Choosing your first good bike depends on so many factors. From the right frame size to brand & budget, Abhishek Sareen discusses what to consider when buying a bicycle in this COMPLETE guide.
I’ve been cycling for the past twenty years and have also been in the bicycle trade for a considerable time. During these times, I have been cycling for leisure, fitness and competition. I have ridden various types of bikes like mountain bikes, hybrid, folding and road bikes. Over the years, countless people have asked me for advice on buying a bicycle, and in the due course, I have tried to understand what are their true needs and aspirations behind a bicycle purchase.
There are countless articles and videos that talk about bicycle technology and advise beginners, but they seldom touch on the true needs and objectives of an aspiring cyclist. In the article, I shall try to focus more on those aspects that are rarely discussed. So let’s explore all the things to consider when buying a bicycle one by one.
Your Motivation Behind Cycling
In this bike buyers guide, I will focus on how to buy a bicycle for adults. You could just be out of college or in your first job or facing mid-life crisis, but everybody is trying to achieve some objective when they plan to buy a bike.
The first step is to ask yourself what you intend to achieve in the short term and prioritize your objectives. One can have multiple objectives or goals while buying a bike, our goal here is to recognize and prioritize them. Knowing your true objectives and admitting your motivations can help you make a satisfactory purchase decision.
Weight Loss, Get Lean and Slim
You find yourself overweight and out of shape in front of the mirror. If you have done this, you are on the right path and should be toning down. Whether you found this motivation by yourself, or want to do it for the sake of your family, or for the pretty girl next door, or because of a taunt that you heard in your office, or a mix of all, it’s good that you have made the decision to slim down.
Yes! Cycling is as good as any other sporting activity to tone yourself down, as long as you do it regularly. The good thing about cycling is that it’s not as exhausting as running or jogging. While cycling 4-5km is not a big deal, it won’t even warm up your body properly. You will need to spend much more time to burn some serious calories, so you need to ride at least for an hour or two, and measure your workout.
The good thing about cycling is that when you start caring about your cycling performance, everything is inversely proportional to weight. You will become a strong cyclist only when you lose weight, as the lighter you are, the faster you will go. In the beginning, all parts of your body will hurt, especially your back, shoulders, neck, heels, palms, knees, butts, etc.
However, once you get stronger everything will fall into place. So just don’t give up easily and ride long and ride fast. As the famous quote from legendary cyclist Greg LeMond goes, “It never gets easier, you just go faster.”
Commuting to Work
Commuting to work on a bicycle is very fashionable and makes you stand out among your colleagues. Indian roads may sometimes be bad, but you can always find a way to handle the road situation if you are determined. However, the worse things about Indian road are the traffic sense of motorists and people’s attitude towards cyclists. In my personal experience, cyclists are hated by everyone on the road, the pedestrians don’t like them, and nor do the motorists.
At times, I find that motorists pick on cyclists for no reason, by passing very close to them on purpose. I have had several bad experiences on city roads. Also when you are commuting to work, carrying a laptop could be a problem, as having a backpack is not comfortable for a long duration. But these things shouldn’t deter you from commuting, as there’s always a way.
There can be several small niggles when you plan to commute to work, but these are negligible compared to the social recognition that you may receive in your workplace and neighborhood.
Touring and Exploring
Touring on a bicycle is a superb expedition activity. If you think you have traveler mind-set (and not that of a tourist) a bicycle is great way to explore. However, you should not attempt touring unless you have some understand of about basic bicycle maintenance like fixing a flat tire, tweaking brakes and gears, etc. I would advise you not to go on multiple day tours alone in the beginning.
Exploring your city and surroundings on a bicycle is a very thrilling experience, especially during early mornings and late nights. A lot of local cycling clubs do these city rides, it’s great a great way to explore a new place and socialize.
