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On Biking: how to buy a bike

Posted by Your Town  May 7, 2012 09:38 AM

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My friend Robyn has always enjoyed cycling. For years she’s owned a series of hand-me-down bikes that did the job but just didn’t fit properly. This year she was ready for a new bike, one that fit and was fast and reliable. And preferably red. “So what do you think I should buy?” she asked me. Here’s what I said.

We began by talking about what kind of riding she hoped to do. Lance’s racing bike is perfect for climbing the Alps but utterly useless on a rutted dirt trail. Likewise, a commuter bike is just the thing to have for getting around town, but if you plan on doing a triathlon it will slow you down.

What this boils down to is that there are three basic choices for bikes: a road bike (or racing bike for those of us of a certain age), best suited for riding long distances, a mountain bike, ideal for riding on trails, and a hybrid (also known as a commuter) bike, what many of us use to tool around town.

No one bike can do all three. This means you either have to specialize, compromise, or own more than one bike. If owning more than one bike is an option, there are formulas for arriving at the ideal number (two of my favorites are: n+1, where n=the number of bikes you currently own, and p-1, where p=the number of bikes that will make your partner mad).

Robyn assured me she was only looking for one bike for now (that’s what they all say at first).

I respected her decision to start with only one new bike. After we talked about different scenarios it became clear that a hybrid would best fit her needs.

The next step in buying a bike is to figure out how much you want to spend. If you haven’t bought a bike in a while take a deep breath: you can drop anywhere from $300 up to $10,000 (or more) on a bike. If that’s not in your budget you can always use Hubway, Boston’s bike sharing program. You can also purchase a used bike, though it’s important to make sure that the seller can provide a receipt. That way you won’t inadvertently buy something that’s been stolen.

Once Robyn came up with a budget we talked about fit. The bottom line is this: make sure your bike fits comfortably. Fitting is both an art and a science. Fortunately most local bike shops will have someone who can determine what size is right for you.

By now Robyn was ready to try out some bikes. I suggested that she look at no more than three in one day and make sure she wasn’t rushed. Any more than that and she’d run the risk of being overwhelmed and less happy (also known as the tyranny of choice).

Robyn gave herself over an hour for an initial test ride. That way she’d have enough time to make sure that the bike of her dreams was truly the bike of her dreams.

All of this meant that Robyn needed to head over to her local bike shop. This is one of those times when virtual just won’t cut it. Fortunately, Boston is blessed with a plethora of bike shops. All of them have their own character, their own vibe, which means that there’s sure to be one that will work for you.

Once you’ve found the bike of your dreams, make sure to accessorize it. Lights? Definitely. A bell? Yes, especially if you’re riding around town. A mirror and a helmet? Absolutely. A lock? But of course. But what about streamers? I say yes, as long as they match the color of your bike.

After lots of conversation, a few test rides, and a week of “thinking it over,” my friend Robyn is now the proud owner of the bike of her dreams. Her only regret is that it’s not red.

Jonathan Simmons is a psychologist and an avid cyclist. His book, “Here For the Ride” will be published later this year.

Readers: tell us your bike buying tips.

Looking for something to do? Why not join MassBike’s Train Day Ride on May 12th, at 9am. It’s a 25 mile bike ride that includes lots of sightseeing with train stations.

On Sunday, May 13th, there’s the Blessing of the Bikes. The service is at 5pm at Hope Central Church at 87 Seaverns Avenue in Jamaica Plain. From 3-5pm the Boston Cyclists Union will provide free bike repairs at 633 Centre St. in Jamaica Plain.

The Christina Clarke Genco Foundation is hosting a Mother’s Day Memorial Ride that starts at Newton City Hall. The ride will commemorate Christina Genco and raise funds to support affordable housing, safe biking, and women’s lacrosse. A great ride for cyclists of all abilities, designed to support a great cause.

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