How to Choose a Bike? – The Ultimate Guide

If you are looking for a good guide to help you choose a bike to purchase, you’ve come to the right place. Here, we aim to provide simple, easy to understand tips and tricks and general information to help you pick out your next bike.

We drew from our own experiences while purchasing our own bikes as well as other sources online to provide you with this guide. Choosing a bike may seem daunting at first. But when you know what you’re looking for, you will find it’s not that difficult. 

We will start out with a list of brief descriptions of common bike types, then move on to deciding on a budget. We will follow that with finding your bike size and other considerations such as gears and suspension. Then we will conclude with what to pay attention to on your test ride.

Pick the type of bike you want

The first step in choosing your bike is deciding on the kind of bike you want. This will mostly depend on what you will use your bike for (commuting to work, exercise, exploring) and the kind of terrain you will be riding on. Here we provide brief descriptions of different bike types and their physical qualities. This should give you an idea of what you are looking for in the bike you will purchase.

Mountain bikes

MTBs are designed for off-road riding. They typically come with riser or flat handlebars and wide tires, which absorb bumps better than thinner flats and allow for more balanced rides on uneven terrain. Riser handlebars bend more upwards and back, which allows riders to sit back in their seat while also retaining control. With flat bars the rider sits up straight. This tends to reduce the tension on the upper body. MTBs tend to have smaller frames than road bikes. This makes maneuvering easier, which is crucial when cycling off-road.

Road bikes

Road bikes are designed for roads and smooth surfaces. What physically sets them apart is that they are usually lighter than other bikes. They also typically have narrow tires and drop handlebars, which are lightweight and aerodynamic. This helps riders achieve speed more easily. However the rider is typically in a hunched over position which can make for an uncomfortable ride.

Cyclocross Bikes

Cyclocross is a type of road bike that is also suited for racing on other terrains such as grass and unpaved trails.  Similar to regular road bikes, they have drop handlebars. However, cyclocross bikes also have wider tires to achieve better control and higher speed on uneven terrain. 

Touring Bikes

Touring bikes are another subcategory of road bikes. They are designed to achieve sustained comfort on long rides. They also come with mounting bolts for cargo racks and fender attachments to allow for carrying cargo. Their durability and lower-range gears make them suitable for longer rides and carrying heavy loads. Touring bikes typically have drop handlebars like regular road bikes. Their frames are designed for upright sitting positions while riding so the rider is comfortable on long-distance rides. 

Gravel bikes

They are similar to road bikes but gravel bikes have certain features that allow for riding on the road as well as off it. These features may include additional clearance for wide tires and disc brakes. Gravel bikes are a great option for bikers who don’t want to commit to a certain kind of terrain.

Hybrid bikes

Hybrid bikes blend physical features of road bikes, mountain bikes and touring bikes to offer a comfortable riding experience that is not so specialized. Similar to mountain bikes, hybrid bikes typically have straight, flat handlebars and assume an upright riding position. But they are typically lighter than mountain bikes. This allows the rider to reach high speeds without having to exert themselves too much. Finally, hybrid bikes have places to mount racks and bags to carry belongings similar to touring bikes. There are various kinds of hybrid bikes such as trekking, cross, commuter, city and comfort. The kind that’s best for you depends on your intended use. However we will touch on city bikes as they are very popular in metropolitan areas. 

City bikes

City bikes are designed for moderately-paced, short-to-medium length rides  through a variety of weather conditions. They are for bikers who get on the  saddle simply to commute in urban areas. Their design tends to focus on convenience and comfort as opposed to speed. That’s why city bikes usually have bigger saddles and elevated handlebars which allow for an upright sitting position while riding. They are also typically heavier than road bikes.

Decide on how much you want to spend

Deciding on your budget for a new bike is an important step in the process to choose a bike. How much you should spend on your bike depends on how much you can afford to spend as well as other factors. These include how much you want to customize your bike, how many attachments you’re going to use and how frequently you’re going to use it. If you want to customize your bike and attach a lot of accessories such as a basket or baby seat, you might want to consider a more expensive bike. More affordable bikes from big box stores are less customizable and they might not be able to support the weight of a lot of attachments. So they could potentially not perform very well. Expensive bikes are often more durable than their cheaper counterparts. That’s why it might also be a good idea to invest in a pricier bike if you are looking to commute by bike every day.

fitness.costhelper.com breaks bikes down into three separate groups based on their price: 1. The low range bikes ($80-$300), 2. The mid-range bikes ($300-$1,000) and 3. High-end bikes ($1,000+). The following information regarding these price groups comes from their article, which can be found here (https://fitness.costhelper.com/bike.html). 

1. The low range bikes ($80-$300)

Low range bikes include functional, basic metal frames. You can find these bikes in Target, which sells brands such as Huffy and Forge.

2. The mid-range bikes ($300-$1,000)

Mid-range bikes usually feature aluminum or lighter metals. They are more durable than the low range bikes thanks to their higher-quality wheels, chains and pedals. They also come with additional features such as water bottle holders and speed settings. 

3. High-end bikes ($1,000+)

An important factor that sets them apart is the material. High-end bikes are typically made of the lightest metals such as titanium and carbon. They are optimal for more rigorous, everyday use or light competition. If you are willing to go this high in price, you get to customize the bike with your preferred frame size, color and wheel type

You could also consider buying second-hand bikes. This is a great way to reduce waste and buy a durable bike that would otherwise be out of your price range. You can check out https://www.theproscloset.com. This is a convenient platform where you can sell your bike and shop for Certified Pre-Owned bikes. The company claims they complete a 141-point inspection and service on every bike. They also accept 30-day returns and offer a large selection of bikes. 

