Bicycle Buying Guide
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The Basics: Bicycles
Thinking of buying a new bike? If you haven’t set foot inside a bike story recently, you’ll be amazed at how much has changed in the last few years.
Fully suspended bikes are now commonplace, drivetrains and braking systems are more sophisticated than ever, and bikes have features and parts that you couldn’t have found on a bike of any price just a few short years ago.
Two of the biggest emerging trends are the re-emergence of the road bike, in various forms, and the surge in women’s specific bikes.
Women’s bikes feature parts and frame sizing specifically fitted to a woman’s proportions. Women have proportionately smaller hands, longer legs, and shorter torsos than men, in general.
They don’t weigh as much and derive more of their pedaling ability from aerobic ability (endurance) rather than strength.
Women’s bikes feature parts fitted to a woman’s dimensions, and some nicer models feature women’s-specific suspension forks with lighter compression. A central feature of the new women’s bikes are women’s seats, which you’ll likely find much more comfortable than those available just a few years ago.
The road bike is also back, and a new form is the flat-bar road bike. A flat-bar road bike is a fast, efficient ride made for enthusiasts, but the mountain-bike-style flat handlebar is a more comfortable position for many riders.
Other trends include better suspension at all price levels, a new influx of inexpensive but excellent disc brakes, and better frame materials, including various exotic combinations, such as aluminum and carbon fiber.
When you think about buying a bike, consider what you’ll use it for: A road enthusiast who is interested in long tours will appreciate the efficient, fast rolling road bike; if you want to try the dirt a little bit, consider a hardtail mountain bike or hybrid. And if the off-road is your real calling, strongly consider a full-suspension mountain bike.
How to Shop
Identify your use and your price range. Visit a number of stores that carry different brands to get a feel for what’s out there. The shop should narrow your options quickly to no fewer than three models.
Test ride if you can. It’s the best way to find out if the bike fits you well and if you like the feel of the controls, the suspension, and its handling.
Put a bike through its paces as much as you can on a test ride. Ride it up a hill hard, slalom along a twisty bike path. Brake hard. Shift through the entire gear range to see if there are problems with the adjustment.
At the shop, look for signs of good (or bad) build quality. Brake pads should squarely contact the rim and not squeal during braking. Shifting should be smooth and crisp.
There shouldn’t be any clunks or rattling noises. Tires should be properly inflated. Shifter and brake cable ends should be neatly cut and capped. These are signs you are in a good shop.
It will be hard to haggle on the price, because many shops don’t make a good margin on bikes; service and accessories are where they have more room to bargain.
Ask about discounts on accessories–most shops will give a margin discount on extras bought the same day as the bike. Inquire about the bike’s service plan–what’s included, what’s extra? Get the service plan in writing.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to work on your own bike, ask about classes the shop offers.
Ask about anything of which you are unsure. If the salespeople don’t answer sincerely and completely or if they give you a hard time, take your business elsewhere; just like car dealers, there’s usually more than one shop in your area carrying a particular brand.
If a bike is close but not perfect for example, the stem is too long or you don’t like the seat–ask the shop about swapping it. Most shops have a good policy about these kinds of changes, which can make the difference between a customer walking out with the bike or not.
BMX Bike Buying Guide
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BMX (short for bicycle motocross bikes) bikes are modeled after motocross rides used for short track racing. BMX bicycles look like smaller mountain bikes, albeit with no gears, and were originally designed in the late 1960s to be raced at local dirt tracks or along wooded racetracks.
From these West Coast origins, the sport of BMX has mushroomed and there is now a broad array of BMX bikes available to accommodate all the different styles of riding. Racing on dirt tracks remains a large part of the BMX world, while aggressive trick riding,
As featured in popular events such as the X-Games and Gravity Games, is now a mainstream fixture of the sport as well. As BMX riding has evolved,
New components and frame designs have been introduced and modified to facilitate the tricks, jumps and daredevil stunts that make BMX such a popular pastime for both riders and spectators.
There are four main categories of BMX riding: BMX racing, freestyle, dirt jumping and overlap. BMX freestyle breaks down into two subcategories: flatland and vert riding.
Flatland involves trick riding on streets and pavements while vert incorporates trick riding on ramps, half-pipes and other urban obstacles. BMX dirt jumping, on the other hand, is done off-road and features enormous airs, flips and twists launched from tall mounds of dirt that are often defined by their near-vertical launch lips.
In addition to traditional BMX racing, there is also overlap, which combines freestyle and dirt jumping techniques. In overlap, dirt jumping tricks are performed on freestyle ramps, or vice versa. In addition to these four styles of riding, another newer category of BMX biking is also now beginning to emerge.
