Q: What kind of bike should I get?
A: You’ve got good timing because the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s Great Orono Bike Swap is today at the University of Maine. Next Sunday, you can find a used bike at the Great Portland Bike Swap at the University of Southern Maine. You can get a deal on a pre-pedaled bike or sell the unused bikes taking up space in your garage.
Once you get there, you’re going to be asked the same question you would hear while shopping for a new bike in a bicycle shop: “Where are you planning on cycling?”
John Grenier, owner of Rainbow Bicycle in Auburn for 11 years, wants to know if you’re going to be riding roads or trails. Are you going to compete in triathlons or casually ride in groups? Will you use the bike to commute to work or ride on bike paths on weekends? “There’s not really one bike that’s going to do all that,” says John. So you need to choose something built for the type of riding you want.
For example, mountain bikes are heavy, built to stay together while rolling over roots, rocks and such. The tires are fat and knobby so they gain a lot of traction and transfer a lot of power on softer surfaces and steep inclines. Yes, such a bike will work on the road. But all that steel and rubber will make pedaling harder than it needs to be.
Don’t even think of taking that sleek, light road bike on a trail. But because it’s light and the thin tires are smoother, it will need less effort to pedal on pavement.
There’s a good chance you’re going to be happy with a hybrid bike that can do well on trails and pavement. You’re not getting the best bike for the conditions, but you will be able to use it on different terrains.
The hybrid bikes generally allow you to sit upright. The frames are made of aluminum. That keeps the weight to 27 to 30 pounds. Remember the bikes you rode as a kid? It’s likely they weighed more than 40 pounds. Besides less weight, you have “less worry about rust or corrosion,” says Grenier. The aluminum is pretty durable.
And you’re looking for 21 speeds. Those are enough gears to handle the terrain you will be riding in New England. Flatter states — such as Florida — don’t require so many speeds. Some expensive bikes add gears. That’s just giving you more options between the easiest and hardest gears to pedal. Anything more than 21 “is not worth it for beginners.”
And there are a couple of mechanisms for shifting between all those gears. Either you twist a grip shift on the handle bars or move levers. Either is pretty simple to operate. Try each out to decide which you will like better.
What’s really important is that you get a bike that fits your body. Grenier says a pricey bike isn’t going to be better for you if it’s the wrong size. “You’re better off buying a less expensive bike that fits you,” he says.
Yes, you can adjust the seat. but that doesn’t make a bike one-size-fits-all. Have a sales rep help you pick the right size. Then take it for a test ride in the parking lot.
After you pick a bike, Grenier lists a few more things you should buy. The No. 1 accessory is almost a requirement. You need a helmet that comfortably fits your head. If it’s not comfortable, you’re not going to wear it.
Second, John says you need biking shorts. No, they’re not just for racers or hardcore cyclists. John says there’s some padding in the seat that will make a big difference in comfort. “If you’re going to ride a couple times a week, definitely get a pair of cycling shorts,” he says. And they’re made of synthetic wicking fabrics that will keep you dry.
“Invest in the most expensive shorts you can afford,” says Grenier. “Your bottom will thank you for it.”
Speaking of cycling shorts, Grenier says not many people realize that they’re designed to be worn without underwear. Apparently he sees that a lot. Probably cuts down a lot on the comfort.
The third item Grenier says you need is a bag that fits under the seat. It can hold a spare tube and tools for fixing a flat or making adjustments. It would be nice to fit a cell phone and money in there too.
Grenier says “lights are not a big deal unless you plan to ride at night.”
One last thing about getting started in biking. Grenier recommends joining a local cycling club. They’re all over the state and can be great places to learn a lot about biking. “Help you avoid beginner mistakes,” he says.
Carl Natale is a Registered Maine Sea Kayak Guide and freelance writer who rides a hybrid bike. You can read more about his adventures at CarlNatale.com and send questions to: