DISCLAIMER: I am not a cycling professional. I have never worked in a bike shop or for a bike manufacturer. I have never raced bikes for a professional team or have been sponsored by a team. I am your average cycling enthusiast and fledgling triathlete. So take my advice as such.
At least once a month there will be a post on the Team Tough Chik Facebook page regarding purchasing a bike. There are so many questions that I thought I would put my suggestions and experiences in one place. First off, let me say how happy this makes me! All of the interest in cycling (albeit via triathlon) makes me so excited for the future of women’s cycling! And I love to talk bikes, so still feel free to contact me with questions!
Here are some things you should think about before you start your search. You need a budget, just like buying a car, once you get into the shop you might find that the sales guy (or gal, but most likely guy) will try and up sell you, stick to your budget. What do you want to do with the bike? Are you buying a bike so you can ride along with your kids? Do you want to ride on trails and the road or are you wanting to get into cycling to train for a triathlon?
Today I am going to mainly talk about road bikes, but if you have questions regarding hybrids, commuters or mt. bikes, feel free to contact me.
Budget – You might experience a little sticker shock here, that is why a budget is so important. From my experience and in my market, you will be hard-pressed to find a road bike for under $800. Yes, it is a commitment. So, if you aren’t sure cycling is for you, see if you can borrow a bike from a friend that is the same height as you. If you are 5’2″ and you borrow you neighbors bike and she is 5’8″, no matter where you put the saddle it will be too big and you will hate it. So give cycling a chance and find a bike that fits (foreshadowing).
Weight & Components – I get posed the question, “what is the difference between a $1500 bike and a $5000 bike?” You will find that in bike racing, weight is a HUGE deal. Your sales guy is going to talk about weight a lot and he is probably going to have you pick up a lot of bikes. To be blunt…weight-savings of a pound or two to the recreational cyclist should not be a major factor when choosing your new bike. Pro cyclists are elite athletes that have trained to the limits of their physical potential and any weight-savings that they can find are considered advantages in their profession. As much as we all hate to admit it, the cheapest way to lighten our load is to lighten ours bodies (this is a touchy subject and you can read about that here, but I digress…)
The other major factor is component groups. Component groups refer to the shifters, derailleur, brakes, etc. You are paying for the overall quality of the components (expensive bearings, machined aluminum, carbon fiber, etc) on more expensive bikes.
Generally speaking, the lighter the bike, the more money you will spend. The higher quality of the components, the more money you will spend.
Materials – Most enthusiast, road bikes under $2000 are made of aluminum, the more expensive bikes are usually carbon fiber. Carbon fiber provides both weight-savings and ride quality. Do you need carbon? Of course you don’t NEED carbon, most entry-level bikes are aluminum and you can compete and ride in any triathlon or group ride with an aluminum bike. Most won’t know the difference, but your bike will be marginally heavier and less road-compliant (due to aluminum’s rigid characteristics, you will “feel” the road). If you have the money to spend, then yes, go carbon. If not, an aluminum bike with carbon fiber, front forks will do the job just fine. My first bike was aluminum, most are, and don’t worry if you roll up the “A” group ride or you are racking your bike at your first tri. 99% of the time the gal next to you is thinking about her own ride or race and won’t notice the difference.
Ride – So now that you know what you can afford and what your money is going to get you, go ride a bike. Test ride every bike in your price range! If your last bike had a banana seat and no gears (that was me), then it will feel odd. The position will not feel natural, so ride lots of bikes. The more you test ride bikes, the more you will be able to notice the feel of the bike and not how much your butt hurts.
Fit – I also get asked about what bike or what brand you should look at. My answer is always, disregard the brand (and the paint job) and ride the bike. No matter what the make of model is, if the bike doesn’t fit, then it is not the bike for you. Just like jeans, just because you ride a 54cm in one bike, doesn’t mean that you are a 54 in all bikes or you might find that the next manufacture use small, medium and large vs. the numeric size. Each bike manufacturer has different geometry, meaning the length and angles of the frame will differ.
