As biking fever goes high on the temperature scale with more varieties of bikes stepping in to heat up the game, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that we are now living in an era of biking revolution. The bikes are customizable & give us the chance to make them as we want. But, a major roadblock is choosing the right bike for yourself as there are more options now which makes the confusion more confusing. So, if you are confused with the question – which is the right bike for me?, then you are in for a treat. Give this article a read.
History Of Biking
The history of biking is a treasure chest with a lot of details. In fact, getting them altogether in abridged form is a tough thing to do as during the course of history & even in the present, cycles came through & continue to go through a lot of modifications since the day Dandi Horse was invented in Germany by Karl Drais. He named it ‘laufmaschine’ when he invented it in the 1817. Dandy Horse was actually paddle-less & used the riders feet for riding. The rider used to run while sitting & once the maschine had enough speed, the driver used to pull the leg up. The process needed to be repeated when the cycle slowed down. The idea dawned on him after eruption of Mt. Tambora & Napoleonic War where horses were lost due to the hunger of the natural calamity or in war or was killed & eaten by people due to unavailability of food.
This led him to think of something which wasn’t dependent on horses & could be used without any animal aid. Also, due to shortage of horses during war, he thought of making something which could carry the corpses as well as injured soldiers over short distances. Thus came laufmaschine. Drais patented his design in 1818 which made him the inventor of the first ever mobile machine in history to be run & stirred by human & was named Draisine in English.
It was Denis Johnson from England who promised a better design & came up with velocipede where the design was modified in such a way that the wheels became larger without raising the seat height. Things moved ahead with many modifications after that in the 19th century itself with a lot of varieties in bicycle designs making way for tricycles & quadracycles too. There were the French, the Scottish, the English who kept on modifying it.
High bicycles became a new trend owing to the large front wheel for more speed but due to safety issues & few reported accidents, it became a choice for the young who were more in the hunt for adventure. But, the real modification came in the 1880s when the chain & paddle concept found its birth & thus the bicycle was formed. By 1900-1910, France had developed the derailleur concept which was adapted by the British for the racers only in 1930s. However, in the first derailleur, riders had to stop, take out the wheel, change the chain from one derailleur to the other (since derailleurs were two placed on both sides of the wheels.) & then refix the wheel. This sounds a tough process, but at that time, it decreased race times considerably.
Types Of Bikes
To get an idea about the right bike, let us have an idea on the types of the bikes that one can choose from. It is based on the knowledge of this section that you’ll be able to choose your bike type as it will help you to know the types of bikes inside out – riding conditions, purpose, comfort, etc.
- Road Bikes
Road bicycles are for riding fast on smooth pavement, i.e tarmac. They have very slick & skinny tires with “drop” handlebars to allow for an aerodynamic shape. They can be used for on-road racing. Usually, these are lighter than other bicycles. Problem comes on unpaved surface as they are uncomfortable & unstable on unpaved trails. They are also not capable of carrying heavy loads, so you can’t use it for commuting or touring either.
- Cyclocross Bikes
Cyclocross bikes are a special type of road bikes. They are made a bit flexible compared to road box so as to ridden on mixed surfaces like the ones with a combination of pavement, unpaved trails, gravel, grass, etc. They have a drop handlebar similar to road bikes, with wider tyres for more off-road traction. The brakes are different as they prevent mud build-up in the frame.
- Touring Bikes
Another special type of road bike, these are designed to be ridden on pavement, but are more durable for long-distance riding. They have a drop handlebar but are more more relaxed in terms of frame design to make the rider more upright for comfort during long distances for. The gear range is lower compared to regular road bikes. They make good commuter bicycles, because of their durability & ability to carry heavy loads.
- Adventure Road Bikes
Adventure Road Bicycles are into the nascent series of bicycles. The form the most versatile sub-category of road bike. They have drop handlebars & the ability to use wider tires. The frame geometry is longer & more upright compared to a cyclocross bike. These bikes are suitable for long days in the saddle, light touring & commuting.
- Triathlon/Time Trial Bikes
Road bikes which are more aerodynamically supreme come in this category. Handlebars are also of aerodynamic design that allows the rider to come into airfoil shape while riding to minimize the wind resistance against the body. These are usually not allowed in mass-start races.
