I Want A New Bike. How Do I Choose the Right One?
Updated: Jan 18
If you are new to cycling or just resuming, you’re not alone – it’s one of the fastest growing fitness activities in Australia at the moment, especially since we can still enjoy a ride and respect social distancing guidelines. But with so many different bikes, sizes and components to choose from, where do you start? And does it really matter? If what you’re thinking is “all I really want is to start riding, oh… and the red one in the shop looks awesome!”, you really best read on as I’m about to save you a small fortune in mistakes.
Yes, it does really matter what choices you make as you begin your cycling journey. The type and size of frame, the components (eg saddle and handlebars)… but NOT the colour… all make a huge difference to whether you are going to be comfortable a month from now on your new bike, or hating every minute of it as you get saddle sores, back pain or something similar. So if you just want to quickly get on something, anything shiny red and fast looking, maybe just pause a moment and keep reading so that you can become a more informed buyer and make a choice that you will be completely happy with later in the year.
Here are some steps you can follow to help make the best choices for you:
1. Decide what you want to use the bike for.
Sounds pretty basic, but there are bikes better suited to:
Road riding (see our post here for the 3 major types of road frames),
Mountain biking (serious off-road stuff),
Gravel bikes (for rail trails or not-so serious off-road),
Cyclocross (basically a race version of gravel bikes),
Commuting (there’s a whole range of sub-choices here, eg. with and without front suspension),
Touring (think riding over several days with panniers and a tent),
Fixed gear and velodrome bikes,
Time trial and triathlon bikes,
E-bikes (for those that want some assistance),
Cargo bikes (maybe you want to take your kids to kindy on your bike and collect the groceries on the way home).
Once you know your personal riding goals I can offer far more specific advice.
2. Come in for a pre-purchase bike fit.
It only takes 30mins and I will help you figure out exactly what you want to buy. As you are by now realising, getting the right sized frame, cranks and handlebars are crucial for your future cycling comfort (for more information see my post here).
Every now and then I see someone who has got this most fundamental part wrong and they are extremely frustrated at having spent a lot of money on a bike that just isn’t comfortable and is never going to be.
Unfortunately it can be common for purchase decisions to be made on measurement of your height alone. This is very risky for a range of reasons:
Two people of the same height may want different positions for various reasons, such as the long distance rider who wants to be a little more upright for comfort and a racer who wants to be a little lower for aerodynamics.
Our bodies are all quite unique, so having the same height doesn’t not mean that your flexibility and core strength are going to be the same as another person, and thus the position you can get into on the bike is not going to be identical.
Similarly, the proportions of your body may not be the same as another person of the same height. For example, you may have long legs and shorter arms and torso, which means your frame choice and crank length might be quite different.
Manufacturers all offer different frame geometries for a given type of bike. This can mean that you fit a “56cm” frame best from one manufacturer or a “58cm” from another.
In a pre-purchase bike fit I measure your flexibility, your body proportions (eg arm to leg length ratio) and teach you how to read modern geometry charts to help you make an informed decision personalised to your body and your personal riding goals.
3. Get a full BIKE FIT:
Once you have used the information contained in your pre-purchase bike fit report to choose a suitable bike and components, then I can perform a truly personalised bike fit that will help you get the best position on the bike you can. This takes two hours the first time I fit you (only an hour if I have fit you before). I will dial your position in based on your goals, musculoskeletal abilities and any other factors you require (such as reducing load on an old injury to prevent recurrence).
If you follow the 3 steps above, you will have your new bike, your position will be well established and you'll be loving your riding.
Down the track remember - you shouldn’t be uncomfortable on the bike. If you are then something’s wrong, and this should trigger a review of your bike fit and/or a review of your body (for example if you have become rather tight since your last fit, this might require a change in your position to remain comfortable). Alternatively, if you compete, your position normally does and should evolve into more of a racing position as your body gradually adapts and becomes fitter, faster, stronger and more flexible. In this way bike fitting enhances performance.
Want to understand more about your body, bike fitting for performance and injury management? Start with this article by David Wadsworth: