What Bike to Buy?
My friend Lee asked me for input on buying a bike. He is mid 70’s, in good shape and has ridden quite a bit. His goal is to start riding a little more to augment his walking schedule: a big concern is safety. When you fall off a bicycle at our age, something bad is bound to happen. He will not be off-roading, however maintained gravel trails should be an option. Pavement will be the prevalent use. Budget is $500+. What bike and accessories would be appropriate?
My recommendations are organized by category:
- Mountain bike frame (wide tires, conventional handlebars, upright seating position, shocks)
- Name Brand manufacturer (Trek, Specialized, etc)
- Disc Brakes (also a safety item)
- 29″ Wheels (also a safety item)
- Puncture resistant tires (Armadillo Fast Trak)
- Trigger Shifters
- Disc Brakes
- 29″ wheels
- Mild ‘off-road’ tread pattern
- Warning bell
- Handlebar stem extender (adjustable)
- Suspension seat post
- Ergon custom grips with bar end
- Toe-clips with straps
- Fork shocks
- Kick stand
- Clip-on rear fender
Comments and suggestions:
29″ wheels roll over pavement cracks better than 26″. There is still a discussion in the biking community about wheel size. One of my friends had an off road accident (requiring shoulder surgery) and suspected his 29″ wheels were at least partly to blame. Do your homework and research this yourself. For me, all it took was one ride around the parking lot to feel the difference in rolling smoothness. Bigger is actually safer, for me on the potholey paved roads where I ride.
Tires need just enough knobbiness to get traction in gravel and even sand. But not too much. Smoother tires make pavement riding speedier and less work. Continental and Armadillo both make tires resilient to flats. They are worth it, having a flat is a downer, specially if you’re miles from home. More than likely, the right bike for you will not have the tires you will want. Ask the dealer to change them out before you commit, he may do it for free. (The choice of 29″ tires is somewhat limited)
Not recommended are the twist grip shifters. Once you are familiar with the click shifters and have them adjusted correctly, you will appreciate their precision. The twist shifters are also a bad choice if you ever plan on standing up to pedal. (See toe-clip comments)
Disc brakes are a great upgrade if you are riding in hilly terrain. No need for hydraulic – mechanical discs work fine and one less thing to get out of whack. They give you confidence at the top of a half mile downhill. Even on a smoothly paved road, I will use the brakes to keep my speed under 30 mph. Which means I may be riding the brakes for quite a ways. Disc brakes are a big safety item for me with the hilly terrain.
The bell is what I use to warn walkers on the trail ahead. Makes just enough noise and lasts for a second or two so they can realize it’s a bike coming. Nothing works better, I’ve tried others. Saying ‘on your left’ sometimes works, sometimes does not. Many (older) folks just can’t hear unless you yell, plus, they are not paying attention. A bell always works.
Comfort items are optional. My opinion is I will want to ride if it’s going to be fun and the bike is comfortable. The seat post suspension removes just a little of the jarring on a rough road. Same with front shocks. The funny looking rear fender clips around your seat post and keeps your back dry when you ride in the rain or through a puddle.
Toe clips (cage) vs. ‘clipless’ (with shoes). I’ve had both, gone back and forth. To stand up and pedal safely, you will need one or the other. When I had two bikes, clipless were on the road bike, cages on the mountain bike. This is only my experience, but I think the cages are easier to get out of, therefore safer. With the clipless, I have taken a spill in the garage, and later when coming to a surprise emergency stop. Falling sideways with your feet on the pedals is embarrassing and it hurts. The cages let your feet move slightly, whereas the clipless lock you into one exact position.
With the cages, I leave the straps loose and just use the pressure from the composite resin baskets to keep my shoes in place. Clipless require special shoes, and therefore if you stop and take a walk, you are in weird bike shoes not meant for walking/ hiking. If you get new pedals, let the dealer install them correctly.
Comfort grips. I recommend the Ergons. They are a unique shape, which spreads the load across more of your palm. On longer rides, this one change has made all the difference for me. The short end bar allows you to move your hands out and forward with confidence. Being able to change your grip helps your hands get less cramped and tired. Padded gloves help a little. Grips are easy to change yourself. (Unless you have a twist grip shifter)
More than anything on the list above, having a kick stand will be the most controversial. No serious biker likes them. Buy yours on line – aluminum and in a finish that matches your bike (you will need the correct length in cm). Yes you will be perceived as a nerd, but a stylish nerd. Easy to install yourself. Why do I want to lean my expensive bike against a wall and have it fall over?
Do not buy a bike unless you have ridden it for a test ride. Even a short one around the parking lot. Get a feel for the shifters, the brakes and the ‘fit’. To fit my torso length and riding angle, the correct frame size is 48 cm, which is too short from seat to handlebars. A two inch handlebar extension adapter is needed, and it’s just enough trouble that a dealer should install it.
P.S. I carry a small under seat bag. It has two items in it: A folding wrench – screwdriver tool set and a simple cable lock for short periods when I want to leave the bike and duck into a coffee shop. No tools to fix a flat, I’ll just leave it locked and walk home. I do have a secure lock when I carry the bike on my car rack.