Bicycles are no longer just a means of getting somewhere but can be used for making a fashion statement, recreational use, exercise and competition. Although a two-wheeled machine seems pretty simple, there are actually different types of bicycles designed for different purposes. Choosing the right one can be a bit confusing.
The four most recognized categories of bicycles are recreational, road, mountain and performance. There are many sub-categories of bikes under each one and some of them cross over between categories, depending on the function. Each category of bike is designed to fit specific needs of the riders.
Charlie Didrickson, who has been working on bikes for about 25 years and is currently working at Green Machine Cycle at the corner of Montrose Avenue and Paulina Street, suggested beginners go to their local bike shop for their first bike.
“The local bike shop will assess what your need is,” Didrickson said. “Some people just want a bike for a Saturday afternoon ride on the (Chicago Lakefront Trail). Some people want a bike for work commuting and some want it for racing or touring.”
A recreational bike, like a cruiser or town bike, will fit the riders who are seeking a leisurely Saturday afternoon ride. It can also be used for commuting, but it will take longer to get to the destination than a road bike because of its heavier frame and upright position.
“The first thing I always recommend is a single speed steel frame road bike,” Ryan Marcotte, DePaul student and bike courier for Snap Courier, said. A single speed steel frame road bike is a good choice for beginners who want to ride in Chicago because of the simplicity of a single speed’s design and steel frame’s durability.
The material of the bike frame is another thing to consider when purchasing a bike. The four major materials used for frame building are steel, aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber. Titanium and carbon fiber are normally used for high-end professional racing bikes; steel and aluminum are the materials used in majority of bikes because they are cost efficient.
With the condition of Chicago streets, steel is the preferred material for bikes due to the flexibility steel provides.
“Aluminum frames vibrate a lot whereas steel frames vibrate less,” said Peter John Cavoto Jr., a DePaul alumnus said. He is an advisor for DePaul Cycling and an employee of Roll, a bike shop at 2163 N. Clybourn Ave. However, that doesn’t mean a steel frame is the best.
“There is no such thing as the best material,” Didrickson said. “Just the material itself doesn’t decide the ride quality of the bike. The material, the geometry and the wheels can change the ride characteristics a lot.”
Not only can the combination of material, geometry of the frame and wheels change the quality of your ride, but so can the frame materials. Often times an aluminum frame can be paired with a carbon fork to decrease the vibration.
On the other hand, just because it has an aluminum frame doesn’t mean it is lighter than a steel frame. The weight can change depending on the type of aluminum or steel and the gears of the bike.
“Single speed bikes can be very useful in the city of Chicago because it’s very flat here, so you don’t have to deal with gearing for climbing hills,” Didrickson said. “But we do have wind to contend with.”
Didrickson also added that single speed bikes tend to be very durable because they have very few moving parts. Riders are able to commute on a single bike all-year long because the drive chain doesn’t get abused like a multiple gear bike can.
“Bikes are one of the things that you get what you pay for, up to a point. Generally, $500 to $2,000 will get you a decent quality bike from a local bike shops,” Didrickson said.
The process of choosing a bike doesn’t stop here. There is some additional gear that is necessary before a rider begins a ride.
“Ninety two percent of cycling deaths are due to helmet head trauma, so a helmet will literally save your life,” Cavoto said.
It is more than just buying a helmet, but buying the right helmet and wearing it correctly.
“People wear them just over the back of their head instead of level and covering the whole head,” Marcotte said. While it might be more comfortable and less restrained, the helmet can easily fly off and fail to provide the protection that riders needswhen they land on their head.
“You can really make yourself a happy rider if you buy the gear that you need,” Victoria Parrilli, captain of the DePaul Cycling Club, said. Besides the right helmet, gear like gloves and lights are also essential for safe biking on the streets.
Though it might seem easier to buy the bike online for the price and convenience, there are services that local bike shops can offer that online stores can’t.
“People often mistakenly buy the wrong size bike when they buy online. Buying in person also allows you to test drive and find out the ride quality,” Didrickson said. Local bike shops also offer useful information and tips on Chicago streets and traffic and how to be a safe rider.
“It’s a common conversation that I often have with adult customers that haven’t owned a bike in 20 years,” Cavoto said. “Putting themselves out in the city with cars and trucks can be pretty intimidating. But the reality is that the closer we are to the downtown area, the safer it is because motor vehicles are going slower and there are designated bike lanes.”
Parrilli said it is better in the long term to start out at a local bike shop. “I think it’s great to choose a bike shop that you know you can have a further relationship with,” Parrilli said. “Not only for the bikes and equipment, you are also integrated into the biking community.”
Which bike is for YOU?
Are you sporty? Someone who likes to ride on the trail?
Try a: Hybrid bike
• A mix between road and mountain bikes
• Designed for those who encounter both terrains
• Heavier than road bikes, but lighter than mountain bikes
Are you sporty? Someone who likes to ride in the mountains?
Try a: Mountain bike
• Designed for off roads and rough trails
• Great at climbing hills
• Shock absorbers
Are you casual? Someone who likes to ride in the suburbs?
Try a: Cruiser bike
• Designed for short commuting or a relaxing ride
• Comfortable seat with a comfortable upright riding position
Are you casual? Someone who likes to ride in the city?
Try a: Racing bike
• Designed for performance, speed and long distance.