To the new riders out there. Finding the right bike can be intimidating to say the least. There are so many choices for bikes that one can get confused, annoyed, or just plain lost. Let us break them all down.
Wait, before we do this, let me make one thing clear. Walmart does not sell quality bikes. They make cheap bikes. Sure you can find a bike for under $100 there, but with bikes, as can be the case with many things, you get what you pay for (so do not be surprised at the cost of these bikes on the list). Many local bike shops (LBS) will absolutely refuse to work on your broken Walmart bike because it is designed to be disposable. Once it breaks, it is so cheap, go buy a new one.
However, if you are not sure you want to ride, or you want to have a bike to hold you over until you find the right one for you, by all means, get a Walmart bike. Just promise me that you will take it to an LBS and have them do a once-over on it to make sure all bolts are tight and brakes are set up ok. I spent 2-hours working on a bike for my niece and I found loose pedals, badly aligned brakes, had to true a wheel, loose handlebars, etc. So after getting that $100 bike, then spending some cash at the LBS to check it out for you, you are not too far from the cheapest “good” bike on my list. So please read on before you decide.
**A side note, I will use the Trek website (www.trekbikes.com) for reference on bikes and pricing. I figured it is a good place for people to start. You can also go to other websites like: Specialized, GT, Fuji, Scott, Cannondale, Globe, etc. I own several Trek bikes. Every bike I have purchased has been put through the paces and still operates flawlessly (with regular maintenance). Just to let you know, these bikes are all competitively priced. So the pricing is very similar between the brands.
1. The Road Bike
The road bike is what you see when you watch the Tour de France. You see all the pro riders sporting the skin tight lycra shorts on bikes that cost over $10,000. I will now wait for you to pick your jaw up off the floor. Yes, bikes get that expensive. I priced out a “dream bike” and it had a sticker price of $13,000. Like I said, it is a dream bike, a dream that I will not let come to reality. If I purchase one of those, please feel free to punch me in my face if my wife did not already.
On the low end of the spectrum, the cheapest Trek road bike they have is a Trek 1.1. This bike comes ready to roll, as in the LBS will check everything over for free, make sure it is somewhat fitted for your height and you can literally ride it out of the shop. The price tag on this bike is $730 (verified at http://www.trekbikes.com). It is an excellent starter bike and holds its resale value nicely (on craigslist) if you wish to upgrade shortly after. Another plus is that the road bike rolls quite efficiently. It has very low rolling resistance, meaning you do less work in the long run.
2. The Mountain Bike
The mountain bike is the main Walmart commuter it seems. They love their mountain bikes. People love them too, which is why they sell so well. Now the mountain bike is nice because you can ride them on or offroad. Not only this but their 26″ wheel is a very common wheel. You can go to Academy, REI, Walmart, Target, etc and find tubes and tires for these bikes. Unlike road bikes, which require a 700c tire that tends to only be available at an LBS (that is why cyclists buy spare tubes and tires to keep at home). However, since the mountain bike runs a 26″ tire, the rolling resistance is more, and the bike tends to weigh more as well. I also want to mention that knobbies are meant for dirt, so please hit up a LBS and get a road tire for the mountain bike if all it will see is road use. It is by far a more efficient tire, meaning you do less work on longer rides, and it grips the pavement much better. That means you will be safer! Speaking of safety, some of these bikes come with disc brakes (like your car). These can handle more abuse and do a really good job of stopping you. Plus they don’t cause wear to your wheel. Something to look into. The low end Trek 3500 runs around $420. It is a great bike, my friend has had his for years and it is still running strong. The cheapest Trek makes is called the 820, it is around $360.
3. The 29-er Mountain Bike
The latest trend in mountain bikes is the famous 29-er. The 29-er (called so by the 29″ wheel measurement) is a slightly wider 700c road wheel with more robust parts. They did this because the bigger wheel rolls over objects better. A simply analogy for this is think of a Ford Ranger trying to go over a curb. It can make it, but is has to slow down, the front end pops up quite a bit, and then it goes over it. Now think of a monster truck with those big tires. The monster truck comes up to it and does not even slow down, pops right over the curb with no probelm. Well that is what a 29-er does compared to a 26″ wheel. The larger wheel helps it roll over rocks and roots with less initial impact than a 26″ and a higher average speed. On the flip side, the bike is slightly heavier and takes a bit more to get it rolling due to the larger wheels.
As a plus, the bike can use mountain bike tires or actual road bike tires. This makes it rather versatile. Also the bikes these days all come with front suspension, so it has more cushion than a road bike. These can come with disc brakes as well. As with anything, extras cost more money, so keep that in mind. I own a Specialized Hardrock Sport 29-er Disc that I snagged for $600 back in the day. The Wahoo is a bike that used to be in Gary Fisher’s lineup. Since Trek purchased the GF line, it now has the Trek brand attached to it. Entry level on the Wahoo is around $560.
