Before we get started, a little disclosure. I commute about fifteen miles a day round trip and about three quarters of it is off road. As such, I rock a used Trek WSD mountain bike that several of my friends will tell me I have an unusually strong attachment to (no, it’s totally not weird how much I love my bike…). For me, a mountain bike best suites my purposes. But what about for you?

Mountain, Road or…Other?

Since bikes first became commercial available the types of bikes available has increased dramatically. You have your mountain bikes, your road bikes, your single speeds, your fixies, track bikes, cross bikes, cruiser bikes, touring bikes, hybrid bikes, and the the list goes on. It’s pretty overwhelming trying to decide.

If you have a bike already and are looking to start commuting, the Simple Dollar offers the sage advice that buying something in order to force the development of new behavior doesn’t work. Ok, there are exceptions to the rule but as a general note, if you’ve got a bike make it yours. Fix it, mod it, and outfit it (we’ll cover that next week) to make it your dream bike and not only will you have a gorgeous bike that you’re invested in, you’ll also have saved some cash in the process. Bike enthusiasts are well known for their DIY ethic in making their bikes unique and awesome. If you don’t have a bike on hand, keep reading.

So You’re Gonna Buy A Bike
You don’t have a bike on hand already and you need to get one. Well, slow down for a sec. Who doesn’t lust after a sleek and beautiful carbon road bike that’s Shimanoed to the nines? (I know I do) Unfortunately, bikes like that will almost always run you at least a thousand dollars and not everyone can drop that kind of money. Odds are you want something affordable and practical so here’s your (really) basic primer.

Remember that path you planned out? What type of surface is it on? Are you going to do any riding other than commuting and if so, where? Despite the lengthy list of bikes I mentioned earlier, much of the decision comes down to mountain or road. If you plan on some weekend off road adventuring or if part of your commute is off road, go with the mountain bike. If you’re commuting on the road, go with the road bike (yeah, that was pretty obvious).

Here are some of the less obvious tidbits though: though road bikes are generally a little more expensive, they offer a lighter design with better gear ratios that just eat up hills. A while back I borrowed my brother’s road bike and rode laps up and down a hill that was a challenge on my mountain bike. Because the tires are thinner and higher pressure, they create less friction with the road so you can also hit higher speeds. A number of road bikes come with drop handle bars which allow you to ride in a more aerodynamic position that you simply can’t get with the flat bars of a mountain bike. Unlike mountain bikes though, road bikes don’t do as well with tougher terrain or, in my experience, curbs (having received a three inch scar and a flat tire on two separate occasions on different road bikes in different states). In comparing my mountain bike to my brother’s road bike, we decided that my bike is a (really pretty) tank and his is a Ferrari. They’re different cos we’re looking for different things.

My ideal fix is a cross bike, which combines the awesome gear ratios  and shape of a road bike with the durability of a mountain bike, but just mentioning that in case, you know, someone wanted to give me a bike or something….

If you’re really stuck (or if this sounded like a foreign language), ask your LBS. After all, this is just a primer and there a lot of other factors to think about. Just remember, you’re not looking to buy a bike to force a new habit, but if you’re going to spend money think of your purchase as a long term investment and make sure you’re getting the most out of your money for the style you ride.

Final Thoughts
If you’re buying a bike, try to avoid the spring/summer rush. My brother bought his bike in October and saved almost five hundred bucks by buying last years model that needed to be cleared out for the new line of bikes. Craigslist is also a great resource if you live in major cities, or, if you’re cheap like me, wait til spring when all the people who think a new bike will make them ride more are tossing their old bikes. I got my beautiful ’87 Panasonic road bike (yeah, they make bikes) from someone who had put it curbside. Once given up for dead, this steel stead is still going strong.
Stay tuned for next week when we talk about outfitting your dream bike.

Photo Credit: Thumas Bikes