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.

"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."

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.

"They're athletic, they're already in shape, so we know they're going to go gung-ho," says Breed. And if you don't like the drop-handlebars on a road bike, Breed says, consider a new style: the upright road bike.

Price range: $700 to $10,000

Mountain bikes: There are no mountains in Florida, but that hasn't stopped the mountain bike from becoming a hot seller. The reason? In the 1990s, it became the bike of choice for people who wanted a bike that was more durable than a road bike and could handle riding on different types of surfaces, including sand and dirt paths and brick streets.

If you're looking for the basics, remember this: Mountain bikes (also known as all-terrain bikes) aren't for riding fast, they're for riding furious--meaning that you can jump curbs or go off-road or bounce around on them, and they'll hold up well. But you'll be left in the dust by your friends riding road bikes if you're out on a 20-mile trip.

Price range: $200 to $3,000

Hybrid bike: In recent years, the debate among occasional riders has been whether to buy a comfort bike or a hybrid bike. Both bike styles allow riders to sit up straight, rather than leaning forward, road-bike style. But hybrids have been more popular than comfort bikes, says David Sanborn, owner of David's World Cycle.

The reason? While comfort bikes have a wide tire and a smaller wheel, hybrids have a skinnier tire (like a road bike) and a bigger wheel, so the bike will go faster without as much effort. "Hybrids are lighter than comfort bikes, and everybody likes to go a little farther a little faster," says Sanborn.

Price range: $300 to $2,000

Lifestyle bike: The newest family in the bicycle kingdom is the lifestyle category of bikes. Lifestyle bikes encompass several different types of bikes, but they all share one thing: attitude.

The old beach cruiser, for instance, has gone retro, with bright colors and swooping handlebars. "These are bikes for a certain lifestyle," says Sanborn. "It's an image. It's for rolling over to the Starbucks and getting a coffee."

Also included in the lifestyle category are comfort bikes, which have as many as 21 gears but come equipped with a wide seat and a wide tire like that found on a mountain bike.

Some high-end lifestyle bikes are also sporting a new feature: a three-speed gearing system that shifts automatically. Also in the technology department, one American bike company, Electra, has developed bikes with "flat-footed technology" that allows riders to put their feet flat on the ground at a stoplight -- without getting off the seat.

"This is great for people who've had knee operations," says Breed. "At intersections they don't want to stand up on their tiptoes. They want their feet securely on the ground."

Yet it's the splashy colors and the comfortable, squishy ride that are drawing customers. "We have young kids that come in and want to look crazy on these wild-colored bikes, and then we have people who are grandparents who come in, and they want that bike because it's like the one they had when they were kids," says Sanborn.

Price range: $199 to $700


Linda Shrieves can be reached at lshrieves@orlandosentinel.com. To see more of The Orlando Sentinel or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to www.OrlandoSentinel.com. Copyright (c) 2007, The Orlando Sentinel, Florida. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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