A Beginner's Guide to Buying a Bike

Walk into a bike shop today, and it's easy to get lost in the choices.

There are road bikes and hybrid bikes, mountain bikes and comfort bikes. Beach cruisers and commuting bikes. "City path" bikes and touring bikes. Even the most basic bike, the standard beach cruiser, may be operating under a new alias: a lifestyle bike.

Confused? No wonder.

Bike-shop owners face this problem regularly. People wander in and don't have a clue what type of bike to buy. The answer depends on what kind of biking you want to do—long-distance rides, trail riding, road riding—or just spins around the neighborhood.

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"I get asked about bikes all the time," says George Cheney, president of the Florida Freewheelers, Florida's oldest cycling club. "My advice is borrow a bike and see what you think. Or ask a lot of questions. But don't go out and buy a real expensive bike until you know that you enjoy the sport and know what you want to do. Don't go out and buy a $5,000 bike. You can have an awfully good time on a $500 bike."

The first steps inside a bike shop can be intimidating, especially for the derailleur-challenged. But the bike industry, which once catered strictly to Lance Armstrong wannabes and the mountain-bike crowd, is today aiming at people who want to love bicycling as they did as children.

So don't be surprised to walk into a nearby bike shop and see, in addition to the rows of black-and-red road bikes, an array of one-speed bikes in mint or yellow or baby blue with swooping handlebars and even tassels that hang from the hand-grips.

"Riding this type of bike is like riding in a '67 Chevy convertible," says Deena Breed, co-owner of Orange Cycle in Orlando. "You just look cool...It's an image, but it puts a smile on your face. It makes you feel good."

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Finding the Bike for You

Not sure what type of bike fits you best? First, visit a bike shop and talk to the employees. Then, don't be afraid to take a test ride around the block.

Not interested in spending $400 on a bike? You can scope the classifieds for a used bike or head to a discount store such as Target or Wal-Mart. But biking experts warn that you get what you pay for: A cheaper bike will have cheaper components that could break down after a couple of years of use. And the bikes are often heavier, which might not matter if you're going for a spin around the block, but may be a big deal if you're trying to ride 10 miles or more at a clip.

Road bike: If you've been taking spinning classes at your local gym, but now want to hit the road, many bike shops will suggest a road bike. Likewise, people who have been runners, but are switching to cycling because of bad knees, would be good candidates for a road bike.

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