Having said that, there are also a lot of local market places where you can shop for a second-hand bike. A good place for used, affordable bikes  is Facebook Marketplace. That way you can shop from (potentially) hundreds of second-hand bikes listed in your area. It’s wise to pay attention to certain things when you’re buying a bike directly from the seller instead of a third-party that does the inspection for you. A good source to check out is the article titled: “The complete guide to buying a used bike” on bikeradar.com.

Find out your bike size

It is essential to find your correct bike size when choosing a bike. If this is the first bike you’re going to own, we would highly recommend getting sized in person by a professional. However, if you want your bike-buying process to be as contactless as possible, there are also ways to find your bike size online. We actually have an article titled: “How to find your bike size” entirely dedicated to this topic. However, we will provide you with the most important sections from it in this post. 

If you decide to go the route of finding your bike size online, there are many bike size calculators on the web you can use. Below is a list of the four calculators we found to be the most accurate for ourselves. We are also including information on which types of bikes these calculators are for and which measurements they require.

  1. https://www.competitivecyclist.com/Store/catalog/fitCalculatorBike.jsp
    1. Measurements you will need: Inseam, sternal notch, height, lower & upper arm, upper & lower leg, torso length
    2. For the following bikers and bike types: Men & women/road & mountain bikes
  2. https://www.omnicalculator.com/sports/bike-size
    1. Measurements you will need: Height, inseam length
    2. For the following bikers and bike types: adult & child/ trekking, city, hybrid, road/ gravel, mountain bikes
  3. https://www.bikeexchange.com/promo/bike-size-calculator
    1. Measurements you will need: inner leg length (inseam) 
    2. For the following bike types: road, mountain, touring, fitness, city urban bikes
  4. https://www.bergfreunde.eu/bike-frame-size-calculator/
    1. Measurements you will need: Inside leg length (inseam)
    2. For the following bike types: Mountain, road bike & cyclocross, trekking & touring, city & everyday

It’s good to try as many of them as your preferred bike type allows and compare results from different calculators. In the ideal scenario, the results should be very close to each other if not the same.

As you can see, the most commonly required measurements are height and inseam length, which is an inner leg measurement that tells you how high your crotch is from the floor when you are standing straight. 

The best way to measure it is to place a book inside your thighs, spine of the book facing upwards while standing straight with your back to the wall with your feet 6-8” (15-20 cm) apart. Make sure the placement of the book is as high as possible without causing discomfort. Then take a pencil and mark the highest point where the book makes contact with the wall and measure the distance of the marked point from the floor. This gives you your inseam measurement.

To learn about the easiest way to find your other measurements such as sternal notch, lower & upper arm, lower & upper leg and torso length, go to our article titled: “How to find your bike size”.

Think about how many gears you want

The number of gears you want is an important decision to make when choosing a bike. If you will be riding on flat terrain or you are a strong biker who doesn’t need lower gears to climb hills, then you can go with fewer gears. A lot of bikers who commute everyday on flat terrain in urban areas and value speed opt for single gear. It’s better to have more gears if you will be biking on uneven terrain, and it is a bit of a challenge for you to climb steep hills so you need that extra help that comes from lower gears. The good thing about having a lot of gears is that it allows you to adjust the difficulty based on how fatigued you are feeling. However, adding more gears increases the price and weight of your bike.

… and the kind of suspension you are looking for

The kind of suspension that’s suitable for you depends on what type of terrain you will be riding on. Many mountain bikes have either front or full suspension to increase your comfort level and control on bumpy and uneven surfaces. Suspension allows for relatively smooth rides even if there are bumps along the road. If you are looking to get a road bike for commuting on flat terrain you might not need suspension at all.

Go out for a test ride

It’s a good idea to test out your new ride before buying it. If you are going to a bike shop to purchase your new bike, make sure to confirm that they will allow you to take it out for a test ride. If it’s against their policy, we would highly recommend looking into other bike shops in the area that will allow you to do so.

Once you go on your test ride, go around the block and see how it feels. See if you can control the bike with ease, especially when rounding corners, and test your comfort level on it. You should be able to shift the gears and brake easily. If this is not the case you might want to try your luck with another bike and see if your experience is better with that one.

If you are buying online, make sure to check out their return policies. Plenty of retailers that will deliver your bike right to your door also allow you to return the bike and get a refund subject to certain limitations and time restrictions.

Conclusion

We hope this article equipped you with enough information to make your bike-buying process less daunting. It’s important to choose a bike that is compatible with where and the purpose for which you will be using it. The best bike for you will also depend on your own personal preferences. That’s why it’s important to go into this process knowing what you want out of your future bike.
However, there are also lots of adjustments you can make to your bike after you purchase it. Even if the bike you bought is suited to your needs and preferences, there might still be ways in which it can fit you even better. Arguably one of the most important adjustments you can make is setting your saddle height. We have a thorough guide for this titled: “How to set your saddle height”. This guide doesn’t only help with finding your optimal saddle height, it also has information on other important adjustments you can make such as saddle fore/aft, saddle tilt and crank length.

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