Biking 101 - What Type of Bike Should I Get?

  • Biking 101 - What Type of Bike Should I Get? by Brett Ratner
    If the bike fits you, it’s comfortable, and you enjoy riding it, you have the correct bike. There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s what works best for you and the type of riding you want to do.

    Finding the right bike is a personal decision, and it can be intimidating if you’ve been away from cycling for awhile.

    The best possible advice we can give you is to visit your locally-owned bicycle shop. Here's a list of the local bike shops in the Memphis area. They will have the knowledge and experience to point you toward a selection of bikes that will fit your height, body type, and suit your specific needs.

    To get the best results, it’s important to tell the shop what kind of riding you hope to do…

    • Commuting to work?
    • Recreational riding on the weekends?
    • Running errands?
    • Fitness?
    • Riding on mountain bike trails?
    • Sprint triathlons?
    • Other?

    Second, tell the shop employees any special requirements you may have…

    • Possible injuries or physical ailments?
    • Unusual road conditions where you want to ride (e.g. gravel, or lots of hills)?
    • Do you require carrying capacity (e.g. kid trailer, gym clothes, groceries, or weekend camping gear)?

    Using that information, the bike shops can narrow the selection to a few models.

    Once that is accomplished, it’s very important to test ride the different bikes recommended by the shop AND anything else that catches your eye (this is YOUR bike, afterall).

    The key here, in our opinion, is to check your preconceived notions at the door. What do we mean? Avoid these common misconceptions about bikes…

    • One bike will be more comfortable because the saddle is wider and cushier-looking
    • Another bike will be more stable because the tires have knobs and it has a shock absorbers on the fork legs
    • A bike will be faster if it’s light and easy to pick up

    The way a bike feels when you ride it is the best way to tell if you have the right bike. And you can always change the seat on the bike you like best.

    Any good bike shop will offer test rides of their bikes (most will hold your license and/or credit card, and put a helmet on you for liability purposes). And we recommend taking a longer test ride if possible. This is because every bike will feel zippy around the parking lot or down the block and back. Only when you’ve traveled some distance, and hopefully ridden up a hill or two, will you really start to know how a bike will work for you long term.

    Another important thing is to set some realistic expectations. A bike is a piece of athletic equipment, not a sectional couch. It’s not designed to feel plush and cushy when you’re sitting on it in the shop. It’s meant to feel good when you’re actively riding it and your weight is evenly placed on the seat, bars, and both pedals.

    Like running, yoga, aerobics, or any other physical activity, there is a small amount of fitness required to ride a bike. So if you haven’t been on a bike in awhile and you’re less than comfortable, don’t feel discouraged. Stick with it, and in no time, the feeling you had as kid will come rushing back.

    It is also important to fit your helmet correctly before you begin riding. You can do this yourself, but the shop employees will help ensure the safest fit and orientation.  

    Lastly, you obviously want to hit a budget. But don’t base your selection only on price. A bike that’s on sale but not in your size is not a good deal. Nor is a bike that’s uncomfortable, or feels sluggish. A little extra money spent on a bike that you really like, that will provide years of reliable service is money well spent.


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    About the Author

    Brett Ratner ( has been a professional journalist for more than 25 years. He has contributed to dozens of publications, including The Chicago Tribune, The Nashville Tennessean, The Nashville Scene, Guitar Player and Musician. Brett began commuting by bike in 2005. Shortly thereafter, his interest in cycling expanded to century rides, bike camping, and trail riding. The competition bug bit in 2012 and nowadays he also occasionally races cyclocross, track, mountain bikes, criteriums and gravel.