Choosing a Bicycle

Choosing a Bicycle

So you're ready to purchase a bicycle. But with all the bike shops in town—and their myriad choices of bikes—how do you decide what kind of bike is right for you? This information will help you understand your choices, and what questions to ask yourself to ensure you choose the best bicycle for your needs.


  1. How will you use this bicycle?
  2. Common bicycle uses
  3. Comfort and ability
  4. Economics
  5. Talk to the experts
  6. Types of bicycles

1. How will you use this bicycle?

One way to narrow down your choices is to ask yourself: "What do I want to do with this bicycle?" The type of bicycle you choose depends mostly on its intended purpose. A bike suitable for long touring rides may not be the best choice for short errands, or getting to and from work. On the other hand, a bicycle that is equipped to take you from home to the grocery store and back—with all your purchases in tow—may not be the most comfortable bike to ride for much longer distances. Knowing the types of bikes available, and what their intended purposes are, will help you pick out the bike that's best for your needs.

2. Common Bicycle Uses

Utility Cycling
Utility cycling encompasses any cycling not done primarily for fitness, recreation such as cycle touring, or sport such as cycle racing, but simply as a means of transport. It is the most common type of cycling in the world. In the Chinese city of Beijing alone, there are an estimated four million bicycles in use. Utility cycling generally involves travelling short and medium distances. It includes commuting, going to school, high school or college, making errands, and delivering goods or services. In cities, the bicycle courier is often a familiar feature. However, freight bicycles are also capable of competing with trucks and vans particularly where many small deliveries are required (Time Out Chicago magazine currently employs bicyclists to deliver the magazine to locations throughout Chicago) . Velotaxis (pedicabs) can also provide a public transport service like buses, and taxicabs (Roger Richshaw is one such example in Chicago).
All-season Cycling
Many bicyclist ride primarily during the warm weather months, but there is a growing movement of all-season cyclists, particularly in the City of Chicago, where grass roots organizations like Chicago Bike Winter encourage winter bicycling through classes, workshops, and information resources.
Bicycles are used for recreation at all ages. Bicycle touring, also known as cyclotourism, involves touring and exploration or sightseeing by bicycle for leisure. A brevet or randonnée is an organized long-distance ride.
Bicycle racing encompasses many forms in which bicycles are used for competition. Bicycle racing includes Road bicycle racing, cyclo-cross, Mountain bike racing, track cycling, BMX racing and Bike trials, cycle speedway, and Skid Kids.
Mountain Biking
Mountain biking usually refers to the sport of riding bicycles possessing particular design characteristics (mountain bikes) off-road, although sometimes the term simply refers to riding a mountain bike, which can be done almost anywhere - bike trials and street riding are examples of mountain biking typically based in more urban locations. The sport requires endurance, bike handling skills and self-reliance. It is an individual sport which can be performed almost anywhere.

3. Comfort and Ability

Some people find that a bike that puts them in a more upright position is more comfortable, while others enjoy the comfort of reclining while they pedal. Bikes are designed with different types of comfort, and physical abilities and limitations in mind, and it's important for you to determine what type will be most comfortable for you.

4. Economics

Certainly price is a consideration when buying a bike. The good news is that there are good bikes available—both new and used—in a wide range of types and price ranges. Buying a used bike, or fixing up an old one you have laying around in your garage, may be an affordable option. But be careful: like any product, poor-quality bicycles can be found for bargain-basement prices, but such bikes may ultimately prove to be more trouble then they are worth.

5. Talk to the Experts

Stop into your local bike shop and consult the experts. These experienced cyclists and mechanics can help you understand your choices and recommend the best option for your bicycle needs. Some shops that sell used bicycles may even accept an old bike for trade-in on new bike purchase. There are over 140 bike shops in the Chicago metropolitan area--check out the Chicago Bike Shop Database for listings, including customer reviews and contact information.

6. Types of Bicycles

Knowing the types of bicycles available will help you narrow your search. Here are descriptions* of the most common types of bicycles:

Utility bicycles are designed for commuting , shopping and running errands . They employ middle or heavy weight frames and tires, internal hub gearing, and a variety of helpful accessories. The riding position is usually upright. Utility Bike

Mountain bicycles are designed for off-road cycling, and include other sub-types of off-road bicycles such as Cross Country (i.e."XC"), Downhill, and to a lesser extent Freeride bicycles. All mountain bicycles feature sturdy, highly durable frames and wheels, wide-gauge treaded tires, and cross-wise handlebars to help the rider resist sudden jolts. Some mountain bicycles feature various types of suspension systems (e.g. coiled spring, air or gas shock), and hydraulic or mechanical disc brakes. Mountain bicycle gearing is very wide-ranging, from very low ratios to high ratios, typically with 21 to 30 gears. Mountain Bike

Racing bicycles are designed for speed, and include road, time trial, and track bicycles. They have lightweight frames and components with minimal accessories, dropped handlebars to allow for an aerodynamic riding position, narrow high-pressure tires for minimal rolling resistance and multiple gears. Racing bicycles have a relatively narrow gear range, and typically varies from medium to very high ratios, distributed across 18, 20, 27 or 30 gears. The more closely spaced gear ratios allow racers to choose a gear which will enable them to ride at their optimum pedaling cadence for maximum efficiency. Racing Bike

Time trial bicycles are similar to road bicycles but are differentiated by a more aggressive frame geometry that throws the rider into a more compact (i.e. "aero") riding position. They also feature aerodynamic frames, wheels, and handlebars. Time Trial Bike

Track bicycles , intended for indoor or outdoor cycle tracks or velodromes,freewheel), no brakes, and are minimally adorned with other components that would otherwise be typical for a racing bicycle. Messenger bikes are typically used for urgent deliveries of letters and small packages between businesses in big cities with heavily congested traffic. While any bike can be used, messenger bikes often resemble track bicycles (especially in the USA). Track Bike

Touring bicycles are designed for bicycle touring and long journeys. They are durable and comfortable, capable of transporting baggage, and may feature any type of gearing system. Touring Bike

Recumbent bicycles , which are sometimes referred to as Bents in the USA, are designed to maximize comfort and minimize wind resistance. Whereas most of the other types of bicycle in this section are designed around a 'diamond frame' geometry, where the pedals and chainset are located at the bottom of the bicycle and handlebars are at the front, recumbent bicycles (recumbents) generally use a “boom” and rear triangle combination with the pedals and chainset located at the front of the boom and the handlebars are located either “over seat” or “underseat” in the center. Recumbent Bike

Portions of this text were adapted from the following sources:

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