Spite is one of the biggest motivators to take up cycling, as they say anger is a better motivator than despair. As the current world chess champion Magnus Carlson once said in an interview about what inspired him to take up chess, was he wanted to beat his sister. A lot of people are competitive by nature, and there’s always someone who keeps harping about their cycling escapades and may have irritated you.
You may want to confront them, and thus you want to take us cycling. Now you may not want to accept this, but being competitive is a good thing as long as it makes you fitter. When I was young in my mid-twenties, I once took part in a duathlon that involved cycling and running.
Even though I considered myself to be fit, I realized girls were out-running me, and that shook my confidence and inspired me to give running some serious thought. After that, I invested some serious money in buying pro-running gear like Adidas shorts, Adizero running shoes, Garmin tracker, etc. and started training every day. In the first few days, I could barely run a kilometer, but I kept pushing every day and by the end of the month, I was doing 8 km in 35 minutes.
You many not want to admit it, but most of us are into cycling to create some original content to post on our Facebook, Instagram or Strava profiles. There’s nothing wrong with this, after all everyone seeks social recognition to boost our self-esteem.
Cycling is a much bigger lifestyle sport than you can imagine. It’s the perfect activity to show off your fit and lean body, your expensive pro (looking) light weight bicycle that sponsors a pro-team in Tour de France, color coordinated team racing apparel & sunglasses, your GPS tracked cycling statistics, your cool cycling breaks and destinations pictures with your cool cyclist friends etc. Cycling is the perfect sport for social media, and everyone cheers you for it on there, too!
Once you start cycling, you become talk of your neighborhood. Everyone talks about you in their friend circle. People approach you for advise every now and then for purchasing a bicycle, kids try to compete with you and tell their moms they want a bicycle like yours. People address you as “The cyclist” and if you like this attention, cycling is definitely for you.
Other Factors to Consider when Buying a Bicycle
So now that you are well aware about all possible motivators for you to purchase a bicycle, let me try to address the other things to know before buying a bicycle in India, such as budget, bike category, brand, etc. There are thousands of videos and articles on the technical aspects, but I’ll dwell more on the psychological ones based on the discussed motivators.
Most beginners and aspiring cyclists have a very low budget in mind when they plan to purchase a bicycle. They still have that old twenty-year-old figure in mind. Bicycles have become much more expensive, and there’s no upper limit to how much one can spend. Buying a bicycle is just the start, there are also numerous accessories that you need to purchase like helmet, gloves, LED lights, saddle bags, air pumps, cycling shorts, jersey, etc. The list is simply endless.
Cycling can be a very expensive sport if you want it to be, but it’s more like a hobby. After a point in time, people keep looking for opportunities to spend on cycling once they fall in love with it. So when you plan to buy a bike, don’t resist too much on the budget, but try to involve yourself in understanding the sport and the technology behind it so that and you come to know what you are paying for.
You can find countless videos explaining the tech behind the cycling components, gear and brand image. Researching on all this is very exciting when purchasing a new bike, so try to spend a few days on it.
Functionality and Purpose
One of the most the important criteria for buying a bike is, what kind of bike? Bicycles are broadly categorized as MTB or mountain bike, hybrid or city bike, and road or racing bikes.
They are similar to SUVs. They are heavy and meant to go off-road, however they are mostly ridden inside the city on paved roads. Usually this is the first choice of most novice customers, as these bikes look chunky and strong, can take a beating and can take on bad roads in case they have to.
They ideally have a suspension fork, knobby tire treads and low gear ratios that provide a comfortable ride and are suitable for climbing a mountain. Their down side is that in the city, they are slow compared to city and road bikes.
Hybrid or City Bikes
They are similar to a city sedan. These bikes are a mix of mountain and road bikes. They have a slimmer frame compared to a mountain bike and have slimmer tires with a smooth tread. They are an ideal choice if you plan to ride your bike on paved city roads.
