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Buying a Bike

Written by Bill Kendall

The days are growing longer and milder. One day soon some people will get a bee in their bonnet. Deciding that the time has come for buying a new bike. If that is you, how do you make that purchase without coming to realize, a couple months later, that you’ve made a mistake? You don’t want to ride it because it isn’t comfortable.

Regardless of the type of bicycle you decide on, it must F.I.T. you or you won’t experience the enjoyment you anticipated. Here are some problems to avoid so that you can ride comfortable. These potential problems can be for the most part easily remedied at little or no cost before you head home with your purchase. Seeking a cure later is normally more expensive. A good shop will have someone capable of accomplishing your goal of achieving a good fit, want you to head home happy and come back with your future business. If you are waited on by someone who seems in too much of a hurry to get you correctly fitted, you might indeed need to get out the door – sans would-be purchase and with your finances still intact. Beware, especially at the onset of the spring bike/buying rush, as to whether the person waiting on you can actually help you. The cute chick with the effervescent personality who rode a whopping 49-miles last summer or the guy with peach fuzz dangling off his chin, who is trying to impress you with a stream of bike jargon you don’t understand, isn’t the person you need. A store owner or even the seasoned mechanic will know with whom you need to become acquainted for a good fitting job.

Perhaps, the most frequently heard complaint is that the bikes saddle is uncomfortable/ literally a pain in the butt. Don’t follow up with another mistake. The cure will not be the squishy saddle that looks like it came off a 1949 John Deere farm tractor. We sit on our pelvic bones. The job of the saddle is to support your pelvic bones and there is no one make and model that works well for everybody. Woman’s pelvic bones are generally farther apart than men’s. Consequently, you ladies need a saddle slightly wider than your gentlemen friends require. Just as a whole host of other bicycle components qualify as a vanity purchase so do some high price saddles. In general, though, as one pays more for a saddle, more design effort and better materials have gone into making your rear end comfortable. Comfortable saddles exist. Think, how do those touring cyclists manage to sit on their bikes most of the day, for days on end?

Another frequently heard complaint is discomfort from a rider having to strain to reach the handlebars. When reach is correct, you’ll ride with your elbows bent, slightly relaxed. If you need to have your arms straight to reach the bars, you may suffer shoulder or back pain as well as tired, sore arms. A word of caution, before you can correctly assess reach, you need to be correctly positioned relative to the center of the crankset. That is why you see rails on the underside of the saddle – it can travel back or forward to get to the right pedaling position. Once there, you can assess reach. If you strain to reach the bar you need a shorter handlebar stem. If you feel scrunched up in too little space, you need a longer stem. Some riders may also wish to elevate or lower the bar. Older riders, who still enjoy road bikes with deep handle bars, may find comfort with a stem which angles up a bit more that what seemed comfortable in their youth.

Now, you might wish to consider making your hands comfortable. Drop handlebars are covered with cork tape or a synthetic imitation, which provides hands a surface with some “give” in it. A padded cycling glove is used almost invariably by riders using drop bars. Inexpensive mountain bikes typically come with hand grips lacking any “give.” Often a dual compound grip with an inner foam layer is the key to comfort. The ultimate cure, especially for those who, know they’ve had trouble with numbness in the hands in the past, is an ergonomic grip. These have a sort of air foil cross section with plenty of extra surface area. The part of your weight which rests on the grips is spread over more surface area, hence more comfort results.

An obvious key to achieving good fit is starting with the right frame size. The measurement which is critical here is called “standover height.” You don’t want the top tube of the frame pushing into your crotch. Quite the opposite. You want three to five centimeters of clearance (about an inch and a half or more) variation in frame design, especially with the sloping top tube designs means that there is not one precise measurement that works in all situations. Furthermore, there is variation in how manufactures define frame size. Here it is better to air on the side of generous clearance. The older riders may also want to opt for a slightly smaller frame, good when you’re not so limber anymore. Don’t neglect pedals. Less expensive bikes are often sold with cheesy pedals that barely turn because they have no real bearing in them. These are meant to be thrown away by serious riders. There’s a safety concern, as well. When you are in motion, having a foot slip off a pedal upsets balance and that can be unnerving even if you recover without taking a spill. Pedals with toe clips (which remind us of stirrups on a horse) or “clipless” pedals which lock onto a cycling shoe cleat, (much like certain ski bindings hold a ski boot) functions sort of like a seatbelt for a foot. Caution is advised here for older riders learning to use “clipless” pedals for the first time. You’ll have a tendency to forget to release your foot when you need to make a complete stop, and at a stop sign. If you stay locked in, you’ll fall over. If you are determined to use these, you may want to practice with the aid of a spotter who will remind you of the need to free your foot ahead of your stop. I use all three types, each has its merits.

Once a shop has treated you well in the fitting process, work they don’t charge you for in my experience, don’t be afraid to spend a bit on accessories. You’ll be needing a helmet, a lock and a pump; probably cycling shorts and gloves for additional comfort and a rack to make your purchase of more utility.

Before you leave the store make sure you understand your warranty and when you should return for minor adjustment which need to be made after some “break-in” time, e.g. a wheel bearing touch up.


About the author

Bill Kendall

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