Renting a Bike

If you are new to cycling and unsure about whether you want to buy a road bike, a mountain bike or a hybrid, one of the best things you can do is rent a bike and spend some time riding it.  A good entry level bike can be expensive and you don’t want to spend the money only to discover you bought the wrong kind of bike after you’ve ridden it once or twice.  Almost all good bike shops have a collection of used bikes for sale and many of these shops will rent them out for a day or a weekend.

Renting a bike has a number of advantages.  Many places that sell bikes will alow you to take them for a ten minute test ride around the parking lot.  It’s a good idea to do this because sometimes you can ride a bike for a few hundred meters and know immediately that something about it is just right or just wrong.  However, the parking lot test ride can be misleading as well.  Any number of things can go unnoticed or feel fine after ten minutes that can develop into major problems after an hour or more of riding.  Likewise, things like your position on the bike can feel uncomfortable and awkward during the first ten minutes but can feel exactly right after you’ve had more time to relax and grow comfortable on the bike.  Time on the bike is especially important for the new bike rider who may not know what to look for or what aspects of the ride to be sensitive to during an initial ten minute ride.

If you are going to ride your bike regularly, the two most important things you’ll have going for you are your bike and your bike shop.  For many reasons, establishing a good relationship with a good shop is the most important thing you can do after buying the right bike, and renting a bike is an excellent way to evaluate a bike shop for a new rider who may be unfamiliar with the world of cycling.  When you go to the shop, explain to them that you’re seriously thinking about buying a new bike, you’re unsure about what kind of bike you want, and you’d like to rent a bike to try it out.  You can get useful information about how good the shop is by paying attention to what happens next.  If they measure you for frame size, get you a bike, and send you on your way, then they’re probably not the shop where you want to buy your bike.  Picking out the proper frame size is just the beginning of getting the bike ready for you to ride.  They should also take the time to fit you to the bike by adjusting things like the seat height and angle, and the handlebar height, angle and distance among other things.  Riding a poorly fit bike can result in discomfort, pain, injury and a bad cycling experience.  They understand this in a good bike shop and they also understand that a customer who enjoys themselves riding a properly fit rental bike is more likely to purchase a bike of their own. 

Renting a bike can also have the virtue of spreading out the initial cost of getting into cycling over several days or weeks.  It’s very common for new cyclists to have put all of their thought and maybe all of their money into the bike they buy.  They make the decision, get the bike, are happy, excited and possibly broke, and then comes the question, “Okay, now what gear do you need?  Helmet?  Shorts?  Jersey?  Shoes? Water bottles?   Frame pump? . . . ”  This is almost always a bummer.  Although it doesn’t end up costing any less in the long run, the buzz kill can be muted if you’ve already bought things like your helmet in order to ride the rental bike.  it’s a small thing but it helps.

Taking a rented bike on an extended ride is just about the best thing a new rider can do to help them decide what type of bike they want to buy.  It not only can help you find the right kind of bike, it can help you find the right bike shop which is almost as important.  If you are at all unsure about whether a road bike, a hybrid, or a mountain bike is right for you, renting before you buy is highly recommended.

Hybrid Bikes

This is one of a series of posts designed to help people who are new to cycling get started.  In earlier posts I recommended that you buy your bike from a good bike shop and suggested you think about how you’d like Mongoose Crossway 450to use your bike before deciding what kind of bike to buy.  The kind of bike you ride and the kind of riding you want to do are so closely related that I recommend you take a look at “What Kind Of Cyclist Do You Want To Be?” before reading this post if you haven’t done so already.

The first and probably most important decision a new rider has to make is what kind of bike to buy.  Choose the right kind of bike at the beginning and you may be opening a whole new world that will give you years, maybe a lifetime, of enjoyment.  Choose the wrong kind of bike and you may have just bought an expensive garage ornament.  There are so many different types of bicycles out there and so many variants on each of those different types that it would take a book to cover them all.  It would also be useless information for many new riders because most of the variants are designed to fit a highly specific need or small niche in the cycling market.  Most new riders will be faced with choosing some type of road bike, mountain bike or hybrid.  If you are at all unsure about which type of bike is right for you, renting a bike for a day’s or weekend’s worth of riding is highly recommended.  This post takes a more detailed look at hybrid bikes.