BMX cruiser riding features BMX bikes with larger, 24 inch wheels aimed at the casual rider looking to take rides on bike paths around town, at the beach or along other scenic, paved routes.
These bikes are not nearly as popular as other BMX bicycles but may become more so as older BMX riders try to recapture the feelings of their youth, without having to endure the uncomfortable ride.
BMX cruiser class bikes are also a great way for parents to participate in BMX riding with their kids.
Of course, while standard BMX bicycles are most popular amongst kids and teenagers, adults can enjoy them, too. Except for those aimed at very young children, BMX bike frames tend to come in a single, one-size-fits-all to accommodate a 50 year-old riders just as easily as a 15 year-old.
Still, with so many different types of BMX riding, it is important to choose what suits your style. If you are solely interested in BMX racing, for example,
There is little point in buying a BMX bicycle with axle pegs or spinning handlebars. Similarly, a lightweight racing bike won’t stand up long to the heavy duty landings sustained in dirt jumping.
Even with the different styles of BMX riding, once you’re set on the type of BMX riding you’re interested in, choosing the right bike doesn’t have to be a confusing process.
If you’re buying the bike for a child, then spending time watching your kid ride should give you a sense of their skill level and the type of riding they do most. Is a lightweight frame useful for a six-block ride to school every day?
No. Would the same frame offer real performance enhancements for a weekend racer? Yes. Also, keep in mind that just like road-racing bicycles and mountain bikes, BMX bicycles get more expensive as they get lighter–strength being, at least in marketing literature, a constant.
A 26-pound boutique racing bike that’s built to take the same abuse as a 35-pound department-store beater will cost a good deal more.
The steel alloy chrome-moly remains the most popular frame material for BMX bicycles, as it is both strong and light. High-tensile steel is a heavier tubing material, and it will generally show up on bikes under $200 or so. There’s nothing wrong with the less-expensive metal, particularly for younger, less experienced riders. Those who take their riding more seriously, however, will want the lighter weight and more responsive feeling a chrome-moly frame offers. For racing BMX bikes, aluminum frames are most common, as they’re lighter and stiffer.
How to Shop
First things first: Who will be riding the BMX bicycle? How important is a brand name? How long will Junior ride this BMX bike before he graduates to a mountain bike, or loses interest altogether and picks up a skateboard?
There’s much less differentiation of quality among brands than advertising and certain salespeople would have you believe. This is particularly true of less-expensive BMX bikes, many of which are made in the same factories overseas and then painted with different companies’ logos.
Even with more expensive BMX bicycles, the price can be inflated for a fashionable bike or one that’s endorsed by a popular pro rider, even though it may not offer any better features or construction than a cheaper model.
So, much of the purchasing decision will come down to you or your child’s riding preference, his or her need to follow fashion, and of course, the amount you are willing to spend on a bike.
There are some key features to look out for, depending on the type of BMX riding you’re interested in. BMX racing bikes need to be lightweight as well as rugged.
They usually feature 36-spoke wheels and should come equipped with knobby tires for better traction on dirt. Racing BMX bicycles usually require only single, rear wheel brakes.
Freestyle BMX bikes, on the other hand, are ridden on the street so you’ll want smooth tires and 48-spoke wheels for increased strength.
The handlebars should be able to spin 360 degrees and the frame should have 2 or 4 axle pegs for supporting the rider while he or she performs freestyle tricks.
A freestyle BMX bicycle should have brakes on the front wheel as well as the rear, along with special stunt components such as cable detanglers so the cables don’t break or become knotted when you spin the handlebars in mid-air.
BMX dirt-jumping bikes also need 48-spoke wheels, but with knobby rather than smooth tires, again for maintaining a good grip on dirt-jumping mounds.
These bikes usually feature heavier duty frames and axles as well, with reinforced gussets in order to withstand the heavy landings from huge air jumps. Like a racing BMX bicycle, a dirt jumping bike will only need a single, rear wheel brake.
When looking at the cost of any BMX bicycle, it is important to factor in the cost of necessary accessories. Any rider will need elbow and knee pads in addition to a safety helmet, especially those involved in freestyle riding and dirt jumping.
It’s worth reiterating to your kids that the tricks and stunts performed at the X-Games and Gravity Games are by undertaken by skilled pro riders with years of experience. Young kids and beginners should only ride within their skill and experience levels.
Unless you are shopping for a very young child, there are usually only minor variations in the size of a BMX bicycle frame, variations that reflect the riding style of a rider rather than his or her body size.
