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What You Should Know About Buying a Bicycle

Fitness expert Minna Lessig tells us how to buy a bike that is the right fit. While there are many health benefits to bike riding, a bike that is not well fitted can actually cause health problems.


There are three main categories of bikes: 1) road bikes, generally characterized by a drop-handlebar, 2) mountain bikes, which have fatter tires, standard handlebars and suspension systems in front and/or rear, and 3) cross bikes or hybrid bikes, which incorporate elements of both other kinds. There is specialization in all kinds of bikes, (road bikes can be just for racing or for touring, mountain bikes can be just for downhill racing with beefier suspension).


The next thing to worry about is the material a bike is made out of? Steel is often used in older road bikes and in mountain and cross bikes. Steel is largely regarded as the best thing to make a bike out of, especially for road feel (a lot of racers like the way it rides). But it's very heavy, rust-prone and it can be bent out of alignment. Then you have aluminum, which a lot of good road and racing bikes are made out of, as well as some higher end mountain bikes. Aluminum is a lot lighter than steel, but it's not as strong, so the tubing has to be a lot thicker, and as a result they're stiff feeling. Bikes made out of titanium are specialized in road racing bikes. They are incredibly expensive, for example the cheapest titanium frame (without any components) is about $1800, and they can go up to about $3500 just for the frame. One of the newest materials out there is carbon fiber. The nice thing about it is it's made out of fibers that are molded and glued in function-specific ways. So, if you need a certain part to be stronger than another part, you can do that. The downside of carbon fiber is that it soaks up road feel so it's dull. It's not springy - it's the opposite of aluminum. Also, because they're glued, carbon fiber frames are more prone to failure (they can crack), whereas a titanium frame can last up to 20 years.


One of the most important things you can put on a bike is the components. These include brakes, chain, cranks, handlebars, peddles, etc. The major components are the drive train (chain, crank, peddles, rear deraileur, front deraileur, shifters, rear sprocket) and brakes. Other components include things like stems and handle bars, which not only come into play in terms of weight and quality of component, but are also essential to how the bike fits you. The rule of thumb is: the better your components, the better your bike will ride.


If you're going to use your bike as your primary workout tool, it's essential that the bike fits you like a glove. Any good bike shop can reliably fit you or swap out certain components such as the stem (for length) or handle bars (for width) to fit you better. If your bike doesn't fit you, it's a hazard to your health in more ways than one. In the short term, you could lose control and fall, and in the long term you could be advrsely affecting your posture, your groin (if seat is incorrect) and muscle development. Rules of thumb are: for a road bike, when you stand over the bike wearing the shoes and shorts that you'd wear to ride, you should have a good inch or two of clearance between your crotch and the top tube of the bike. The figure for a mountain bike is generally 3-5 inches. When you ride, your back should NOT be hunched over, it should be like a flat plane. In terms of seat height, at the bottom of each pedal stroke your leg should be almost fully extended. Also, your hips should not rock right and left when you ride, indicating a seat that's set too high. Have someone watch you ride from the rear to be sure this isn't happening. Your seat should be brought just to the point where your hips are rocking and then brought down slightly to alleviate the rocking. Any adjustments you make to your bike fit should be made very incrementally. You'll feel even a fraction of an inch. Another adjustment you camake is stem height. The lower the stem, the more aerodynamic your riding position, but some riders find it uncomfortable, especially recreational riders. The higher the stem, the less aerodynamic you are, but this position is generally regarded as more comfortable. Seat tilt should generally be left level or parallel to the ground. If you experience pressure in your crotch you might try tilting the seat downwards slightly, however if you feel like you're rolling forward, then you might tilt it backwards slightly. At any rate, your weight should be supported with your "sit-bones" AT ALL TIMES, and not with your crotch. There are other tricks to make sure your bike fits correctly and any reputable bike shop knows them.


If you're just a recreational rider, the only thing you really have to pay attention to is fit. THE BIKE HAS TO FIT RIGHT. Otherwise, not only will it hurt you in the long term, but you're not going to want to ride it in the short term.


You always need a HELMET! Sure, you may never loose control and fall, but with so many knuckleheads out on the road driving carelessly taking precaution is a smart idea! They can cost anywhere from $10-$100. More money just means more vents to keep your head cool. Wear it leveled on your head, not tilted back.


Investing in a good pair of cycling gloves can save your hands and wrists from blisters, callus buildup, and aches in your forearms.


Bring water bottles. For long rides, you can purchase a backpack that has a built in insulated water container with a tube that goes right to your mouth. Or, get a cage to attach to the bike to hold a water bottle. Stay hydrated as you bike for fitness!


Three important things to keep in mind:


  1. Endurance--
  2. You can build your cardiovascular endurance by riding a little farther each time you ride.


  3. Speed--
  4. To increase your speed (and better your aerobic capacity) interval train. Pedal as hard as you can for 30 seconds, the slow down and allow your heart rate to recover for 1 minute. Repeat a total of 5-10 times.


  5. Power--
  6. This means, increasing muscular strength. Use lower (harder) gears or pedal up hills to make your leg muscles work harder and help build them.

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