- Fitness Bikes
Having most of the advantages of regular road bikes, these lightweight framed & narrow tyre bikes are for efficiency on pavement with a flat or upright handlebar. These are light, high-performance bikes without the drop-handlebar riding position of a regular road bike. These are also called flat-bar road bikes or performance hybrid bikes. They can accept wider tires too to make them suitable for use on unpaved trails. They usually have the ability to mount cargo racks & fenders making them good commuter bikes.
- Track/Fixed-Gear Bikes
These are designed to be ridden on a velodrome. They feature a simple design which makes them easy to maintain. They are a single speed & thus lack the speed adjustment. Most track bikes have drop handlebars with some riders preferring flat or upright handlebars.
- Mountain Bikes
Designed for riding rough off-road trails, these have flat or upright handlebars with a very low gear range for pedaling up steep trails for stability & control but not speed. They have shock absorbers or suspension for the irregular mountain trails. Mountain bikes with front suspension only are called hardtails; with both front & rear suspension are called full-suspension or duallies while the ones without suspension are called rigid. These can be used as touring or commuting bike but will lack the lightness & efficiency of traditional touring or commuting bikes. Fat bikes, with their extremely wide tires, come under the mountain bike category.
- Hybrid Bikes
With large, padded seats & upright handlebars, these provide a comfortable riding position & are best for casual riding around the neighborhood or bike paths, short-distance commuting & around the town rides. These can be ridden on paved roads but are not as lightweight or efficient as road bikes & are ideal for paved or unpaved bike trails. But, you can’t go with them on rough off-road mountain bike trails. The tyres are medium-width with a semi-smooth tread to provide a fairly smooth ride on pavement. These have front suspension mostly but some are fully rigid too.
- Dual-Sport Bikes
A subcategory of hybrid bikes, these allow multi-surface versatility of a hybrid bike along with a little more aggressive style & riding position. With flat or upright handlebar, they usually have a smaller & a more performance-based seat & not a comfort seat. They have front suspension.
- Cruiser Bikes
Similar to hybrid bikes, they are designed for casual riding & have comfortable & upright riding posture with a large, comfortable seat. These have wide “balloon” tyres. These are mostly single-speed or 3-speed & have the old-fashioned coaster brake (where you pedal backwards to stop).
- Flat-Foot Comfort Bikes
Flat-Foot Comfort Bicycles are a subcategory of cruiser bikes with elongated frame design that has the pedals a few inches ahead of the seat. This allows to ride with the seat low enough so that one can place the feet flat on the ground when still. You’ll get the full extension of the legs while pedaling.
- City Bikes
You can also call them “commuter” or “urban” bikes. This bike has characteristics of both a hybrid bike & a cruiser bike with upright riding position of a cruiser & the wheel size of a hybrid bike. A city bike also allows for riding in regular clothes.
- BMX Bikes
These small-size cycles are popular with kids. They are used by adults & kids alike for various styles of trick & stunts.
- Folding Bikes
Ideal for those who need to travel with their bike & want a bike to keep on their boat or plane, live in small apartments & don’t have a lot of space. They can be taken on a bus or train too. Most folding bikes have smaller wheels making them a little less efficient & tough to handle, but, people develop a habit of it slowly.
- Recumbent Bikes
These have a long, low design & a full-size seat with a backrest & are available in two-wheel & three-wheel designs.
- Tandem Bikes
These are the ones built for plus one cases where two people ride & pedal. They come in racing variety too.
- Adult Tricycles
These are ideal for older folks who still want to ride on their own & the ones with balance issues. They are also used in environmentally-conscious industrial/warehouse section.
The Frame Material
Coming to the frame material, it is an equally important thing to be kept in mind. The style of riding, rider’s weight, sense of adventure are all considered in the choice of material.
- Carbon (High-Tensile) Steel
Steel is the most commonly used material in bike frames. It is strong but isn’t as light as it should be.
- Chromoly Steel
Chromoly is a variant of steel & is lighter & stronger steel which can last for years of hard use.
