Bicycles Buying Guide

 
 

BUYING GUIDE

Bicycles

 

Buying a bicycle is more complex than just picking out something you like. There are lots of details to consider to be sure you get the most comfortable ride and best performance. You'll be cruising on two wheels in no time with help from this buying guide.

Shop All Bicycles

Help Me Choose

Start by asking yourself the following questions to focus your search on the right bike for the right rider:

BMX

Knobby tires, sturdy frames and strong brakes; bikes are styled after motocross motorcycles and designed for doing tricks and racing.

Cruisers

Available in both one-speed and multi-speed designs; designed for leisurely rides and casual use.

Hybrid

Road and mountain combination with narrow, treaded tires and high gearing. Highly versatile and comfortable, these bikes can handle pavement as well as off road trails and are suitable for various terrains (except rough dirt trails).

Juvenile

Smaller sized for young riders; come in many styles including cruisers, road, mountain and BMX.

Mountain

Rugged, with knobby tires and a suspension system for optimal shock absorption; designed for using off-road, can also be ridden on pavement.

Road

Designed with narrow tires and an aerodynamic style for optimal speed.

Who is the Bike For?

Start by asking yourself the following questions to focus your search on the right bike for the right rider:

Are you buying it for yourself, your spouse or your child? The size and style of the bike is directly related to the size and age of the person riding it.

What Kind of Rider are You?

Your riding style has a huge influence on the type of bike you need. Match your bike to your typical riding style.

Bike Style Adventurous Racer Commuter Casual
BMX X X    
Cruiser     X X
Hybrid X   X X
Juvenile        
Mountain X      
Road   X X  

Where Will You Be Riding?

Your riding style has a huge influence on the type of bike you need. Match your bike to your typical riding style.

Bike Style Street Bike Trail Off-Road
BMX   X X
Cruiser X    
Hybrid X X X
Juvenile X X X
Mountain   X X
Road X    

What is the Right Size Bike?

No matter what style bike you choose or the shopping price point, size should be your number one priority. The right fit lets you easily reach the controls and feel comfortable while sitting and riding for the duration of your average riding time. You shouldn’t be stretching to reach the handlebars and pedals.

Rider Age (Years) Rider Height (Inches) Wheel Diameter (Inches)
2 - 5 26 - 34 12
4 - 8 34 - 42 16
6 - 9 42 - 48 18
8+ 48+ 20
8 - 15 48 - 56 24
Adult 50+ 26
Adult 56+ 27.5
Adult 60+ 29
Adult 60+ 29 (Road)

The frame size is also important. In general, the frame should be approximately 65% of the rider's inseam. For example, if you have a 32-inch inseam, you would need a bike with a frame that's 20 inches.

The Details

Upright bicycle frames, like that of a cruiser, tend to put the rider in a relaxed, comfortable position. However, you lose aerodynamics with the increased wind resistance, which is why most racing bikes feature bent forward riding frame designs. Other important details to consider include:

Frame Material and Weight
  • Carbon Steel: Strong and durable, but heavier than chromoly

  • Chromoly Steel: Lightweight and durable with excellent flex and form-retention

  • Aluminum: Light, strong and stiff

  • Titanium: All the strength of steel, but lighter weight and more expensive. Typically found on high-end mountain and road bikes.

  • Carbon Fiber: Lightweight and good shock absorption
Pedals

The best bike pedals for you depend on the type of riding you do.

  • Platform: Also known as flat pedals, can be used with most shoes, and offer a stable surface for your feet
  • Toe Clips: Small frames on the front of platform pedals surround your toes and give you the option to pull up and push down while pedaling
  • Clipless: Riders wear special cycling shoes whose soles click onto “clipless” bike pedal cleats similar to ski bindings
Tires
  • Tread: Slick tires for smooth, paved surfaces; semi-slick tires for smooth surfaces or light off-roading; inverted tread offers better grip when venturing off the pavement; knobby tires come in different styles for riding trails and rugged terrain
  • Tubeless: Allow you to lower the tire pressure for better traction and smoother ride
  • Studded: Aluminum or steel studs offer traction in snow or ice
  • Puncture-Resistant: Durable, but not as fast as other tires
Brakes
  • Rim: These brake pads grip onto the wheel's rims; are easy to maintain
  • Disc: Attach to the wheel hub; offer optimal performance in most weather conditions
  • Coasters: Old-school brakes that activate when you pedal backwards
Suspension

Mountain bikes and hybrids often feature integrated suspension for a comfortable ride over rugged terrain. Full suspension offers traction and control. Front suspension absorbs impact for a sweet ride.

Seat Height

Adjust the seat height so when your foot is at the lowest part of your pedaling stroke your leg has just a slight bend with 80 percent to 90 percent extension. To adjust the seat height on your bicycle, use a wrench to loosen the binder bolt or loosen the quick-release lever before raising or lowering the seat to reach the desired height. Don’t forget to retighten!

Saddle Size and Position

If you plan to spend a lot of time in the saddle, you want to make sure you're riding on one that fits perfectly. Too narrow, and you'll end up with pressure in uncomfortable spots — too wide, and you'll end up with friction.

When it comes to positioning the saddle, the ideal position aligns your knee over your forefoot when your foot is at the three o'clock position while pedaling. The saddle should be set parallel to the ground.

Handlebar Types and Height

When it comes to handlebars, the height is just as important as the style. The reach from the seat to the handlebars should be comfortable. Generally, the higher the handlebars, the more power you can put into pedaling. Common types include:

  • Drop bar: Typical of road bikes; encourage a lower, hunched position
  • Flat bar: Typical on hybrid bikes, but may be round on mountain or road bikes; encourage an upright position
  • Riser bar: Typical on mountain bikes; encourage riders to sit back a bit
  • Mustache bar: Typical on hybrid and road bikes; allow diverse hand positions and a more upright position than drop bars
Basic Accessories
  • Chain and lock
  • Lighting for night rides
  • Helmet
  • Tire pump
  • Repair kit with patches, glue, tire levers and a wrench
  • Water bottle and cage
  • Cycling shoes
  • Gloves
  • Goggles
  • Jerseys
  • Padded riding shorts
  • Cold weather gear like jackets, pants, tights and insulated gloves

Use and Care

Keep your new wheels looking great and working smoothly with regular maintenance. Simply wiping the frame down with soapy water and a sponge and using degreaser on the gear sprockets and chain can help extend the life of your bike. See the chart below for a more detailed description of how to care for your bike:

Handlebar Types and Height

  • Check the tire pressure
  • Look at the tire tread
  • Tighten quick release parts (wheels/seats)
  • Squeeze the brakes to check their function
  • Spin the wheels to check for wobbling; tighten parts as needed
  • Examine bike chain; add lubricant if necessary

Every 500 Miles

  • Clean and inspect the frame
  • Wipe the chain and cassette cogs down with degreaser; add new lubricant
  • Examine the wheels, checking for loose spokes
  • Tighten all moving and connecting parts with a wrench
  • Lubricate the pedal pivot points, brakes, gear cables and derailleur
  • Check the cables for fraying
  • Check the cleats and pedals for loose bolts or screws

Every 2,500 Miles

  • Clean and wax the frame; inspect it for cracks and dents
  • Check tire wear and replace as needed
  • Check the hubs, headset and bottom bracket
  • Check all cables for rust, corrosion or fraying; replace as needed
  • Inspect brake pad wear; replace as necessary
  • Inspect the handlebars; replace worn grips or tape
  • Clean the derailleurs, chain and other drivetrain components with rags and solvent

If the bicycle comes with a warranty, check with the manufacturer for coverage and warranty length.