If you think you may be riding on both roads and fairly flat trails, a hybrid bicycle might be right for you. A hybrid combines features from both mountain bikes and road bikes, with a mid-weight frame and tires that are thicker than those of a road bike but thinner than those of a mountain bike. Hybrid bikes cannot be used for very rugged trails.
Finding a good fit
Once you have decided which type of bike you want and approximately how much you want to spend (a used city bike may cost less than $100 [although it will almost certainly need a tune-up, which will cost a few more dollars] while a new full-suspension mountain bike can cost more than $3,000), go to your local bike shop and try some on for size. Most shops, especially those that aren’t part of a national chain, are run and staffed by active cyclists who work there because of their enthusiasm for the sport and desire to help others. They are usually more than willing to help you get started and find the right equipment.
If mountain biking is in your future, you will need to choose between a full-suspension or a hardtail bike. Full-suspension bikes have both front and rear suspension, which allows for a more comfortable ride, but they’re also more expensive. Hardtails have only front suspension. They are lighter and cheaper than full-suspension bikes, and they ride better on smooth terrain, but they are not as comfortable on rough terrain. Some full-suspension bikes have a “lock out” feature that lets you turn off the front and/or rear suspension when riding on flat surfaces.
Before test-riding any bike, have the sales clerk help you pick a bike with the right frame size for your body and also show you how to adjust the seat and handlebars. A properly adjusted bike will maximize both your safety and comfort. To check frame size, straddle the bike with both feet on the ground. You should have 2–4 inches of clearance between the top of the tube and your crotch for mountain bikes and hybrids and 1–2 inches of clearance for a road bike. If the bike has a sloping top tube, which is typical of women’s bikes, measure your clearance from an imaginary top tube.
In addition to examining the height of the top tube, consider its length. The length of the top tube determines how far you have to bend over to reach the handlebars. You should not be stretched all the way out to reach the handlebars. Instead, your elbows should be slightly bent and your back bent from the waist at an approximately 45-degree angle (see illustration here). Riding on a bike with either too much distance or too little distance between seat and handlebars will make it difficult to maneuver your bike. Bikes designed especially for women often fit them better because they take into consideration women’s longer legs and shorter torsos.
Adjust the bike’s seat so that when you are sitting on it with one foot on the pedal close to the lowest position, your knee is bent slightly (see illustration here). With experience, you may decide to raise or lower the seat to suit your riding style. Mountain bikers, for example, typically lower the seat for greater maneuverability.
Next, adjust the handlebars to the appropriate height. You may need to ride your bike several times to find the right handlebar height for you. In general, handlebars typically range from 2–3 inches below the top of the seat to 2–3 inches above it. Your goal is to find a height that is comfortable and that allows you to easily use the brakes and shift gears.
Bike pedals come in several styles these days. Flat, “platform” pedals are best for novices or those who are doing easy riding on fairly flat surfaces. With flat pedals, you can stop your bike and immediately put your feet on the ground without any problem. Pedals with toe straps or cages secure the foot to the pedal and allow cyclists to go faster since they can use their hip flexors to apply power on the upstroke (as well as pressing down on the downstroke). “Clipless” pedals have no straps or cages but require special cycling shoes with cleats on the bottom that lock into the pedals. They, too, allow the cyclist to go faster since he can apply pressure to the pedal for its full rotation. Because clipless pedals take some getting used to, only experienced cyclists should try using them.