So you’ve decided that a cheap bike is right for you and you are right for a cheap bike but now you ask; What kind of cheap bike should I get? The answer is: a mountain bike. See how simple that was.
OK, it’s not quite that simple. The real question is; Where will you be riding your new bike? Of course since you are not currently riding a bike you probably have no idea where you will be riding. Will you be cruising seaside, climbing goat paths in the foothills, will you touring across the continent, or just going to work? How do you decide?
The only way to truly decide where you want to ride is try a bit of each, but that takes a lot of time and money. So the solution would seem to be to buy a bike that can do it all. So you need to buy a mountain bike. (Where have I heard that before.) Of course there is no bike that is good at everything, but I’d rather ride a mountain bike on the road than a road bike on a mountain trail.
Do not however buy a cheap bike that has dual suspension. This is one area where I agree with the bike snobs. Front suspension is pretty easy to design and understand so it can be made fairly well fairly cheaply. Rear suspension on a bike on the other hand is a very complicated system and cutting corners should not be trusted. The little extra bit of cushion you might get from a rear suspension is not worth risking your safety for.
That all being said, if you are absolutely sure that you aren’t going to forging your own trail out in the wilderness you may want a hybrid bike. No, not like a Prius. A hybrid bike is mostly a mountain bike made for pavement. These are sometimes called commuter or city bikes. They are generally more rugged, an thus heavier, than road bikes. They also have lower gearing than road bikes to better suit the stop-and-go riding.
Speaking of gearing, does the idea of shifting scare you? Are you afraid you’ll get stuck in the wrong gear and be unable to pedal or be pedaling your ass off and getting nowhere? You are not alone. There are many styles of single gear bikes for adults. If you don’t mind going slow and having to work harder than a cruiser bike might be for you. The maintenance required on a single speed bike is considerably less because there is so much less that can go wrong.
But what if you want to go fast? The fastest bikes are road bikes. Actually the fastest bikes are full-bodied recumbent bikes ridden by Olympic sprinters but that’s outside of the cheap bike realm. Road bikes are made for the open road and going zoom zoom. They tend to have the most gears and be the lightest. The price of that lightness is that the bikes are fragile little maintenance whores. This isn’t a problem for tinkerers like myself but if you don’t think adjusting derailleurs after every other ride sounds like fun, you might want to avoid the road bike.
Then to confuse things even more, what if you are a commuter and only want to ride part of the way. If so, a folding bike is for you. Unlike full-size bikes you can always take a folding bike with you on just about any bus, train or ferry. They are a great solution for avoiding the dreaded catching a connection problem. They aren’t as comfortable, rugged or handle as well as full-size bikes but nothing beats their convenience.
I should make mention here of tandem bikes or bicycles built for two. If you and your spouse are considering getting one of these please seek professional help as soon as possible. Don’t do it. No good can come from this. I’m sure there are couples out there somewhere who have tandems and love them but they should be ignored because they are undoubtedly insane. Get matching bikes instead. You will both be much happier.
So have I confused you enough in my attempt to answer this unanswerable question? Please post questions or comments and maybe we can all come to a better consensus on what works where.
Over the next several weeks I’ll be posting reviews of different cheap bikes. I hope that will also help you make a decision.