As your child grows or his riding style changes, you might need to buy a longer seat post or adjust the handle bars to accommodate those changes.
It is worth bearing in mind that buying a BMX bicycle from a department store rather than a specialist bike shop may not provide you with the follow-up replacement parts you may need in the future.
Your local bicycle shop will likely not only offer the most helpful advice during the shopping process, but after you’ve made your purchase, they’ll also be there with mechanical support as well.
If you can, try to find a shop that doesn’t relegate its BMX bicycles to a cobwebbed corner. A bigger selection will mean better choices, better deals, and salespeople who ride BMX bikes themselves.
As with other types of bikes, getting the best deal when purchasing a BMX bicycle is not just about knowing how to shop, but also when to shop.
BMX bicycle prices can vary throughout the year, with the most popular time to buy a new BMX bike being the spring or summer. If you can wait until fall or winter when sales dip you are more likely to pick up a bargain deal from a shop that is eager to sell the older model BMX bicycles to make way for the next year’s model.
Bicycle Helmet Buying Guide
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There are three reasons to wear a bicycle helmet when cycling: to protect your head, to protect your head and to protect your head. In 21 states, it is also required by law. When you look at the statistics, it is easy to see why–cyclists crash an average of once every 4,500 miles of riding.
If you’re an avid mountain biker or like to perform stunts on your BMX bike, for example, then you can expect to bite the dust much more frequently.
Even if you’re pedaling at low speeds, cruising along the gentle gradient of a cycle path, a fall can cause serious damage to your skull. In fact, statistics show that head injuries are responsible for 75 percent of the 500 or more annual deaths from cycling.
Since medical research has shown that wearing a bicycle helmet can prevent 85 percent of head injuries from cycling, why wouldn’t you wear one?
A bicycle helmet works by absorbing the impact of a collision. In the simplest terms, a layer of foam inside the helmet crushes on impact so your skull doesn’t.
Traditionally, a lot of bicycle helmets have used foam made from expanded polystyrene, or EPS. Once EPS has been crushed during an accident, it does not regain its shape or absorption capacity.
Expanded polypropylene, or EPP, does recover after being crushed but is found in far less helmets than EPS.
GE’s GeCet is another type of foam widely used in cycle helmets and is effectively a stronger type of EPS foam, more resistant to cracking, while Zorbium claims to absorb twice as much impact energy as other helmet foams.
In recent years, protective foams have slowly evolved. A new foam called Tau ReUp combines EPS and EPU for multi-impact protection, while Brock is a proprietary multi-impact foam that was introduced into some 2006 model Bern Unlimited helmets.
When perusing current high end models, you’ll notice the use of carbon fiber designed to save weight in a bicycle helmet.
It is likely just a matter of time before manufacturers use titanium for the same reason, although using either titanium or carbon fiber will substantially add to the cost of a bicycle helmet. As it is, high-end bicycle helmets can easily top $200.
This will buy you a lightweight, aerodynamic unit with large, well placed vents for optimal ventilation. However, in terms of safety and impact absorption,
A helmet priced at less than $20 that meets the US CPSC helmet standard should provide comparable level of protection as a helmet that costs $200 or more.
Another current trend in bicycle helmets is a move towards rounder, smoother commuter designs. These often provide the best impact absorption during a crash. While they are ideal for casual riders and commuters, serious cyclists and racers will still likely prefer the elongated style helmets for their aerodynamic styling.
Whether you have taken a fall and dinged your helmet or not, you should still replace the helmet every five years or so, depending on the amount you cycle. As well as crashes and dents, sun and sweat can also damage a helmet by weakening the straps.
Extensive use can weaken ring fit systems as well. Unless you’re a serious cyclist or have deep pockets, this is another reason to consider some of the less expensive models rather than just high-end bicycle helmets.
How To Shop
There are for basic styles of bicycle helmets available. A sport helmet is suitable for all around use, while a road helmet is designed to be as light and as well ventilated as possible.
A BMX helmet, on the other hand, is stronger and built to provide more coverage to the head, sometimes even including full face protection.
The final style of bicycle helmet, a mountain bike helmet, offers the maximum amount of protection, as it will be used on the roughest and most dangerous off-road terrain.
No matter which style of helmet you choose, the first thing you must look for is a CPSC sticker. By law, all bicycle helmets sold in the US must meet the safety standards laid down by the CPSC.
A helmet with certification by the American Society for Testing and Materials, ASTM, conforms to even higher standards, as does a unit certified by the Snell Foundation, recognized as the industry’s highest benchmark.
Once you are satisfied that a helmet conforms to safety certification standards, you need to make sure that it fits comfortably and correctly.
