By Meg Ausen
August may seem like an odd time to welcome a new bike into your family, but it’s actually the beginning of the “end of the season” (don’t worry! WE ride all year round!). If you are looking to buy new, August is when you will see current year models go on sale so that shops can bring in the next year’s stock. If you are looking to buy used, people might be off-loading a bike due to space or a desire to find a new steed. Below are some questions to ask yourself before purchasing and ideas to get you started!!
What size frame do I need?
While each bicycle manufacturer varies slightly, knowing the size of frame that’s right for your body is crucial when buying a new bike, especially if you are buying used and therefore do not have the option of test riding several different sizes at a shop. The primary measurement to determine the size you need is your pubic bone height – wearing shoes that you cycling in, measure the length from the base of your pubic bone to the base of your heel. This measurement will determine the size of frame that will fit you best as you can compare your height to the manufacturer’s inseam. Road bikes (whether new or classic) primarily use centimeters and mountain bikes primarily use inches.
You can make modifications on your bike on everything EXCEPT for the size of the frame (seat height, stem length, type of handlebars, etc). Having the right frame size will not only improve your comfort, but it will also be better for your body. Riding a lot on a bike that isn’t the right size can contribute to health problems.
What purpose will this bike serve?
If you have a very specific purpose in mind for you new bike, definitely gear your research and purchasing towards a bike that will meet that purpose.
Commuting – functionality is a word that comes to mind when thinking of a commuter bike. Will you want to attach a rack(s) to the bike? If so, how much weight will you want to carry? Steel frames are better suited to carry a lot of weight versus aluminum frames. Will you be locking it up outside often? If your answer is yes and you are worried about bike thieves, the amount of money you want to invest in a commuter bike might change. Is your commute hilly? If you have some inclines, think about how many gears you’ll want. Are you more comfortable sitting upright or bent over? This can influence what type of handlebars you want.
You will likely be spending a lot of time on a commuter bike day in and day out, making any discomfort extremely noticeable. That said, you’ll definitely want a commuter bike that’s comfortable and durable. Steel bikes are great for commuting as they are super durable and weigh more, providing a sense of security when riding the pot-holed streets of New York City. Aluminum bikes are also great for commuting as they are light to carry up and down stairs (vital if you live in a walk up).
Long rides – if you want a bike to zip around in the park or up along 9w, you will probably want a lighter bicycle with a medium to high number of gears. Typically, your crankset will have between one and three rings. The more rings you have, the more gears you have There is a lot of discussion among people looking to go fast about whether to have two or three rings as the extra ring adds weight. The number of gears you have is completely a personal preference, bud definitely something to keep in mind if you will be climbing a lot of hills on this bike. Most road bikes will have drop handlebars, but not all. If you want to use this bike primarily for laps or weekend rides, it’s not as important for these bikes to be extremely functional like a commuter bike.
Touring– similar to a commuter bike, you’ll want a bike that’s extremely functional for touring (I commute on the bike I got for a bike tour, so have doubled up on one bike serving two purposes). You’ll want a bike that can hold a lot of weight on racks and that is durable – think steel.
Components and Accessories
If you are planning to buy new, use the shop where you are buying – that’s what they are there for! Ask them about saddles, brake systems, pedals, possible modifications, etc. If you are buying used, take into consideration the following:
Frame– is the frame dented, scratched, or rusted? Has it’s integrity been compromised in any way? Ask the current owner to describe the current condition as well as what type of riding they used the bike for. Did the current owner leave the bike outside often?
Tires/wheels – what is the condition of the tires? Look for good tread and that there are no cracks in the tubes. When test riding, take note of how smoothly the bike rides. If you feel wobbly or uneven, the wheel might be out of true which can be unsafe.
Brakes – are the brake pads worn down? This is an easy fix, but riding with worn down brake pads can be dangerous as your stopping power is dramatically reduced.
Ask about when the bike last got a tune up. If it’s a vintage bike, ask whether the bike has EVER been tuned up while the seller has owned it. Obviously things wear down over time – it’s not uncommon for an older bike to be more susceptible to problems here or there if it hasn’t been regularly maintenanced throughout its life. For example, I once had a bike where the crankset needed a replacement after a bump I passed over caused the bottom bracket to break. Ask A LOT of questions!
And always, always, always test ride a bike you are planning to buy before buying it!
If you have any tips to share, join us in the conversation at the Female Bike Forum on Facebook!