How to buy a bike

By: Nancy Won

Author: Canadian Living


How to buy a bike

By: Nancy Won
Whether you're riding your bike to work, hitting the local trails with your family or racing down long stretches of highway à la Lance Armstrong, cycling is a great way to get reacquainted with cardio, work up a sweat, boost your heart rate and have fun while you're at it. When it comes to working out, there's no better motivation than seeing how far you've come ... in kilometres and in health.

But not all bikes are created equal so it's important to understand your options and know what you're looking for depending on your lifestyle. Before you hit the road, check out our guide to the three main categories of bicycles, plus tips on how to find the right ride for you.

Utility bikes
For busy office types who don't have the time to hit the gym, riding to work is a great way to sneak in a daily workout, not to mention save money and avoid traffic jams. If you want to trade in your car keys for a two-wheeler, you're best bet is a utility bike, which is designed for commuting and basic getting around. They also tend to have more of a classic European cruiser look (graceful lines, easy step-through frame, comfortable handlebars, etc.) making them a lot more fashionable than your average bike. For the ultimate utility bike, look for…

Safety: One of the key features of a city bike is a comfortable, upright position so you can look above traffic and see what's coming up ahead of you. "Most Canadian streets weren't paved with cyclers in mind so the safer the bike, the better," says Eric Kamphof, manager of Toronto's Curbside Cycle, which specializes in European imports including Dutch bikes from brands like Tavis, Pashley and Biomega – considered the world's experts on city riding.

Clothing-friendly: If you're going to be riding to work, to dinner or even the theatre, chances are you won't be wearing spandex so unless you want to roll up your pants to avoid grease stains and rips, look for a bike with fully covered chains and gears to protect your clothing.

Outdoor storable: Living in Canada means putting up with wet and snowy conditions and if you live downtown, limited space means your bike will have to brave the elements. Make sure yours has a rust-resistant frame and parts as well as internal brakes and gears. "It will cost you more upfront," says Kamphof, "but it'll make for a cleaner running bike, which can significantly lower your maintenance costs."

Page 1 of 2Recreational bikes
If you're tired of going nowhere (literally) in your spin class but aren't interested in city riding, take your workout to the great outdoors with a recreational bike, where the experience becomes more about having fun and less about transportation. A more rugged terrain demands a more rugged bike and most recreational bikes fall into the category of hybrids, which are a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike. So, whether you plan on taking your bike out to the cottage, going on a picnic in the ravine or riding the paths in the River Valley system in Toronto or the Gatineaus in Montreal, recreational riders should look for…

Multi-tasking: Recreational bikes need to be able to tackle all different terrain from paved roads to dirt paths to steep hills and valleys, so a bike with lots of gears (21 to 27 speeds), intuitive shifting and powerful brakes is golden.

Easy to transport: Full steel bikes are great for city riding, but their weight can range from 19 to 40-plus pounds. Lightweight carbon or aluminum frames make for easy transport and better efficiency without being too sluggish on the trails. A good recreational bike will also have easy-to-remove wheels so you can get it into your car quickly.

Performance bikes
When your desire for a basic workout turns into high-performance athleticism, it's time to upgrade to a performance bike, which is designed for competitive use and optimal performance. Whether it's a high-octane mountain bike or a Tour de France racer, each has its own set of haves and have-nots…

Mountain bike: These are off-road bikes meant to circumvent obstacles (also known as trees) as you go up and down rocky hills, covered in thick mud – it's less about comfort, more about surviving the ride. The ultimate mountain bike is super-lightweight, highly maneuverable, with lots of gears to get you up and down hills and a suspension fork to take out some of the bumps.

Road bikes: Made for distance, road bikes are what Kamphof describes as "point and shoot bikes." Designed for longer rides of 50 to 100km in a pretty well straight line, maneuverability (and an ability to take a beating) is less relevant here. Both mountain bikes and road bikes put you in an aggressive, performance-optimum position that optimizes your body's ability to produce power and longevity, so you can go further, faster.

Read more:
Secrets of a streetwise cyclist
Great cycling getaways
Active family games

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How to buy a bike