Hybrid bikes fill the gap between the heavy, rugged mountain bikes and the light, swift road bikes.  That’s a wide gap and by combining different road and mountain bike features you can find a hybrid to fill just about any slot in it.  They’re the swiss army knives of cycling. 

Hybrid bikes typically feature frames that are lighter than a mountain bike but heavier than a road bike.  Handlebars are usually flat like a mountain bike and the rider sits in much more of an upright position than on a road bike.  They have the larger wheels of the road bike, but the wheels are heavier and more solidly constructed than a set of race wheels.  Tires are typically a compromise between the narrow, smooth high pressure tire of the road bike and the fat, wide, markedly knobbed tire of the mountain bike.

It’s difficult to characterize the “typical” hybrid because they run the entire gamut from the pure mountain to the pure road bike.  At the mountain end of the continuum, a hybrid will be up to the task of riding on well maintained gravel bike paths and beginning-level non-technical trails.  At the road bike end of the continuum a hybrid may be suitable for medium length fitness and endurance rides on paved roads.  However, because the bikes are all called “hybrids” doesn’t mean that any one of them can do all these things equally well.  Road-oriented hybrids will be good at road-style riding and poor at cross-country style riding and vice-versa, the mountain-oriented hybrid will not do very well over long distances on a paved surface.

The wide range of bikes that fall in the hybrid category can pose a problem for a new rider who may have a hard time telling a road-oriented hybrid from a middle-of-the-road hybrid from a mountain-oriented hybrid.  In addition, it’s probably the case that most of the crappy bikes sold by mass-market retailers that are cheap in terms of intial cost and expensive in terms of what you get for your money are properly categorized as hybrid bikes no matter what the retailers call them.  For these reasons it’s a good idea for riders who may be interested in a hybrid to buy their bike from a bike shop where they can get good advice about what kind of hybrid to buy.

One of the strengths of a hybrid bike is its initial cost.  Good entry level hybrids start at around $300, the least expensive entry point of the road, mountain, hybrid bike triumvirate.  Another strength is their versatility.  A middle-of-the-road hybrid can be riden on undemanding unpaved surfaces better than a pure road bike and can be ridden for fairly short periods of time on paved surfaces better than a pure mountain bike.   Hybrids are good for light recreational riding, zipping down to the store, or going for a ride through the neighborhood with the kids.  Perhaps most importantly, a hybrid gets a new rider out on the bike so he can discover for himself what kind of cyclist he wants to be.

The major drawback of a hybrid bike is the flip side of it’s major strength.  Its versatility insures that it doesn’t really do anything well.  When compared to a road bike, the increase in weight, the increase in tire width and tread, and the upright riding position combine to make riding any kind of distance more difficult than it ought to be.  In addition, the hybrid bike’s flat handlebars put severe limits on where you can put your hands which can lead to numbness in the hands and stiffness and discomfort in the neck, shoulders and back on longer rides.  This can be especially problematic for riders with carpel tunnel syndrome.  When compared to a mountain bike, the decrease in weight and sturdiness combined with the decrease in tire width and tread put limits on where the hybrid can go off-road and make the bike more prone to breaking down when you come upon obstacles that are beyond the capabilities of your bike.  When the riding gets serious, hybrids get left out off the road and left behind on the road.

A hybrid can be an ideal choice for the new rider who isn’t sure what kind of riding he wants to do.  The fitness benefits of road riding and the idea of spending wonderful days going for long bike rides in beautiful weather make a road bike sound appealing but the excitment and challenge of off-road riding also sounds appealing.  You’re not ready to commit to one or the other.  What do you do?  One solution is buy a hybrid and do the dialed back versions of each and see which you like the best.  Riders who are thinking about cycling as a fairly low stress form of leisure activity that also has some health benefits are likely to be attracted to hybrids as well.  A lot of people buy a hybrid as their first bike, discover they really enjoy some aspect of cyclng, and then move beyond the hybrid to a mountain or road bike as their interest and fitness levels increase.  As long as you understand that it is often a temporary first solution, a hybrid bike may be just the bike you need.

What Kind Of Cyclist Do You Want To Be?

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 Laura and I with a tour group atop Hoosier Pass in Colorado on a trip from Albuquerque to Denverrush 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.