Aluminum is now a less expensive & very widely used frame material in today’s bikes. It’s light, strong & stiff.
Lighter than steel but just as strong, this goes a bit high on the price list & comes with high-end road or cross-country mountain bikes. Some high-end bikes use this metal itself as a shock absorber. The cost is due to the costly process of extracting & shaping up the material into the frame.
- Carbon Fiber
Made out of a bundle of parallel continuous fibers bound together with glue creates a ply. Several plies are then stacked to form a laminate. If designed right it can be very tough. It’s also light. The fact that metal can bend & regain its shape is what makes it last. Because of this, carbon fiber bikes are built even stronger than needed.
Considerations While Choosing the Frame
Manufacturing processes & market trends for bicycle frame is changing constantly. The process of butting is still used in the manufacture of bicycle frames. But, steel is being replaced more and more by aluminum which is growing cheaper every year. So what should one look for in a frame? The answer is right below:
Striving to shave off the weight from frame designs, manufacturers have employed all sorts of exotic metals & methods. The price of your bike is inversely proportional to the weight of your bike. The higher you pay, the lighter it weighs.
Aggressive angles lead to aggressive ride characteristics while relaxed angles lead to more casual ride characteristics. Choose it based on your riding time. If you ride a lot & aren’t interested in attacking the road or trail, you are definitely choosing a relaxed geometry of about 70 or 71 degrees on the head tube. More aggressive bikes have a head-tube angle of 72 or 73 degrees.
- Plain-Gauge Tubing
Even with advances in materials, manufacturing processes & design, the best frame tubing for the buck is plain-gauge. These are tubes are straight & strong & easy to manufacture at the same time. As a consequence, they are cheaper. Though the plain-gauge tubes weigh more than butted tubes the difference is only a matter of three or four pounds. For casual riders enjoying the town or trail & not attacking mountains or slopes, this weight difference is of no consequence.
The goal of any good bike manufacturer is to put the material where you need it. And you need the material where the bike frame undergoes the most stress – at each end of the various tubes. This process is known as butting. Butting can be both internal & external.
Internal Butting – Looking at the tube, you won’t notice butting because it’s hidden within the tube. Don’t worry if you’ll know it or not since the bike manufacturers will certainly tell you, as it’s a big selling point.
External Butting – The older, more expensive way is to add material onto the outside of the tube. This is rarely done anymore. However, you sometimes will see an extended weld.
There are essentially 3 ways to join frame tubes:
- Weld them using the same material as the tube (TIG welding).
- Brazing the tubes together using silver or brass.
- Using lugs to join the tubes.
Each method has its own pros & cons but most high-end bikes use TIG welding method. This approach is relatively inexpensive & creates a good, solid weld. On close observation, it will be seen that quality bikes have a thick weld that goes around the entire tube. On department store bikes the welds are thin.
Extended Welds is a way of adding material to the end of a tube to simply add welding material. Generally, this is an elliptical circle or a double line extending from the joint to about an inch or so down the tube where it fades out. What’s the problem with this method? The heat used in this process can actually weaken the tube. After welding, manufacturers will again heat-treat the entire tube—baking it, essentially—to bring the metal back up to par. While effective, this is a less substantial method than actually building the butting while the tube is being drawn out.
Getting The Bike Fit
Everyone’s body is different. Many of us have long legs & short torsos. Women find it tough to reach out to their brake levers due to their small hands. People even have injuries & other issues in the body due to which the bike setup will vary considerably from person to person. This would lead to changes in the comfort, efficiency & power levels – which are the main factors to be considered while getting the bike fit. Since, bicycles are extremely flexible in terms of re-configuration as well configuration based on our interests, every part of a bike can be adjusted based on our choices to make things better. This is what bike fit is – getting the bike into a configuration from the beginning to the end that fits a rider, i.e., suits his or needs & aspirations from it. Bike fit is necessary based on the following considerations components:
- Enhancing rider’s comfort
- Make it safe & injury free
- Setting a comfortable saddle
- Reducing pain
- Enhancing efficiency to reduce rider fatigue
- Performance improvement as a whole.
