Wheeling and Dealing
by Jessica Novak - Wednesday, November 20th, 2013
Tips to help avoid the pitfalls when selecting the right bicycle

As the holidays approach, some generous spouses and friends might be thinking of their bicycle-crazed loved ones, wondering what the perfect gift would be. So take this advice from someone who knows about the topic: Don’t surprise them by purchasing a bike.

“Buying a bike is like buying shoes,” says Jim Lampman, a sales associate at Syracuse Bicycle. “Different brands and styles fit differently. We want to make sure you buy the right bike the first time.”

People often keep bicycles longer than cars and they’ve proven much more difficult to pick for purchase, Lampman assures. Buyers must also bear in mind the primary use of the bike, a price range and the necessary biking equipment.

Bikes range from cruisers to triathlon models, with the primary differences lying in suspension and body position. Riders on a cruiser sit upright, as in a chair, while they are completely bent over the handlebars when aboard a triathlon bike.

People who are interested in bikes for fitness purposes will most likely be aiming for hybrids or road bikes. Keep in mind, however, that bike types are made for specific purposes. If you get a hybrid, it won’t be as fast in racing as a road bike. But if you want to do trail riding, a road bike won’t just do the trick, either.

Beginner athletes might look into a tri bike, because that seems to make sense for triathlons, yet the tri bike is often not allowed in group rides and certain events. Beginners should start with a road bike before progressing to the tri bike.

Also realize that a road bike’s components are exactly the same from bike to bike. Only three companies in the world make these components, such as shifters, so variations will be seen elsewhere, specifically regarding whether the bike’s frame is created from aluminum or carbon.

Aluminum makes for a very light frame, and it’s likewise light on the wallet. However, it also flexes, with some energy getting lost to stabilize the bike, so riders will feel everything through the bike. Carbon is a stronger material that responds well to stress and shocks, yet the material is still light.

Lampman claims that most people will do best with bicycles constructed with either the bottom two carbon frames or the top two aluminum frames, with prices ranging between $700 to $1,000. The price jumps from there are substantial.

It is also essential to get a bike that fits correctly, taking into consideration not only a person’s height when choosing a size, but also the body’s proportions, specifically the torso and legs. That’s why getting a hand-me-down bike can be very challenging. While handlebars and seats can be adjusted, the right size is essential for comfortable and efficient riding.

“Small changes are needed to make a bike fit,” says spokesman Lampman. “If we have to do anything drastic, it means it’s the wrong size.”

A sales associate will be able to size up both rider and bicycle, then have the rider test-drive the two-wheeler, either outside if weather permits, or inside with trainers.

Don’t forget that proper shoes and pedals are part of the deal. For those who think they can get away with pedals with straps, think again.

“Remember how you used to strap into skis, and now you click in?” Lampman says. “It’s the same thing.”

The firmer you are connected to the bike, the less energy you’ll use stabilizing. Shoes are also made to be very firm, with plastic or carbon soles. The less movement of the foot means less wasted energy rotating the foot and ankle.

If you do use straps, it’s best to have them tight. But the tighter they are, the potential for danger increases because they are difficult to release. Pedals and shoes that click together and snap apart easily with a flick of the ankle are preferable.

“You rotate 400 to 500 times every mile,” Lampman says. “So if you’re dropping your heel with every pedal, maybe 10,000 times on a ride, that’s a whole lot of extra movement.”

For triathlon racers, this is crucial. Biking always makes up the greatest part of the triathlon, so racers who are strong swimmers and runners will still falter to those who are most effective on the bike.

Shoes and pedals range from $100 to $300 together, depending on types. Although it sounds expensive when compared to running shoes, which often cost $100-plus and last only a few months, bicycle shoes generally last a lifetime.

Buying a bicycle during the holidays doesn’t mean it has to sit in the garage all winter, either. Indoor trainers have become increasingly popular; for $200 to $500, you can set up your own bike inside anywhere easily. Various biking groups and programs are also available at gyms or as a part of organizations such as the Central New York Triathlon Club.

“{Indoor biking programs} are a great tool for riders because they allow you to stay acquainted with your bike,” Lampman says. “You don’t have to get a big exercise bike that takes up a lot of room and not ride all winter. You can stay acquainted with your own bike.”

Syracuse Bicycle, which consistently keeps about 500 bikes in stock, has an annual sale to move their excess inventory and make way for next year’s models. From Monday, Nov. 25, through Saturday, Nov. 30, bikes will be discounted up to 40 percent off and clothing and accessories will be up to 75 percent off. For more information, visit syracusebicycle.com or call 446-6816.

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