Biking For Dummies
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Riding a bike is one of the greatest things on earth, offering low-impact recreation, affordable transportation, and life-changing freedom for folks around the world. It’s also a heckuva lot of fun!

Before you can feel confident knowing where to begin there is a lot to know before buying a bicycle, and lots to know about fixing and maintaining one, too!

Finding the best bike for you

From geometry to materials, function to style, and price to performance, there are a lot of factors to consider when shopping for a bike that meets your needs and your budget. Whether it’s for exercise or transportation (or both!), here are some tips to help you find a bike that will do what you need, be fun to ride, and last a long time.

  1. Start with the type of bike you need or want. Road, gravel, and mountain bikes are great for performance riding. Commuter and cargo bikes are great for getting to work or reducing your time in the car. Cruisers and fitness bikes are great for just riding around your neighborhood and bike paths.
  2. The frame material will depend on your preferences, environment, and budget. Carbon fiber is the lightest (but is expensive); titanium will basically last forever (but is really expensive); aluminum is lightweight and won’t corrode (but can be stiff); and steel offers a great ride quality at an affordable price (but can rust if not well maintained).
  3. A bike shop is the best place to buy a new bike. They’ll carry higher-quality bicycles that will last longer, work better, and be more fun to ride. They can also help you find the best style of bike, the right size, and show you how everything works.
  4. When buying a used bike, make sure the brakes work well and don’t rub the rims, it pedals smoothly and quietly, it shifts through the gears without hesitation, and there are no visible signs of damage or excess wear and tear.
  5. When buying online, stick to quality bicycle brands and shop with reputable dealers. If a deal seems too good to be true, the brand has no real website of its own, and/or the descriptions are in broken English and full of bad grammar, steer clear of that bike!
  6. Adjust your saddle height so that you can almost (but not quite) straighten your leg at the bottom of your pedal stroke. Then adjust its fore/aft position so you can comfortably reach your handlebar, putting almost equal weight on your hands and bottom.
  7. Adjust brake levers and shifter levers so that you can easily reach them from a normal riding position. This will ensure you can brake quickly and safely, and easily shift gears for efficient riding.
  8. At a minimum, you’ll want to get a bicycle helmet that fits well, a bicycle tire pump, and a small repair kit with tool, tube, patch kit, and tire lever.
  9. Sunglasses, gloves, a bike lock, cleaning kit, and high-quality chain lube are great to add to your kit as you get into it.
  10. E-bikes are popular and fun, but there are rules about where they can be used. Some bike paths and trails limit you to lower-speed Class 1 e-bikes, but most roads allow faster Class 3 bikes wherever other motorized vehicles are allowed. Class 2 bikes have more restrictions because they have a throttle that lets you opt out of pedaling altogether.

Basic terminology and features you should know when shopping for a bike

Bikes have come a long way over the past 20 years, with every category having a lot of sub-categories designed to perform very well in a narrower range of conditions. And the components have all changed, too. Here’s a quick guide to the latest standards and most popular categories.

Road bikes: Most road bikes now have 24 speeds – 12 speeds in the back, 2 in the front. You’ll find racing bikes, all-road bikes, and touring bikes here, with most people opting for “all-road” bikes thanks to their blend of relaxed fit, larger tires, and speedy performance.

Gravel bikes: Think “road bike” but with fatter tires and relaxed geometry to make them more capable and comfortable on unpaved surfaces. Gravel bikes come in versions optimized for racing or bikepacking, and in between them is the all-purpose version that does it all.

Mountain bikes: Mountain bikes have the most categories (cross-country, downcountry, trail, all-mountain, enduro, and downhill), and there are very blurry lines between them. Hardtail bikes are mostly in the cross-country category, and the rest are full suspension. Suspension travel increases as you move from cross-country to downhill. All good mountain bikes now use single chainrings with wide-range 12-speed cassettes.

Commuter bikes: Designed to get you around town quickly and efficiently, these have a more upright seating position so you can keep an eye on traffic. They usually have rack mounts so you can add trunk or pannier bags to carry school, work, gym, or other stuff without having to wear a backpack. Look for tires with puncture protection and add a set of lights and you’re good to go!

Cargo bikes: The minivan of bikes, these range from compact to oversized, with “bakfiets” front loading designs and rear rack designs offering different features and handling. Most brands offer a wide array of baskets, bags, racks, seats, and other accessories so you can customize it to haul whatever you want, from people to groceries to surfboards to lumber!

Fitness bikes: Blending road bike speed with a commuter bike’s riding position, fitness bikes are great for doing hot laps in your neighborhood or logging miles in the park.

E-bikes: E-bikes come in all types now, giving you motorized assistance to make rides easier, or just help you go farther. They’re great for commuting so you don’t get all sweaty, and let you cover more (and steeper) ground on a mountain bike. And they’re a no-brainer for cargo bikes, where you might be carrying up to 200 pounds of stuff … or people!

Wireless shifting: Many bikes in the $3,000-and-up range now come with electronic shifting, most of it wireless. These drivetrains deliver fast, perfect shifting with minimal fuss once they’re set up, and you can even customize some settings with an app. Just make sure you charge the batteries!

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Tyler Benedict is the founder of, the world’s leading cycling tech blog. Their mission since 2008 has been to provide the most up-to-date and accurate coverage of the newest road, gravel, commuter and mountain bikes, as well as their components and gear—plus product reviews. Tyler is an expert on the latest cycling trends, technologies, and equipment.

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