What Kind of Bicycle Do You Need?

You may ask if you really need one of those expensive Mountain Bikes to ride. Well the answer is yes; but not exactly. Most department store bicycles will not stand up to the rigors of off road riding because they are not designed for adult off road use. They will break. Many department store bikes will work if you are a light rider who weighs around 100 pounds. A cheaper bike may also fill your need if you are only going to ride dirt roads or bikes lanes, such as the Chief Ladiga Trail, a converted Rail Road, in Piedmont and Jacksonville. Let me compare a department store bicycle verses an enthusiast quality bicycle:

Most department store bikes, to be referred to as DSB, have steel rims which are very slick and side pull brakes. This combination will not stop the bicycle and are not safe off road.

Most enthusiast quality bikes, to be referred to as Real bikes, have aluminum alloy rims and cantilever or "V" style brakes. The coefficient of friction on an alloy rim is much higher and will stop.

Most DSB has soft un-hardened bearing races in the headset, where the steerer tube from the front fork comes through the frame up to the handle bars. Riding in rough conditions deforms these bearings and cause the headset to loosen. Real bikes have high quality bearings with hardened races and are sealed to keep dirt and water out.

DSB has soft bearings in the bottom bracket where the pedal arms go through the frame. Real bikes have sealed high quality bearings and pedal arms which are separate from the shaft, called the bottom bracket, which goes through the frame.

DSB has very hard and uncomfortable seats. Real bikes should have a seat which sells from $25 at the lower end to $80 or more. Even though they are narrow, after a couple of weeks of riding to get accustomed to the seat, they are in fact very comfortable. There is just no way a seat which would sell for $5 or $10 found on the DSB will ever be comfortable for most people.

Most DSB's will weigh between 34 and 36 pounds. The frames are made from heavy hi-tensile steel, which must be thicker than cromoly. They are equipped with mostly steel components. Real bikes weigh 10 pounds less and have many aluminum components.

In summary a good Mountain Bike should have the following qualities:


If you are lucky or persistent you can find a good used bike which may cost about one half of what the bike would be new. If the bike is 2 or 3 years old and in good condition this is the way to go. After you have ridden for a year or so and want to get a new or better bike, you can usually get most of you money back. You might find a used bike in the paper or at a bike shop. If you find a used bike and are not sure about it, you may be able to visit a bike shop which sells, or even sold that particular bike. Most bike shop operators will be glad to help you any way they can; because another person or family involved in the sport means more customers. Bicycle components have been developing so rapidly a bike over three years old and not be a good deal unless it is cheap. I say this because a new model bike will work better and be better in most ways, than a bike which sold for the same price 3 or 4 years ago was when it was new. Bikes are getting better every year.

Bargains can sometimes be found at the end of the summer on last-model-year bikes when the new models come out; usually about September or October. Bike shops can not afford to discount the price of their new bicycles very much. So don't expect them to except on close-outs at years end when the manufactures discount the bikes to them. The disadvantage to buying a bike this time of year is that the riding season is almost over and bad weather is on the way. Next week it will be last years bike.

A beginner should never buy a bike mail order. Your local bicycle shop will give you a free tune up and adjustment period of 30 to 60 days after purchase. The labor for any warranty work on the components or any of the bike is provided by the shop. The manufactures only provide, in most cases, the parts. If you carry a bike to a shop other than where it was purchased, expect to pay labor for warranty work.

There are many factors to consider when buying an enthusiast quality bicycle. The shop can help you there also. The size of a bicycle is measured by the distance from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat tube, not the wheel size. You must be sure the bike is the proper size for you. Never buy a bike which is too tall for you to ride off road. In fact it would be better to get by with one a little too small for you. Proper fit is a very important ingredient to the fun factor of Mountain Biking. If you want to know more about fit and such e-mail me and I will try to help you if I can.

Written by: Aaron Bruce
May not be reproduced without permission

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