pedal that doesn't have a toe clip to hold the rider's foot to the pedal and needs a special shoe and cleat to attach it. These will be common on road and mountain bikes. There are also hybrid pedals that exist that have a platform on one side and a clipless setup on the other.

Road pedals: Because of its larger surface area the pedal will transfer more of the riders energy into the bike itself. Since you are locked into the pedal you will also have the benefit of being able to use the upstroke and downstroke to pedal greatly increasing efficiency. They range in price from 100-300 the differences in the higher levels being the weight of the pedal and quality of the bearings used in them.

Mountain pedals: The biggest benefit to these pedals is that they can be snapped into from both sides. It's important to note that just because this pedal typically goes on mountain bike,s there is no reason it can't be installed on a road bike. Many road riders will do this because it's somewhat easier to snap into these kinds of pedals than the road style. 

Shoes:

The shoe is entirely dependent on the pedal and should be picked after determining what style of pedal is going to be used. A road style shoe will look like this. The cleat (comes with the pedals) will be affixed to the bottom of the shoe and can be somewhat difficult to walk in as it raises the toe above the heel when standing on a flat surface. If installing cleats yourself it is very important to remember to grease the screws to eliminate squeaking when riding. A typical mountain shoe will look like this. This is popular among a lot of road riders because unlike the road shoe the cleat is recessed into the shoe making it feel much like a normal shoe to walk in.

Now that we have a basic understanding of the differences let's talk about sizing and closure systems.

Bike specific shoes will be sized in European sizes so you will need to convert your US size to get a general sizing. Because EU sizing uses more numbers than US, there can be some crossover. A good rule of thumb is that there should be a half to full thumb width between the longest toe of the rider and the end of the shoe and feel comfortable but snug.

Closure systems will be three basic types: velcro, ratchet and BOA. Many shoes will have a combination of these. Velcro will be the least expensive option. It is also the least secure of the systems and will flex significantly more. The ratchet system for a long time was a staple in the industry and has proven to be a very good system over time. It provides a more sung fit to give the rider more transfer of power to the bike. The final system is the BOA. This is becoming very common in many sports from snowboarding to running to biking. This offers the most secure fit of all of the systems and is very easy to get in and out of using the dial.

Giro Women's Riela R II
Giro Women's Riela R II (Velcro Straps)
Shimano Women's ME3 (Top strap is ratchet, bottom two velcro)

Lights:

If you expect to be riding at night, or even close to night, lights are very important for rider safety. When choosing a light, ask yourself: Are you trying to see or trying to be seen? If you're only trying to be seen (common in cities with well lit streets) then a dimmer light will do just fine. Red blinking lights should be installed on the rear and white steady or blinking lights go on the front. As with all lights, more lumens equal brighter light.

Jerseys and shorts:

The bottoms are more important than the tops in biking. Bike specific shorts will have a chamois in them to aid in rider comfort over long distances. The density of the pad will largely determine the cost as a denser pad will last longer and be more comfortable. Jerseys are usually bought either to match the bottoms or whatever we think looks cool! That being said the pockets and fit of the jersey definitely add to the ride - it's great to have an easy place to stash an energy bar or an extra water bottle, and the duckbill-shaped hem on the back of a jersey will keep your lower back covered.

Bike tire pump:

There are several types of these as well but can be broken out into two basic types, floor stands and frame mounted. The floor stand variety will typically have a connection for both presta and schrader valves, have a gauge on it to tell pressure, and be significantly faster to use. The frame mounted type will not have a gauge to tell pressure, but can be affixed to the bike itself and used on the road. Many riders opt for both of these as they each have their benefits. 

Last but not least, the emergency kit:

The contents of the kits will change slightly based on what type of bike you have, but the basics here will be Tire lever, the correct tube for the bike, and a way to inflate it. There are two types of inflation systems for on-the-go use; the frame mounted pump and CO2 type. The benefit to the CO2 type is size, while the drawback is you get one shot at filling your tire, whereas a frame mounted pump can be used over and over again. The last thing that should be in every good emergency kit? $20.00. If all else fails, it's always a good idea to have a little money!

Well, there we go. We got the bike, we got all the accessories to go with it and now it's time to get out on the road (or the trail, or both)!

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