4. The Hybrid (a.k.a. Fitness bikes)
The hybrid is much like a 29-er mountain bike that runs road tires. Some come with front suspension like the 29-er, some come with the rigid front forks found on road bikes (to save weight and have better feel). What sets the hybrid apart from the 29-er is that they tend to weigh less, they use road wheels (which are lighter than the 29-er wheels), and run skinnier tires (less friction loss). In short, they could be classified as a road bike with flat bars. Some call these hybrids “fitness bikes”. They are used for people who ride around for fitness or do some commuting. Truth be told, you can commute on any bicycle, some are just easier than others.
The Trek FX series is one of their most popular bikes. They have so many different models a person can get lost. The cheapest, the FX 7.1, is around $470. Many of these bikes accept fenders to help keep road grime and water off you while you ride. This means clean clothes. Also they can accept racks. Place a rack on the back of the bike and a basket or panniers, and you have a great commuter to the store or work!
One thing Trek has been getting positive reviews for lately is its Ride+ system. Essentially it is a battery operated pedal-assist motor (meaning it assists while you pedal, it will not do the pedaling for you). Expect to pay for this convenience, $2680 to be exact. Hmmm, a new bike for me in the future?
5. Comfort bikes (a.k.a. Recreation)
Essentially these are tweaked mountain bikes. Many of these bikes come with the standard 26″ wheels and road tires. They have cushy saddles and some may have front suspension as well. These are meant to just ride casually from point-A to point-B. Unlike cruisers, which we will cover next, these bikes have gears. So you have a wide array of available gearing based on your fitness level, if you are climbing a small hill, or if you are towing a kid trailer behind your bike. My wife has one of these and she loves it. The cheapest line in Trek is called the Hybrid (not quite the same bike as they hyrbid listed above), starting at $360.
Cruisers are what you think they are. Comfortable bikes you just lazily cruise about town on. Most come with a single speed and a coaster brake. No hand brakes. This is much like that first bike you had as a kid (or got for your kids) where you pedal and it moves, reverse the rotation and the bike stops. That is a coaster brake. These can come with fenders, some may not. I have seen a few of these have gearing on them, but most do not. Consider gearing a luxury item. These start at $310 at Trekbikes.com.
7. Fixed Gear (a.k.a. Fixies) / Single Speed
The fixed gear bicycle has been around since bikes were first invented. Essentially the gear is a direct bolt on to the rear wheel. This means that as long as the wheel is moving, the pedals are moving. You know how when you were a kid and pedaled as fast as you could, then stood up on the pedals to enjoy the rush of wind in your face? Well, do not expect to do that here. The fixie would kick you off of it so fast that you will hit the asphalt before you knew what happened. This is a current “fad” bicycle. People who want to look cool tend to ride these, without brakes too. I must admit, I have one of these. However, I have a front and rear brake and I got it for the simplicity, not because I wanted to be cool. The beauty of a fixed gear is that it really makes you think about your pedaling.
My fixie is a Specialized Langster. Currently for a new one it lists for $720. I paid maybe $500 for mine. Trek makes one called a T1 ($920) that is a track bike with no brakes (designed specifically for a velodrome). A street version would be the Trek Earl, which has brakes, for $470. My Langster has what is known as a flip-flop hub. One side has the standard fixed gear, the other side has a freewheel. What that means is that I can run a fixed gear setup most of the time. If I want to be able to coast (like all other bikes), I remove the rear wheel and flip it to the other side. This other side has a freewheel where it allows me to coast. Therefore the pedals are not 100% linked to the rear wheel. It is a nice option for those who want a single speed but want the ability to try a fixed gear.
There are many sub-categories within the list above. Mountain bikes come in different styles and do different things, same for road bikes. Road bikes you have triathlon/TT (time trial) bikes, aero bikes, track bikes (single speed velodrome bikes), and standard race bikes. Utility bikes tend to come with racks all over and can be used to haul loads of groceries or other items across town (look up the Transport at trekbikes.com). They even offer Eco designed bikes. Many of these use materials that impact the environment the least (like cork grips, better paint process, etc). Trek even offers a line of those bikes (starting price: $540). ECO bikes are designed to be recyclable when they have met the end of their life (or if they are damaged beyond repair).
I will also mention the touring bike. The Trek 520 is designed specifically for tour riding. This means packing food, clothes, tools, cookware, a tent, sleeping bag, etc, for a long distance tour ride. You can do this on any bike, but this one is designed for it. The back wheel sits further away from your feet than a normal bike. This allows the panniers (bags that sit on the back of your bike, like saddle bags) plenty of room between the bag and your heel as it rotates on the crank. It is designed to carry the burden of more weight as well, thus handling better. The Trek 520 retails for about $1430. Remember, while that is a lot of money for a newbie rider, this bike is not designed for a new rider. Normally people do not get into touring until they have put some miles under them. Believe me, one day you will consider it if you ever do a ride like the MS150.
I also need to mention, the WSD designation on many of these bikes refer to women’s bikes. They add the tag for easy identification. The last thing many women want is to get a (mens) bike that fits them correctly, but have a top tube (the tube that runs from the handlebar area to the seat) hit them in the girl parts when they straddle the bike. So since many women have a shorter inseam than guys, they have the WSD line that is designed with that in mind.