Bicycles are great tools for transportation, health, and leisure, so it's no surprise that you might be thinking of purchasing one. But if it's been a while since you were on two wheels – or if you've never had to purchase a bike before – you might be a little intimidated by all the jargon that surrounds the bike aisle at your local supermarket or bicycle store. So if you're looking for a quick, no-fuss breakdown of the three most important things you need to know before purchasing your very own bike, then here's what you need to know.
The first thing you'll want to determine is the type of bike you're interested in buying. Cruiser bikes are bikes that you most commonly see used for recreation – they're the ones that look like the typical picture you think of when someone says the word "bike" to you (most bikes made for children are cruisers). Mountain bikes are a little hardier, with slightly lower handles, thicker tires, and more absorbent shocks (so that you can bike over more terrains than just asphalt or concrete). Finally, road bikes (also sometimes referred to as racing bikes) are built for speed and aerodynamics, with thinner tires, low handles, and lightweight frames.
When it comes to biking, the most important skill you have to learn is how to stop – and there are generally two types of ways to do that. The first are coaster brakes, which are activated just by pushing the pedals backwards rather than forwards. Coaster brakes are more common on children's bikes, but can be found on most models if you're willing to look for them. The more common type of breaks overall are hand brakes, which look like big, plastic bobby pins located right on the handlebars. These brakes require you to squeeze them with your hands to stop and aren't quite as intuitive as coaster brakes might be, but give you more control over how much you want to brake and how suddenly.
Bike heights can be confusing if you're not used to interpreting them. Most bikes will have some sort of number of inches prominently displayed on their tags like 20", 24", and 28". These don't actually indicate the true height of the bike; rather, they measure the height of the wheel. So, a 24" bike would be good for someone whose seat would be a bit higher than two feet –about four and a half feet tall to five and a half feet tall, taking into consideration that not everyone of the same height will have the same leg length. These height recommendations, while helpful, are guides rather than hard-and-fast rules, so if a bike feels comfortable, don't worry if you're a bit out of the height range.
To learn more, contact a bicycle shop in your area.