CHOOSING  YOUR  BIKE

There are several different categories of bicycles. Among them: mountain bikes, road racing bikes, hybrids, tourers, BMX bikes and cruisers. The right choice will depend on what you want to do with it, and the type of person you are.

If you value simplicity and hate tinkering, for example, you may be best off with a single-speed cruiser with no gears or handbrakes to adjust. But you won't be able to climb steep hills the way you could with a bike with gears.

If you want to ride in the woods, you'll need a mountain bike. If you want to travel fast over smooth roads, a racer is your best choice. If you're just getting started in cycling, or just want something to ride to work, you won't go wrong with a hybrid.

If you get serious about the sport of cycling, you may end up owning more than one bike. And why not? Compared to cars, bikes are inexpensive - and a lot better for your health.

LEVELS OF QUALITY

There are vast differences in quality and style - bicycling has its Porsches, Ladas and everything in between.

You should be prepared to spend at least $500 to get a bike you'll be happy with over the long term. You're going to get something that works well and lasts.

We try to find out what people are like, and what they want. If they do other sports, for example, they're probably going to be more aggressive, and want a better bike.''

SPECIALTY SHOPS

You should look for your bike at a specialty shop - the kind that only sells bicycles, and where the staff actually ride. The knowledge and experience they offer are invaluable.   The staff at a good specialty shop can guide you through the sometimes-confusing choices and match you to the machine that will suit you best.

Most people come in looking for advice, more than anything else, we ask a lot of questions and try to figure out what you really need.''

Most people we see will engage in light commuting and Sunday riding, so they need a suitable bike. If they're out for hard-core mountain biking, they'll need something totally different.

With the expertise in the good bike stores, people usually end up with what they really should have. There's a tremendous amount of expertise that you can't get anywhere else.

MORE CONSIDERATIONS

Fit is important. Although department store bikes are commonly offered in only a couple of sizes, quality bikes are available in a wide range of frame sizes, and can be custom-fitted

by changing components to suit you even better.

  • In bicycles, weight is the enemy - remember, you're the engine. Typical department store bikes weigh 16 kg or more - and that weight makes them feel like boat anchors going up a hill, and hurts their handling.

    Quality bikes usually weigh 14 kg or less. Top-level mountain bikes drop to 10.5 kg or less, while road race bikes can weigh as little as 8 kg. But lightness costs - expect to pay big bucks for a superlight machine.

  • You get what you pay for. The best bikes are like Porsches: quick, superb machines with responsive handling, powerful brakes and butter-smooth gears. But there's a point of diminishing returns, where each degree of added performance costs so much that it's not worth it for most people.

    Most people will be happiest with a bike in the $500-$1000 range. For that price you get an excellent machine with important features like fingertip shifting, strong brakes and quick-release wheels that make it easier to change tires or load the bike onto a rack.

    BIKE TYPES

  • Mountain bikes are defined by their hill-conquering gears and off-road tires - fat knobbies that look like they came off a Massey Ferguson.

    For their intended purpose, riding in the dirt, mountain bikes are unbeatable. Oddly enough, most mountain bikes spend most of their time on the street, where their knobby tires howl and slow you down.

    If you're going to ride mostly on pavement, you can have the tires replaced with smooth-rolling street models - or buy a hybrid bike.

    A mountain bike's wide-ratio gears and strong brakes make them good all-'round machines for a lot of people, especially with the correct tires fitted.

    If you're going to ride off-road, you should consider buying a mountain bike with front suspension to soak up bumps. You can also buy a full-suspension model, with shocks front and rear, although this adds weight and cost.

    Full-suspension bikes excel at riding fast over rough downhill sections, and at steep, rough climbs, where their rear suspension helps keep the rear wheel stuck to the ground.

    But for all-'round riding, most people are better off with a front-suspension model, also known as a ``hardtail,'' because of its lower weight and cost - and its superiority on the street, where its rigid back end transfers the rider's power most efficiently.

  • Hybrids are a cross between a racer and a mountain bike. They have the upright seating position and fingertip shifting of a mountain bike. Their smooth-rolling tires are similar to a racer's, but slightly wider to help keep them from getting caught in cracks and sewer grates.

    For most people, a hybrid is an ideal bike. You can mount racks or baby seats, ride it to work, or use it for an afternoon spin. The downside? Hybrids are a jack of all trades, master of none. They aren't as fast as a race bike, and they're useless as mountain bikes, except on smooth, groomed trails.

  • Race bikes are the Ferraris of the cycling world. Their light weight, drop bars and narrow tires make them fast, fast, fast. That's why every rider in the Tour de France is aboard one.

    Although race bikes once dominated the world of recreational cycling, the rise of the mountain bike pushed them aside. Today, about 95 per cent of all bikes sold are mountain bikes.

    But ride a race bike and you'll see the appeal. On a smooth road, they make riding feel like flying. And technological advances, some of them inspired by mountain bike technology, have made race bikes easier to ride than ever. Perhaps most important is the advent of indexed, bar-top shifters that let you change gears without taking your hands off the bars.

    In the past few years, race bikes have begun to make a comeback, as riders accustomed to mountain bikes discover how swift and smooth they are. Most of the world's top mountain bike racers spend a large percentage of their time riding race bikes for training.

    If you want to go fast or cover a lot of distance, a race bike is the tool.

  • Cruisers are the La-Z-Boy loungers of cycling. With fat, sofa-like saddles and huge balloon tires, they're made to tootle along slowly and make frequent stops.

    Although there are now multi-speed models available, the classic cruiser features a single gear and coaster brake - fine for slow-speed sightseeing, but bad news if you want to go fast, climb hills or ride offroad.

    CONSIDER PRIORITIES

    The right bike for you will depend on a number of factors. The best way to decide is to consider your priorities, then visit a cycling professional who can show you, and let you test- ride, a few different models.

    `` . . . After people have been into cycling for a while, and get serious about it, some of them find that they actually need more than one bike. It's like shoes - you have a pair for casual and a pair for running.''


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