The Secrets to Buying a Newbie Bike (Part 1)

How to Find the Best Commuter Bikes

If you’re just starting out with bike commuting, you might be tempted to start your journey by focusing on the bike. Some people’s instinct is to immediately go out and buy a shiny, fancy (and expensive) new bicycle… don’t! The first step if you’re new to bike commuting should be to prove to yourself that you actually like riding a bike!

I know, it sounds crazy, but it’s possible that bicycle commuting just won’t be your thing, and that’s okay. In order to give it a trial run, I suggest buying an affordable used bike as your newbie “starter” ride. In fact, you (or someone you know) might even have a bike hidden away in your garage or shed – if you’re lucky enough to find one of these free gems, dust it off and see if it’s salvageable! Often all you’ll need are a few new tubes, and a little lube, and you’re good to go. My rule of thumb is to give yourself at least a few months of regular riding on your starter bike before you decide to upgrade (I kept my starter bike for 2 years!).

Decide on a Bike Type

Before you start looking at and testing out bikes, you should try to decide what type makes the most sense for you. Because you’re planning to ride your bike for transportation, you may end up with an entry level road bike optimized for smooth riding on paved streets, or you might buy something completely different. You won’t know immediately what bike type will be a good match for you, so ask yourself a few important questions as you learn and move toward your decision:

  • are my routes well-paved and relatively smooth? (do I need to do any “off-roading”?)
  • am I comfortable in any specific sitting position? (seat and handlebar style affect sitting position)
  • how fast do I want to go? (bike weight and style can affect speed)
  • how much stuff do I need to haul back and forth every day? (can it fit a bike rack or panniers? will I ever need to pull a trailer?)
  • what will my riding conditions be like? Am I willing to ride year-round in rainy/snowy/icy/cold weather? (do I need to consider tires well-suited for inclement weather?)

You might not know the answers to some of these questions right away, and that’s okay – your starter bike doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it’s likely you’ll learn your true preferences after riding your starter bike for a while, and you’ll be better educated when it’s time to research and purchase it’s replacement! It’s worthwhile to spend some time learning about all of the differences between the various bike types, and how well-suited each will be to your unique circumstances and style. There are a number of bike types you’ll run across, here are a few details:

  • Cruiser – designed for casual rides, very heavy, not practical for long distances
  • Road/Racing – generally fast, light weight, and designed for roads; these don’t do as well on ice or snow
  • Mountain – designed for riding mountain trails, heavier than road bikes, but versatile
  • Hybrid – cross between a mountain bike and a road bike, often a good choice for a beginner
  • Touring – designed for long distances
  • Fixie/Single Speed – often a hybrid or road bike style, with 1 fixed gear; a lack of gearing makes the mechanics on a fixie simple, but it’s an impractical choice for most commuters

There are other more specialized bike types we haven’t explored above, but when you’re shopping for your starter bike, these are the likely culprits you’ll see for sale.

Go on Some Test Rides!

In order to get a feel for the different bicycle types, I recommend searching out your trusty local bike shop. Any shop that sells bikes will be happy to give you guidance, and allow you to test ride a variety of different styles. I know I said that you should buy a used bike to start (and you should!) but the local bike shop is a great place to truly get a feel for what will work for you. Don’t feel guilty joyriding on the bike shop’s merchandise, because if you like their service, selection, and pricing, they will likely be at the top of your list when you’re ready to upgrade. Also, a good local shop should be your go-to place for accessories, gear, and maintenance (if you’re not inclined to learn the maintenance tasks yourself).

Read the next post in the series: How to Evaluate a Used Bike.

Posted in Getting Started