Most cyclists, after purchasing an MTB and riding it for few years, realize that their bike is not very efficient in city roads, opt to purchase city or hybrid bicycle. City bikes have slightly higher gear ratios compared to mountain bikes and a comfortable seating position. There are numerous variants of hybrid bikes, and I would say that this type is the best bicycle for beginners if you plan to ride mostly in and around the city.
Road or Racing Bikes
They are like sports cars. They are light, have a short wheel base, very smooth tire tread, high gear ratios and are meant to go as fast as possible on paved roads. Road bikes are usually bought by cyclists who have some prior experience in cycling. Road bikes don’t have a very comfortable position as compared to MTB and city bikes, as the rider needs to bend their back so that the bicycle & rider can cut through air aero dynamically, allowing them to go fast.
So once you have decided what kind of a bike you want to purchase, what are the things you need to look for? Based on my experience, color is the most important determinant while buying a bike for most cyclists. If they love the color and look of the bike, everything else becomes secondary.
So it’s important that the decision be yours rather than anybody else’s. Owning a bike is like owning a piece of clothing, you are going wear it not your friends. You need to love it, else you will never ride it. Most cyclists would disagree with me here, but having been a cyclist geek for years, I too, fell for the color & graphics when I purchased my most expensive bike.
Brand is something that is often overlooked initially by first time cyclists since they are unaware of the cycling world. While making your first bicycle purchase, it’s very difficult to quantify the bike’s brand value as most bikes look the same to a newbie. The difference is understood only when you meet your other cycling groupies and you understand your position in the cycling community is based on the brand of bicycle you own, which is the unfortunate untold truth that one understands only after purchasing their bicycle.
Bicycle brands spend an obscene about of money on sponsoring pro-teams. I would suggest you check out some competitive cycling events like Tour de France and XC World Championship event to understand a bit about brands.
Since they sponsor teams for publicity and engage with pro-teams, they are updated with the latest trends and technology. Good bicycle brands make technically sound bikes that have good frame geometry, design and latest component technology. So, they are more expensive and their value is apparent in the long term in the form of ride quality and social imagery.
First time bicycle buyers also need to be aware of component grades and variants. Brand like Shimano, SRAM, Rockshox, Fox, Mavic, etc. make components like gear systems, suspension, brake sets, etc. for bikes. These components come in various grades, which are relative to the performance, weight and durability. You can get more understanding by visiting these bicycle component brands’ official websites.
Frame size is a very important aspect in cycling and one needs to understand the concept while making their purchase decision. Just like a shoe, bicycles come in different sizes, too. Mountain bikes and city bikes come in different sizes, which are measured in inches. These sizes are defined and measured differently by different manufacturers and termed as small, medium, large, extra-large.
This is one of the most important things to consider when buying a bicycle. How to choose a bike size? Depending on your height and leg length, you should be able to select the right bike for yourself. I would advise you to try the bicycle out before you make your decision. Frame size is one of the most important things on my list of what to check when buying a bike. When in doubt, always opt for the smaller size.
You can find a lot of videos online about “bike fit” and “selecting the right bicycle frame size” for yourself. Dealers may often push you the bike sizes that are available with them, however try to ensure you find the right size and right fit. Frame sizes are even more important for road bikes, which are measured in centimeters. Having the right frame size and fit according to one’s anthropometry enables a cyclist a comfortable, safe and efficient ride.
So that was my guide on what how to choose a bicycle. Hope my cycling life lesson helps you find the right bicycle for yourself. Cheers!
Abhishek Sareen is a management professional with over 16 years of experience in brand management. He completed his Executive Education from IIM-A in 2016. He has worked in diverse areas like marketing, e-commerce, international business strategy and business consulting.
He is a passionate cyclist and has participated in several endurance races involving of mountain biking like MTB Himalaya, long distance road biking, triathlons and marathons. In his free time, he enjoys behavioral psychology, economics and chess. He also has an interest in geopolitics and noir films. He is also an advisor at Shilpa Ahuja Digital Media. He can be contacted at [email protected]