It’s A Matter
There’s only one way to buy a bike. Intelligently! Due diligence is required.
The shop owner will help you, yes, but remember that he makes a living selling bike. He is a businessman, not a teacher. His primary goal is to move products. If he doesn’t, he won’t be around long.
To the unexposed customer, the most obvious way to select a bike is to try one out. Hop on it and see what happens. In fact, test-riding several bikes to find the ideal set of wheels is actually recommended by Bicycling.com, but I’m not so sure.
On the surface, that sounds like sage advice, but if you’re new to cycling you won’t know what to expect.
Matching bikes and riders is a scientific process. It requires more than a brief jaunt around the parking lot.
Even a 15 to 20 minute ride – Bicycling.com’s recommended time frame – isn’t sufficient for a inexperienced rider.
Training rides will average around one and a half hours when you first start – approximately 30 kilometers. As your fitness improves, ride times will increase. A realistic “test” requires time in the saddle so 10 to 20-minute loops in the parking lot won’t tell you much.
How many bikes will you test ride? How long will that take you if you do it right? Which shop will loan out bikes for that much time?
Sorry, but test riding your way to your first bike sounds more like reinventing the wheel.
I’m speaking from experience.
I bought my first road bike following a brief expedition around the parking area. The test ride was recommended by the shop owner, in his words:
To see how it feels.
I was new to road bikes. I didn’t know what to expect. He offered no specific insights on what to look for.
The bike was second-hand and priced affordably. The fact that the shop owner recommended it and I could easily afford it weighed heavily in my decision-making.
Ring it up!
I quickly learned that what was tolerable on a short ride became agony on a regular training ride. In the following months, I made several adjustments with zero improvements and eventually replaced that bike with something more suitable. From a different shop.
Forget test riding!
Bike Size Is Critical
If you can’t test-ride your way into a good bike, what can you do? This is the most important question of all. And the answer is simple.
Buy the correct size!!!
That’s where I – and the shop owner – went wrong. He assumed the second-hand bike he needed to sell was within my range. He didn’t explain the issues to me and I wasn’t aware enough to know what questions to ask. As it turned out, that first bike was just enough to big to adjust reasonably well.
Not to worry. Technology is very accommodating.
Bike geometry is so advanced these days that a variety of sizes to fit every individual is offered. Bike frames come in two basic types: Standard and Compact.
Compact frames have sloping top tubes and offer six sizes: XS, S, M, ML, L, and XL. That’s for men. Ladies’ sizes range from 2XS to L.
But there are only six sizes.
Standard frames have horizontal top tubes and are measured in centimeters. Sizes usually run in 2cm increments starting at 48cm and going up to 62cm, eight sizes. You can occasionally find bikes in uneven sizes and interestingly enough, my perfect size is 59cm, although I am presently riding a 60cm.
Calculate Your Size
Follow these guidelines and you’ll be safe.
One, stand over the top tube and make sure there is 2 inches clearance between the tube and your crotch.
Two, using your height and inseam, check the bike charts (Wiggle Bike Size Guide) to get a general idea of what your size should be.
I say “general idea” because everyone is different. Though the sizes represent a broad range, no two people are exactly alike. The chart will put you in the right neighborhood but don’t settle just yet.
For example, Wiggle suggests I can ride a 58cm but I’ve ridden comfortably on a 60cm. It’s not an exact science but you don’t want to be 4cm’s off.
Three, determine your reach. According to Wiggle, if you fall in between sizes – which is almost a definite – you can use reach to determine which way to lean.
Measure your arm span – fingertip to fingertip with arms raised to your sides – and subtract your height. My numbers: (arm span) 185cm – (height) 182 = +3.
What that means is I have play going up in size not down. If the difference was negative, moving to a smaller size would be the choice.
But there’s one more trick.
Four, several sites recommend multiplying your inseam, in centimeters, by 0.69 for standard (0.64 for sloping tube). According to this method, I need a 59cm bike.
One last point.
Variations And Adjustments
There is no end to the number of adjustments you can do on a bike. The adjustment-making process is just as important as the right size. The adjustments are made by a professional and are simply called a bike fit.
Almost everything can be moved to fit your individual size, within reason, and it is the final step in getting your equipment ready. Start with the right size and the fit is a cinch.
There are cautionary notes for bike fit also but I’ll leave that for another post.
Join A Club For Weekly Rides
If you live in Durban and you’re looking for a club to ride with, check out East Coast Cycling. They’re a friendly group of cyclists who organize rides every week for every level of ability.
If you live in Charlotte, NC, Charlotte Area Cycling is a good place to start.
Don’t wait. Get a bike. Join us on the rides. Get fit.