Resources: Finding the Right Bike

This blog post is part of a new series by our bike ambassadors. It’s dedicated to presenting tips that will encourage new riders to get started. We’ll link these posts on our Resources page, forming a library of tips for beginning cyclists.

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No matter how you want to use it—whether it’s riding to work or venturing out on trails on the weekends with your family—it’s important to have a bike that feels right. This post discusses some important factors in choosing a bike that’s right for you.

There are so many types and styles of bicycles that it’s easy to get overwhelmed when trying to find a match. Some things to consider when picking out a bicycle include:

Budget: How much do you want to spend on your bicycle?
Terrain: Where will you be riding? Mostly on rocky trails? Smooth road surfaces?
Distance: How far will you be riding regularly?
Purpose: Do you want to use your bike for exercise? Errands? Touring cross-country? Commuting?
Parking/Storage: Will you be leaving your bicycle parked outside or are you able to bring it inside?

Ultimately, it doesn’t necessarily matter what type of bike you choose to ride as long as you are comfortable. If your bike does not fit you properly, is in poor shape, or causes you discomfort, you won’t want to ride it!

How do I determine what size bicycle fits me?
While not every style of bicycle has the same geometry, there are a few easy ways to determine whether or not a bicycle will fit you properly. Once you have a bicycle that generally fits your body type, there are many other adjustments that can be made to ensure the most comfortable and efficient ride.

Be sure to pay attention to your standover height. To test a bike’s standover height, throw your leg over the top tube and straddle the bicycle. For bicycles with a top tube parallel to the ground, there should be about one inch of clearance between you and the tube. For a slightly angled downward top tube, you can expect to see about two inches of clearance. Some hybrid bicycles and many comfort styles, the top tube won’t be nearly as close to your body.

Learn more about standover height from Sheldon Brown and REI.

The black arrow indicates standover height. Image via REI.

Where can I purchase a bicycle?
Any bike shop in the area will be happy to help you find a new bicycle that suits your needs and fits your body size. Shops are a great place to go for a test ride and find out what type of bicycle works best for you. Try out a couple different shops before purchasing your bike, since each one offers different brands and styles. Purchasing a bicycle is an investment, so choose wisely. Check out our list of area bike shopshere.

There are a few shops in Maryland and Virginia that sell used bikes, but current regulations prevent D.C. shops from doing the same. Craigslist is your best bet for secondhand purchases in the District. Make sure you know the size and type of bike you’re looking for before you begin your search. You might determine your preferred size by test-riding bikes in bike shops.

I’m Still Not Convinced.
Maybe you’re still not sure what type of bicycle is right for you. Another great option in the D.C. region is Capital Bikeshare. The system has over 200 stations and 1800-plus bikes for you to rent in half-hour blocks. If you’re not sure how frequently you’ll use a bike, Bikeshare is a good way to figure out if you’d like to commit to buying one of your own.

What If I’m Not Confident Riding a Bike?
We’ve got a class for that! Our City Cycling classes teach new and experienced riders alike how to ride in traffic. If you don’t know how to ride a bike, our Adult Learn to Ride classes are a great option. Winter is coming, so our education offerings are slowing down, but be sure to check our calendar to see if something is coming up.

For more information on bike fit, see REI’s breakdown of types of bikes and riding and Simply Bike’s detailed first steps for fit. This slideshow is also a good introduction to bike fit in general. Competitive Cyclist has a DIY fitting process for those looking for a bike for athletic pursuits. And you can geek out with Sheldon Brown’s extensive explanation of dishonest frame sizing.