Before investing in a bicycle, most folks in the know encourage people to consider how they will use a bike to make the best decision comfort- and money-wise.
To get the bike facts straight, we spoke with three area stores about the various types of bikes available for adults.
“I always start by asking what their cycling goals are,” said Mark Woolson, owner of Truly Spokin’.
Karen Simms, manager at Bikes Plus downtown, explained, “Every bike is different for different kinds of terrain, style, mileage, and so forth.” Elements like the height of the frame and placement of the seat also affect overall comfort.
Brian Stone, co-owner of Cycle Sports said sitting on and test riding bikes is key for customers. “Basically I call it the Butt Test—I want you to try everything possible, even if it’s a little bit outside what you think you want.”
Beach cruisers, as their name implies, are the most easy-going of bikes. With their long wheel bases, Stone likens these to town cars. “Since we’re the home of the Blue Angels I call it ‘low and slow.’”
Characterized by fat 26-inch tires, wide seats and pedal placement that allows riders a more leaned back riding posture, or geometry, many beach cruisers are accessorized with baskets, racks, maybe even a cup holder. Multi-speed options are available, depending on the model.
Simms said she’d recommend trips of a few miles tops on a beach cruiser, “They’re good for going around the neighborhood, on the beach, short distances,” but recommends other bikes for people planning on travelling farther.
Comfort bikes are considered a cross between a beach cruiser and a mountain bike. “We call them comfort bikes because just like a beach cruiser, they’re very recreational, very upright, very comfortable, but the gears make them a little easier to ride,” explains Simms.
There are two varieties of comfort bikes based on wheel size, Stone explained, but all have a medium-width seat, upright geometry, wider tires, and adjustable handlebars, with suspension on some models. “Primarily these are recreational bikes, I call them family bikes,” said Stone of one of the most popular styles at his store, as they are good for people expecting slightly longer, casual rides.
Depending on how you slice it, according to Stone, there are two varieties of hybrid or “active recreation,” bikes.
Urban hybrids are almost the same as a comfort bike, but have a taller 29-inch/700c wheel like a racing bike. “Still very comfortable, but definitely faster for people who want to have a more sporty bike,” said Simms. These can be equipped with front suspension or without.
Fitness hybrids also have a 700c wheel, but no suspension. “Almost like a road bike with a straight bar, they’re really fast and you can do a lot of miles on them,” Simms said.
“I call them an urban assault vehicle,” said Stone, who regards fitness hybrids as true commuter bikes. “They’re faster, put you in a down-over position, have a skinnier seat, flatter handlebar, more gearing, and multi-surface tires.”
“The hybrids are for those of us who do a little bit of both,” said Simms. “We don’t go too crazy for speed or distance, we don’t go too crazy on the trails.”
If you have a need for speed and/or are interested in long distance rides, road bikes are likely for you. “Designed to be super light, these have a very leaned-over geometry so that you can get aerodynamic, and skinny tires with really high pressure,” explained Simms, “Because of that you get hardly any contact with the ground, so there’s very little resistance.”
Road bikes have the widest ratio of gears to accommodate speed. Triathlon bikes are considered road bikes, with modifications to the handlebars. “Kind of like drag racers,” said Stone of tri bikes, “they put you in a very aggressive aerodynamic position.”
Though popular, mountain bikes aren’t very comfortable on the street, Simms has found, as they are designed specifically for going off-road. “We get people coming in all of the time with mountain bikes saying, “This is so uncomfortable, can the handlebars come up?”
Always equipped with suspension and gears, mountain bikes also have “fat tires with really aggressive tread, so you’ve got lots of grip on the loose dirt and corners. The geometry of those frames have you very stretched out, designed to pull you up on the pedals.” For that reason, Simms recommends limiting street rides and sticking to trails with mountain bikes.
Often the choice of bike messengers in larger cities, single-speed or fixed-gear bikes are all the rage in many circles. With no gears, many also aren’t equipped with breaks, requiring the rider to slow down pedal motion or skid the bike to stop. These have taller wheels and usually look like a road bike or hybrid.