You want the helmet to stay on your head in a crash, so it must have a secure strap, and should sit snugly on your head rather than being tilted back or forwards and leaving areas of skull exposed.
Helmets come in a variety of different sizes, including women-specific designs, as well as a one-size-fits-all design. Once you’ve determined your head size by measuring around your head just above the eyebrows, you’ll be ready to shop.
Be aware, though, that sizes vary between manufacturers and all the measuring in the world won’t make up for trying a bicycle helmet on before you buy.
Don’t be tempted to buy a helmet based purely on glowing reviews or recommendations from a friend.
You want to make sure that a helmet fits right for your particular head shape and hair thickness. Many people find that helmets with rear stabilizers provide the best fit, but again, that may not be true for you.
A helmet with a custom fit adjustment enables you to easily make adjustments to the fit, often with just one hand, so you can even adjust the helmet while you’re riding.
The second key aspect to ensuring the correct fit is the retention system–or in more simple terms, the straps.
Once the helmet is fitted there should be no slack in the straps. Thinner straps are less likely to make you hot and are generally found on road bike helmets.
Mountain bike helmets, however, should have thicker straps to ensure that the helmet stays in place no matter how rough and bumpy the terrain.
Higher end models include features such as pinch preventing buckles for a more consistently comfortable fit.
Ventilation is important in a helmet in order to keep your head cool during long bike rides. The more vents a helmet offers, the greater the airflow around your head, and the cooler it will be.
However, it is important to remember that the more vents a helmet has, the more of your head is left uncovered, and therefore unprotected.
If you’re choosing a helmet for road cycling, you can afford to have more vents than if you require a helmet for mountain biking. Similarly, weight is more of a concern for road cyclists than for mountain bikers.
Generally speaking, the lighter a helmet, the higher the cost, so unless you’re racing where shedding every gram can make a difference, it may not be worth the extra cost to choose a super lightweight bicycle helmet.
There are other features to look for on a bicycle helmet depending on your specific needs. Some models offer a hair port at the back of the helmet to accommodate riders with a ponytail.
Other models come with removable snap on visors to shield your eyes against glare from the sun and to create more aerodynamic airflow.
There is also the color scheme of a bicycle helmet to consider, which isn’t just a matter of fashion–the brighter the bicycle helmet, the easier it is for cars and other cyclists to see you.
Other features such as washable wicking mesh or anti microbial fit pads make it easier to keep your helmet clean and fresh for every ride.
While budget priced helmets can be purchased from large chain stores for less than $10, most models start in the $20 to $35 range.
If you shop at a specialized bike store you’ll receive educated advice, but will of course pay extra for it. A solid shopping plan for a bicycle helmet should include trying on a variety of models in a store to ensure the correct fit then shopping around, including online, to obtain the best price.
For serious cyclists, with a large enough budget, high end bicycle helmets can easily top $200 for a model with all the latest bells and whistles.
Mountain bikes feature linear-pull (also known as V brakes) rim brakes (a strong version of the cantilever brake) or disc brakes. Discs may be either mechanical (traditional cable-pull) or hydraulic (a closed line is filled with hydraulic fluid that acts on the brake pistons when the lever is pulled).
Hydraulic discs are the most powerful, but also heavier, expensive, and not very user-serviceable. Mechanical discs represent a good mix between the power of a disc and the adjustability of a rim brake. Rim brakes are the lightest and easiest to maintain.
They are plenty powerful but their performance suffers in bad weather. All road bikes feature dual-pivot caliper sidepull brakes; a few of the newer flat-bar road bikes use linear-pull brakes.
Many bikes sold today feature clipless pedals. These are specially designed to work with cycling shoes, which feature stiffer soles for better power transfer and riding comfort.
They work like ski bindings: step down to click in, twist sideways to click out (of course, they’re much easier to release than ski bindings).
They take a bit of getting used to, and we recommend practicing with them in your neighborhood first, but they are vastly superior to platform or clip-and-strap models.
Bike gearing is the number of cogs in the back times the number of chainrings in the front. Nine in the back, three up front?
That’s a 27-speed drivetrain. Cranksets are referred to as double or triple by the number of chainrings they have.
A no-tools closure that holds the wheels, and on some bikes, the seatpost. It uses a cam-style closure rather than a twist.
It is extremely important to know how to use these properly. If you don’t know, ask the shop to show you; it’s quite simple and the difference between safe riding and a nasty, avoidable accident.
All shifting today is integrated with the brake levers. For mountain bikes, your options are push-pull trigger-style shifters or motorcycle-throttle-style twist shifters.
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