Though the wheel has been an integral part of human civilisation for thousands of years, bicycling itself is only two hundred years old. All around the world, you can find people riding bicycles — in fact, bicycling could be considered the principal means of transport for the human race. Bicycles are ridden for pleasure, for competition and for utility. Your choice of what type of bicycle will depend on what you want to do with the bicycle — ask yourself some questions before you start shopping:
o What bicycles have you ridden before that you really liked? That you really disliked?
o What type of bicycles do your friends ride, because you’ll be riding along with them most of the time?
o Will you be riding primarily on flat terrain or on hills?
o Will you be riding on roads and paved surfaces or on dirt, grass and rocks?
o Will you be riding mostly around home or will you take your bicycle other places to ride?
o Which aspect of bicycling is most appealing to you: ease of riding, speed, comfort or versatility?
o How much are you planning to spend on the bicycle and its accessories?
o How prepared are you for the physical aspects of bicycling?
o How mechanically-inclined are you?
o Will you be racing or competing?
The most basic choice is between a on-road bike or an off-road mountain bike. Road bikes tend to be more upright and have a shorter wheelbase than off-road bikes; the handlebars of a road bike are usually dropped, requiring the rider to bend forward. Road bikes have skinnier smoother tires and smaller saddles than mountain bikes; mountain bikes have knobby tires, ride higher off the ground to clear obstacles and generally require riders to be very physically fit. Hybrid or crossover bikes meld the characteristics of on-road and mountain bikes. The wheels are larger than those of a mountain bike, but the upright riding position is more like that of a road bike.
Another consideration is the gearing of the drivetrain by which foot power is transformed to forward motion. There are one-gear bicycles, called fixed-wheel bikes, for those who do not want to get involved in shifting gears at all while riding. Shifting gears is based on the concept that more foot-power is needed when starting and going up hills than is required when moving at speed. Hub gears are the next step up, followed by bikes equipped with dérailleurs or gear-shifters. Dérailleurs with two chain-rings are cheapest and lightest; those with more chain-rings are more expensive, but allow more options for changing gears while riding.
The way in which your shoes fit onto the pedals of the bike are another choice. Some pedals actually attach to your shoe, allowing you to use a pulling motion as well as a pushing motion to power the bike — however, some of these types require a special type of shoe. While we’re talking about additional purchases for your bike, remember that such things as helmets, lights, signal bells, reflectors and bicycle locks may be legally required in your area. You’ll need repair equipment too: one or more spare inner tubes, a puncture repair kit, a tire pump or inflating cartridge and tire levers.
Then there’s the optional accessories to think about: disk brakes, studded tires, passenger seats, GPS computers, water bottles and their holders, mudguards, pannier or saddle bags, gloves and raingear, to name only a few of the multitude of items you can buy for your bicycling experience. You can also customise your bike with different types of seats, fenders, hand-grips and handle-bars. Customisation can go one step further with “comfort” accessories: wider padded seats, shock absorbers and high gear-ratios, to name only a few.
Folding bikes are a good choice when you simply do not have enough room at home to store a full-size bicycle. Then there’s the cruisers — the original cruiser bikes were a type of single-speed road bike, heavy and not at all intended for use on any ride that includes hills. Today, there are deluxe cruisers that are much lighter in weight than the old cruisers — some even have three-speed automatic transmissions, much like a motor vehicle, that shift gears as needed without any intervention needed by the rider. A type of bicycle that’s headed in the other direction when it comes to gears is the chainless bicycle — the bicycle chain is replaced by a one-piece drive-shaft that links the pedals to the gears of the hub holding the rear wheel.
Racing bikes fall into as many categories as there are types of races: motocross, touring, sprints, endurance, to mention a few. Are you simply going to race with the local club or go out for regional road races and time trials? The most important consideration is the sizing of the bicycle frame — does it fit your body type? Make sure the handlebar width is right for you — too short and you impede your breathing; too wide and you have no control over your bike. Don’t just get good tires — get excellent tires.
For mountain bikes, the frame and the suspension are the most important considerations. The frame should be made of chromium-alloy steel, aluminum, titanium or carbon fibre — the welded seams should at the very least be double-butted. A diamond-shape is the preferred geometry for the frame of your first mountain bike; you can progress to more complex geometries as you gain more experience. Advanced mountain bikes come with suspensions on both the front and rear wheels; the less advanced ones that come with a suspension fork only on the front wheel are called hardtails. Look for suspensions that use the Raised Low Pivot design.
If you have a physical disability or some other special need, you can still find alternative forms of bicycles that may work for you. There are recumbent and semi-recumbent bicycles, bicycles with electric-assist motors for the pedals, bicycles with seats for passengers, bicycles with three or four wheels and bicycles designed for heavy loads.
Whichever choice of bicycle you make, be sure to follow the recommended maintenance schedule.