Coming to the problem first will make things more relatable & understandable. Wrong bike fit might seem to be something that you can adjust with but to be frank, it is adjustable only for a ride or two. In the long run, it is extremely harmful for the body. Borrowing bikes & running them over for a short duration from our friends & siblings can be adjusted with when it comes to wrong bike size. If the bike fit is wrong, serious consequences like Erectile Dysfunction, Sciatica, Hemorrhoids, etc. are in store for any rider. Hence, getting the right bike is all the more necessary with proper research & trial.
Gearing System’s Knowledge
While some bikes have gearing systems, some don’t. You might have heard bikes being one-by, two-by, three-by chaining, seven-speed, eleven-speed, etc. This is actually about the gears. Single speed bikes have no gears at all. The front cogs which rotate with the pedal are called chainrings or front gears. The rear wheel cogs are called cassettes or rear gears. The control lies on the handles in bikes. While on some bikes they come as rotating dials, the forward & backward rotation of which results in the increase or decrease in the gears, most have levers at the handlebars on both left & right side (left for front gears & right for rear)
The gear is the same lever which is used for brakes mostly. In brakes, we press the lever towards us while for shifting gears, we push them sideways till the click sound or the chain changing its cogs can be heard. But since they are on both sides, let us explain them both to you:
- Left hand:
It is the control centre for the front gears or derailleurs. It moves the up & down the chain rings. These levers are used when sudden changes in terrain come your way & cause big jumps in gears.
- Right hand:
It is the zone for the rear gears/derailleur where the chains of the cassette go up & down. These levers, as opposed to the front derailleurs, are for small adjustments to the gears when there are slight changes in the pathway.
- Big lever:
There are two shifters, one serves as the brake plus the gear raiser & the other is a small lever (explained further). This is the larger of the two shifter levers & moveS the chain into larger rings. Hence the name big lever.Shifting into the larger rings with the RIGHT hand makes make pedaling efforts EASIER, however there’s not much of a speed. Shifting with the LEFT hand will make it HARDER to paddle but gives better speed.
- Small lever:
The smaller of the two shifter levers moves the chain into smaller rings. Hence, it’s called so. Shifting into smaller rings with the RIGHT hand makes pedaling HARDER. Shifting into the smaller gears with the LEFT hand renders pedaling EASIER.
Tips For Biking
Having known all this, choosing a bike will be much easier now. We covered all that we could & hence we want to add the final list of tips that one must follow while venturing out for biking:
- Always ensure having the correct bike fit on your bike. Each brand has its own bike fit chart where they suggest the bike fit based on the height. Due to difference in bodies, minor changes are possible but, always prefer the bike fit. Instead of buying on your own, go for some store where a professional would guide you properly. As long you have a bike that fits, you’re good to go.
- Safety has no compromise, be it riding a bike or a jet. Make sure to have a helmet, glasses, bike shorts (padded in the crotch & butt to save men from ED, yes, we’re serious) along with a seat bag with a spare tube, multi-tool & an inflation device. In case you’re riding snow or dessert, choose bike gears accordingly.
- Cycling gloves, chamois cream, bike shoes & pedals which clip together, a trainer & a bike computer come as optional additions. These aren’t compulsory, but having them will be beneficial especially if you’re riding for long durations or special trips.
- Little knowledge isn’t always dangerous. Knowing the small but important stuff like changing tyre, pumping it, etc. can save you from a lot of trouble in case of breakdowns.
- Obeying the rules of the road is equally necessary. Going for routes where there are dedicated cycle trails is very much important. If it’s a road biking trip that you chose, stop at every stop sign & red light. Be a good, law-abiding citizen.
There’s really nothing much left to be covered around to answer your questions as the entire biking chapter has been laid down in the shortest possible format to give you an idea. Some things mentioned might not be understandable to you, but, when you go out to buy, you’ll figure them out yourself. Even if you’re confused & can’t figure out stuff, ask the expert salesperson in the store. The guidance will be genuine & informative.
The market is rapidly changing too & now, all brands are coming with women’s special bikes so as to make things easier for women. There are dedicated size charts, difference in designs to make it convenient for female riders. Thus, we can see that the scenario is making everything possible by resolving all problems. So, go out, buy your bike & make merry as you pedal.