Women’s Specific – Do I need a women’s bike? Again, test ride the bike. Don’t walk in a bike shop with the preconceived notion that you need or don’t need a women’s bike. Back in the day (like 5 years ago) most bike manufactures “shrinked it and pinked it”, but now they are getting better about designing for women’s bodies. And again, take that with a grain of salt. That just means that most women have short torsos and longer legs, so the geometry is designed to accommodate the different proportions. Many women’s bikes will come with a women’s specific saddle and smaller handle bars. You can very easily put a women’s saddle and smaller handle bars on any bike and can be negotiated with the purchase of the bike. Yes, woman’s bikes are cuter. But who cares how cute it is when it is sitting in the garage because it is too uncomfortable to ride.
Pre-owned - Not everyone has the money to buy new and in this economy, there are a lot of sweet bikes on craigslist or eBay. If you are a new cyclist, I would still suggest you test ride several new entry-level bikes. That way, when you go to ride the pre-owned bike, you know how it should feel. Even better, if you have a buddy who is a bike dork…bring him or her. Before you ride the used bike, know what size bike you should ride and how a bike that is your size should feel. Again, fit is key! I would also see if the seller will let you get the bike looked at by a bike mechanic to see if it is in good working order.
Splurge – If you have a few extra dollars, invest in a good saddle! The biggest complaint a new cyclist has is that his/her butt hurts (it isn’t really your butt, but we all know what I am talking about). The bottom line is that if you are new to cycling, you will be uncomfortable at the beginning but stick with it and it will pass. A good saddle and a good pair of shorts will help. Women’s specific saddles are wider because a woman’s hips are wider than men’s. The plusher the saddle doesn’t mean that it will be more comfortable. See if you can test the saddles out or find out the return policy. It make take a few saddles but it is so worth the effort.
Fit (again) – Once you buy your bike, the bike shop should offer a fit session where they adjust the handle bar height, the seat height and may even change the stem for the handle bar position. The shop may not offer a fit session, so make sure you ask and if they charge for a fit session, try and negotiate with the price of the bike.
Pedals - There are flat pedals, cages and clip-less pedals. Flat pedals are just that, a flat platform. Cages are flat pedals with a plastic “cage” that slips over your shoe and held down by straps. Clip-less pedals are pedal and cleat systems where a cleat it attached to the bottom of a cycling shoe and the cleat locks into the pedal. Cages and clip-less pedals allow you to push and pull on the pedal giving you twice the power. Many folks are scared to clip in. But trust me, it is easier to get your foot out of a clip-less pedal than to get it out of a cage. There are many different type of pedal systems on the market, so do yourself a favor and just start with clip-less pedals. You will fall, it will be slow mo and it will hurt your pride more than your body. It happens to EVERYONE, just get it over and move on. Once you get use to the clip-less pedals, you will never go back.
Basically, the conclusion is this…
· Stick to a budget. It’s really, and I mean REALLY easy to spend thousands on a bike and all the gear that comes along with the sport. Remember, pedals, shorts, helmet, gloves, etc are all extra costs that you should figure into the total purchase price of what will surely become your new, best friend.
· Determine how you want to ride (to the coffee shop with the kids, or to the state line with the hammerheads). This will help focus your shopping experience.
· Don’t worry so much about the weight of the bike. Most bikes in a category within a similar price range will be within a few pounds of one another.
· Test ride, test ride, test ride. Test different bikes. Test different saddles. Test different pedals. It’s all about how you feel on the bike. If the bike you purchase instills confidence and a relative comfort, you will continue to ride and, eventually become totally addicted to the experience of the wind through your helmet and whoosh of your bike’s drive train cutting through the morning air…
Hopefully I’ve provided a little more information that might help inspire more of us Tough Chiks to start riding. After all of this talk about bikes, it’s about time for me to saddle up…I’m going for a ride!