The quick hot fire of initial enthusiasm can be easily doused. However, if that fire is laid properly it can ignite into the powerful and long burning flame of passion. My wife and I are avid and experienced road cyclists. Many times we have seen people decide to start cycling with great enthusiasm and little knowledge of bikes or riding beyond what they remember from childhood. With great intentions and expectations they rush out and buy a bike that more or less suits their cycling visions only to find that their initial enthusiasm is quickly dulled. The bike ends up out on the balcony or in the garage gathering dust, the flame of passion extinguished before it ever had a chance to take hold. As often as not the reasons lie in the would-be cyclist not thinking clearly about what kind of bike rider they would likely be and buying the wrong kind of bike as a result. Riding a bike that is not suited to the type of cycling you’re doing is taking the fast lane to unhappiness and discomfort on the bike. It turns an activity that can be a joy into something that is no fun at all. This is the first in a series of posts designed to help the beginning cyclist roll out with their foot on the right pedal.
When you go to buy your first bike you’re often hit with a barrage of questions. What kind of riding do you do? Racing, recreational, off-road? What kind of bike do you want? A road bike, a hybrid, a mountain bike? What kind of frame do you want? Carbon fiber, steel, aluminum, titanium, composit? You don’t know the answer to any of these questions. You don’t even know what half the choices you’re being offered mean. Where do you start when you don’t know anything?
If you are thinking about getting a bike but don’t know much about bikes or cycling it makes sense to go to a place that sells bikes and ask questions to get the information you need. This works really well if you happen to go to a place where they know a lot about bikes, will take the time to answer your questions, and won’t try and sell you something just to make the sale. I think it’s a good idea to spend some time thinking about how you’d like to ride your bike before you buy anything and before you go to a place where someone might take advantage of your enthusiasm and ignorance to sell you something that doesn’t suit your needs. Think about what it is about riding a bike that intrigues you or appeals to you while keeping an open mind about what kind of bike you would like to have. People who are new to cycling sometimes make the mistake of being committed to buying a bike that looks a certain way or is associated with a particular image of the cyclist they find appealing when in fact that type of bike is all wrong for the type of riding they want to do.
What do you want to do on your bike? Win the Tour de France? Careen down forested mountain slopes catching big air over small cliffs? Toodle around the neighborhood with your baby in a carrier on the back? Tour around the country with a tent and some camping gear? Commute to work? Get in shape? All these things? If you’re thinking about riding where there’s no pavement and maybe even no path, if you want to ride through woods and fields and streams without being limited by having to go where the roads go, then some type of mountain bike is probably what you want. If light recreational riding around the neighborhood or on the local bike paths intrigues you, or if you want to commute to work or use your bike for basic transportation, then you should probably be considering some type of hybrid (a hybrid combines some of the characteristics of road and mountain bikes). Depending on the condition you’re in now, any kind of riding will help get you in shape but if getting in shape or using the bike as an exercise or athletic outlet is what you find appealing, or if you are enthralled with a vision of yourself using a bike instead of an RV to travel and see the world, then you’re probably going to be looking at some kind of road bike.
Did you have a bike as a kid? Did you like it? What did you like about it? Did you like to go fast? Feel the wind in your face? Think about a road bike. Did you like being able to get around town on your bike? Like the way the bike expanded the range of places you could go and people you could see? Think about a hybrid. Did you like being able to cut across the fields, the parks, the neighboors yard, go through the woods, ride in the streams? Sounds like you’re a mountain bike kind of person.
How athletic have you been throughout your life? Be honest with yourself about this. Most people who decide to take up cycling want to lose weight or get in shape. Any kind of cycling can help but real conditioning or real weight loss takes exertion and effort. If you realistically calibrate your expectations and desires to the kind of riding you are most likely to do and keep doing, that effort can also be a lot of fun. Have you enjoyed playing sports at different times in your life? Do you find yourself going through periods of time, maybe months or years long, when you’re regularly engaged in physical or athletic activity like running or regular gym workouts and periods when you get almost no exercise? Have you always shied away from physical exertion? Are you out of shape or never been in shape? Road and mountain biking tend to provide the most exercise, the types of riding best suited to a hybrid the least. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get as intense a workout as you might want on a hybrid, you can. However, a hybrid is not as well suited for exercise and conditioning as the other types of bikes. If you think you are likely to really get into the bike for exercise, weight loss and cardiovascular conditioning, you’re probably going to end up on a road bike.
Don’t be concerned if your answers to some of these questions point to one type of bike and your answers to others point to a different kind of bike. The goal here is to get you thinking along certain lines and to help you begin to think about different kinds of bikes in terms of what kind of cycling you’d like to do. At the extremes a specific kind of bike is the one you will need. You have to have a mountain bike if you are going to go all-out cross country where there are no roads and no bike paths; you want to have a road bike if you are going to ride really fast or ride for long distances; you really want a hybrid if you are going to commute long distances to work come rain or shine, winter and summer. But you’re not at the extremes, you’re just starting out. Any kind of bike can be used in many ways. At this point you want to start thinking about the kind of bike that is going to be best suited to the way you want to ride.
What kind of cyclist would you like to be? You can be any kind you want.