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Bike Fit: How to Select the Right Bike

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We all remember those days of gazing at new shiny bikes in bike store windows, or when Johnny down the street got the newest Schwinn bike with a banana seat. For myself, I grew up riding bikes during the spring, summer and fall. I even tried during the winter but the snow was too deep for my pizza slicing wheels. Riding my bike gave me freedom; I could try new things, ride it off jumps, and explore the world. My mom would even let us ride down to the local gas station to buy candy.

I loved looking at new bikes with the latest features and upgrades, and scheming how to justify the need of a new bike to my mom. It never worked. I had to stay with my current bike until I grew out of it. I now understand that selecting the right size bike for kids can be very tricky, not to mention that there are several different types of bikes to choose from, including road, mountain, triathlon, and beach cruisers, just to name a few. I hope by the end of this article to give you a few tips and tricks I have learned from experience to help you choose the best bike for yourself or as a gift this holiday season.

UNDERSTANDING YOUR OPTIONS

The first question to ask yourself is what type of riding are you going to be doing, or where are you going to ride? Think about the activity level and whether the bike will be used for utility or relaxation.

Road bikes are made to transfer every ounce of power you put on the pedals to the pavement to make you go faster. This would be best for cyclists who use bikes as their preferred mode of transportation. Mountain bikes are built to explore the dirt, gravel rocks, and roots of the mountains. Triathlon bikes are fast, aerodynamic, and built to help you go blazing fast. Beach cruisers, well, the name speaks for itself. These are all you need for a casual ride on the beach.

Each bike type has been fitted with the correct bike parts or components to handle what it is designed to do. There are high-end bikes that are really lightweight and respond faster than heavier frames. Others at your local department stores might be like driving grandpa’s station wagon from the 1960’s.

For little kids, consider bypassing the training wheels. Bikes with training wheels teach children to pedal first, then how to balance. But balance bikes, which have become popular in the last several years, teach children to balance first and eliminate the reliance on training wheels. A balance bike has no pedals, so children push their feet on the ground to make the bike go. Once a child has the balancing down, he can graduate to a bike with pedals.

PERFORMANCE VS. BUDGET

The second question I always ask people concerns budget. How much do you have to spend and how long do you need your bike to last? Children learning to ride are sure to fall and older kids often overestimate their skills making cavalier attempts at cool tricks. Thankfully, kids are resilient and quality craftsmanship can keep a bike from falling apart after minor crashes.

Many of the bike shops in Gainesville can offer you a wide variety of different bikes for different budgets. If you want what you see cyclists riding in the Tour de France, you can find it. If you need a bike to get you from point A to point B and have limited funds, you could try buying a used bike from a neighbor or local shop. If the latter is your choice, I recommend at least getting a tune-up at the local bike shop to make sure it is in good shape and safe to ride.

If you are looking for something that will last a long time, some of the middle ground bikes will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Always check with your local bike shop for discounted past models; this is where you can really get a good deal. Stick with your budget and check out several stores to make sure you find what works best for you.

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MEASURE TWICE, PURCHASE ONCE

The third question to research is what size or measurements you need to pick the right bike. Check the internet and you’ll find many different formulas to calculate the correct bike size for a comfortable and safe ride.

Sizing the correct bike is based upon inseam (same as your pant inseam), reach (how far you bend to hold on to the handle bars), and seat height (how long your legs are and the bend in the knee). Inseam is important, especially for kids, because they need to be able to touch the ground when they stop and stand over their bike. You always want to make sure you can get both feet flat on the ground when straddling the bike. Be sure to try a few different sizes to figure out which is the best fit.

After you have the correct bike based upon height, the next measurement is how far you need to reach for the handle bars. This is related to how flexible you are in the pelvis and lower back. If you suffer from any issues with lower back pain, be sure to choose a bike with a shorter reach. This will put you in a more upright position, and will help take stress off your back. The key with this measurement is to pick something that is comfortable to you as a rider. Picking the bike with the correct reach relates to your goals of your bike, and where you plan to ride it. Once you find the correct size, the key is to try it out. Take it out for a spin.

GOOD VIBES ONLY

The last question to ask yourself is how you feel when you ride it. Does it make you smile? A smile is the key. There is no substitute for getting the bike underneath your feet and pedaling away with the feeling of freedom as the wind rushes through your hair. How do the handle bars feel when you hold them? Do you like the seat? Is it soft enough? How does it turn? Is it easy to shift? Does it have a stable, smooth ride that makes you feel secure? These are all important questions to not only ask, but also feel as you are riding the bike.

Choosing the best bike is more than picking one that is your favorite color from the store closest to your work, or the one with your child’s favorite cartoon character on the side. It should be a thoughtful process that builds up the anticipation and helps you avoid buyer’s remorse. Be a considerate consumer and an astute gift-giver this holiday season by remembering the keys to bike-buying success.

 

Trevor Leavitt is the Sports Performance Program Manager at UF Health Sports Performance Center in Gainesville, FL. Trevor earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He has a keen knowledge of cycling biomechanics and bike fit. He is a Certified BikeFit Fitter, and a USA Cycling Coach. Trevor has also worked under Dr. Max Testa, who is the Chief Medical Officer for the BMC Professional Cycling Team. He has worked with all populations, from beginning cyclists to elite pros. When not riding his bike he can be found spending time with his family.