A Bike Buying Guide from Black Women Bike DC

We are frequently asked for tips on buying a new bike.  It was a major topic of conversation at our new member open house on Tuesday, and we’re increasingly asked by people ready to move from Capital Bikeshare to a personal bike how to go about it. This morning, I saw this guide posted by Lesly J. of Black Women Bike DC, to provide advice to their new members on the same question. (Unfortunately, the smiley faces in the original won’t show up properly on our blog.  So if you think something might have been said in humor, assume it was.) And thanks to Lesly for allowing us to share.
So you’ve decided to buy a bike and have no idea where to start. We suggest that you start by answering these questions: 1)     What type of riding will I participate in (i.e., commuting, transportation, recreation, racing, etc.)? 2)     How often will I ride (i.e., daily, 3x week, 1x week, monthly, etc.)? 3)     What do I consider an average ride (time and/or distance)? 4)     Know your terrain (i.e., flat, hilly, paved, unpaved, etc.)? 5)     Budget – Whatever you think a bike cost, multiply it by 3 (or 4 or even 5)   Once you have the answers to these basic questions, LET THE SEARCH BEGIN:   Step 1.  Find an Expert   We always encourage new cyclist to find a local bike specialty shop. Big box stores are great for toilet paper but NOT bicycles.  Bicycles are very unique and in order to have a positive experience, you need to have a good fit. Your local bike shop can help you with this. If you are armed with the answers to the above questions, you can give them a head start in finding exactly what you need. Even better, visit two or three shops as they may carry different brands at different price ranges and ask questions everywhere you go.  You’ll find some of our favorite shops at the end of this document.   Step 2. Test Ride and Fit   When choosing a bike, it’s very important to make sure the equipment will match your riding style. You also want to ensure that the bike is set up to maintain comfort over the long haul. And no, those big fat saddles –yes, bike seats are called saddles- are NOT as comfortable as they look! You do this by test riding and test riding and test riding again. Don’t buy the first bike you see, don’t buy the first bike you ride, don’t buy any bike that you haven’t been on at least as long as your answer to #3. Also, note that the best bike for you may not be women specific, so don’t get caught up in a name.   Step 3. Test Ride the Cadillac (or even better the Ferrari) Model   Once you find something that you like, you’ve ridden the bike on more than one occasion and it fits your budget, ask the experts to provide you with a lighter more expensive version of the same style bike. This bike may be well above your budget but it’s very important to understand what you are and are not buying. Unlike most sports equipment (no matter how expensive a golf club is, it won’t improve your score), a better bike can mean a much better experience. It won’t improve your endurance or make you faster (that takes practice), but less weight makes for more efficient cycling. Gearing can also change your riding experience. Knowledge is powerful, so make sure that you fully understand what spending a few more dollars will or will not get you.   Step 4. Bike TLC (tender loving care)   Once you have purchased your bike, treat it as you would a high-end sports car. Regular maintenance including tune-ups is very important to ensure you are getting the best from your investment.  Then get out and RIDE!     Here are a few terms you may find helpful:  
  • Road bike – Best for pavement. Generally lighter in weight, road bikes are good for multiple pavement uses including fitness riding, commuting, long-distance/event rides, touring and racing.
  • Mountain bike – Best for dirt or rocky trails and gravel roads; OK for pavement too especially with a different tire. Designed to be strong, with shock absorbing features and better braking systems. Mountain bikes can handle rocks, roots, bumps and steeper off road terrain.
  • Hybrid bike – Best for pavement or gravel/dirt roads. They take features from both road and mountain bikes. These bikes are great for general riding and casual bike outings.
  • Cyclocross/Cross bike – Designed specifically for cyclocross bike racing but are very versatile. Similar to road racing bikes, cyclocross bikes are lightweight yet tough enough to deal with dirt trails and grass.
  • Lifestyle bike – Pretty much everything else that is not listed. Urban and commuting bikes, beach cruisers, single speeds, fixed gears, folding bikes, even retro bikes with banana seats. This is where it get’s personal and fun!
  • Flat pedals – Basic bike pedal designed more for comfort than power transfer. (Be very leery of a bike that has preinstalled pedals!)
  • Toe clips – Metal or plastic cage attached to a pedal. Usually has a strap. Allows more effective transfer of power.
  • Clipless pedals – (also known as clip-in or step-in) Requires a special shoe and cleat. This type of pedal provides the most efficient transfer of power.
  • Saddle – bike seat – they are designed for support; they are not a lounge chair!
  • Cyclometer/Cyclocomputer – An electronic accessory that allows you to track speed, distance, time, cadence, etc. Nice to have, but not a requirement.
  • Seatbag – A small storage accessory that hangs from the back of the saddle. Very nice for ensuring you always have supplies.
  • Helmet – If you buy no other bike accessory, make sure you have this one and ensure that it fits properly.
  • Bottle cages – Designed to hold water bottles that are easily accessible while cycling.
  • Lights – If you expect to ride early mornings, dusk or at night, these are a must have – white light in front/red blinking light in rear.
  Here are a few reference books/websites that we’ve found useful:  
  • Every Woman’s Guide to Cycling – Selene Yeager
  • The Female Cyclist – Gale Bernhardt
  • The Big Book of Bicycling – Emily Furia
  • BlackWomenBike.org
  • BlackWomenBike.com
  • WABA.org
  • GirlBikeLove.com
  • BikeLeague.org
  • BikeWashington.org
  • TheNBC.org (National Brotherhood of Cyclists)