Buying the Right Bike for You - EDU

Buying the Right Bike for You

With the multitude of bike options available to the modern cyclist, buying the right bike can become a little overwhelming and more in depth than just getting the right size and enjoying riding your new bike. Thankfully most local bike shops will do a good job of selling the right size bike to their customers, but to help find the right bike, the cyclist will ideally have an idea of what they need.

Some choices are simple, for example full suspension mountain bike versus time trial specific bike aero speed machine. The former would not be that outright fast on flat tarmac and the latter would be downright dangerous on an off road descent.

For ease of example, considering ‘just’ the drop handlebar road bike, there are more and more options available to buy after deciding on the size of the bike and this is where the most of the problems occurring. Only a few cyclists that have purchased the wrong size bike, but see many more that have the wrong bike for them. These are the cyclists who are injured or unable to get comfortable on their bikes. Those are just not having fun.

With the recent increase in cycling participation manufacturers have increasing offered different sub-genres of bike. Well this is all very interesting, but how does this relate to me? Before buying a new drop handlebar road bike, answering a few simple questions about what you want from your bike and what your body has to offer the bike will potentially save a lot of discomfort and expense, helping to get an idea of how to shorten the list of options and at worst prevent a new shiny bike being condemned to the rear of the garden shed.

So, questions you might ask yourself include:

What is more important to you, out and out speed or comfort; go for a lot faster for longer if we are comfortable?

How long do you intend to ride the bike for at any one time; can you carry all that may be required for your journeys in pockets and a small saddlebag or will I need to have some form of rack attachments?

Will you be locking your bike up and leaving it, as this will have an impact on the ease of removal of components?

How flexible is my body?

The first three questions perhaps too vague and simplistic to be greatly helpful, the fourth however is very important. If it is difficult for a cyclist to bend forward from the middle comfortably, reaching past the knees without any discomfort then a ‘racy’ bike with a low front end is going to be less than comfortable.

By having to reach too far forward the cyclist will place stresses through the body that will make riding the new bike less than enjoyable and potentially lead to injury. When a cyclist is in a position that requires too great a reach in order to grasp handlebars which are too low and too far away from the rider, these are just some of the problems.
By having to reach too far forward the cyclist will place stresses through the body that will make riding the new bike less than enjoyable and potentially lead to injury.

• Hands on the flat part of the top of the handlebars rather than comfortably in the ‘hoods’.
• Not ideal for safety as being able to get to the brakes in an emergency is important.
• Too much weight through the hands leading to numbness and needing to take the hands off the handlebars to relieve the discomfort.
• Distracting at best and dangerous at worst if the road surface is poor.
• Neck pain, caused by having to strain to look ahead.
 • Again this is distracting and encourages the rider to look down rather than forward to potential hazards.
 • Shoulder pain, from being hunched in an effort to reach forwards.
• Lower back pain from reaching forwards and leading forwards.
• Think along the lines of the potential discomfort from holding a weight straight out in front of you with a straight arm.
• Discomfort from the saddle, because the stiff lower back or hamstrings are casing the pelvis to push into the saddle.
• Lots of riders who experience saddle contact area issues and who have spent lots of time and money to relieve this.

While this list of examples is far from exhaustive and does not even get as far as the all-important cyclists’ legs, an idea is hopefully provided about the importance of not just getting the right size bike but also the right shape bike. Not all bikes are created equal.

After all the ‘doom and gloom’ above, help is at hand. Manufacturers have been producing bikes that offer a less ‘aggressive’ or more relaxed experience to the rider. It is worth making the point that if you buy a correctly sized ‘taller’ bike with a higher front to it and feel the need to get lower; it is still possible to bend your arms to do so. This is a choice.

If there is the cyclist who feels there is a ‘stigma’ attached to buying and riding a more relaxed bike, perhaps labelled as ‘sportive specific’ then there are other options. The vast majority of the manufacturers who sponsor a professional team will offer those same teams bikes with a more relaxed geometry for the ‘Spring Classics’ in particular Monuments such as Paris-Roubaix. These are full on race bikes ridden by the best cyclists in the world, just designed to be more comfortable for the rider.

For the more flexible among us there is the guide of ‘stack and reach’. Again, assuming the bike is the right size, the measurements of stack and reach are very helpful when looking through the multitude of measurements offered as part of a bike’s specifications. In short, ‘stack’ is the vertical distance from the centre of the bottom bracket of the bike to the top of the center of the head tube of the bike. Simply, a height measurement, a greater number means the front of the bike is higher.

Again, simply put, ‘reach’ is the distance measured between the same two points, the centre bottom bracket and the center of the head tube of the bike, however this measurement relates to the distance the center of the head tube of the bike is forwards of the bottom bracket. A lower number means the front of the bike is closer to bottom bracket.

By way of an example it we take two size ‘56’ bikes, the bike with the higher stack (height) number and lower reach number will generally be both taller and shorter in length requiring less of a stretch for the seated cyclist to place his or her hands on the bars. This can be modified by component entry and component adjustment, but all things being equal this is a good guide.

A more flexible cyclist with a similar level of overall fitness will be able to tolerate and perhaps even enjoy the experience of riding a bike with a lower stack and longer reach than a less flexible cyclist with that same level of fitness and endurance ability. Even with the less than ideal bike there are still many alterations that can be made to help improve the comfort of the cyclist, so it is worth considering consulting a skilled ‘Bike Fitter’ to help you.

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