If You want to buy a bike and are looking for great advice, this is it.
Attention – long read 🙂
Here are a few things you should clarify before buying a bike:-
1: DECIDE UPON YOUR USAGE – WHAT WILL YOU USE THE BIKE FOR
So here are some potential uses (we will get into bike types, features, etc in more detail later):
(a) Commuting or general usage — it is a good way to get exercise, be environmentally-friendly and save money as well. A commuting bike will focus on comfort, have space to carry a change of clothes/briefcase, have mudguards and will be easy to ride in a city
(b) Fitness — a fitness bike is likely to be ridden on the tarmac and pretty much any bike can be used for this purpose. You can look at the list of bike features later and decide what works for you
(c) Racing/long rides — here, the emphasis is on efficiency, comfort and speed. Usually, you want a bike designed for road use.
(d) Off-road riding — if you want to ride trails, climb hills, fly down dirt tracks, you want a mountain bike.
And sometimes, the answer may be to buy 2 bikes that specialize in 1 area each, rather than 1 bike that does neither well.
2: DECIDE UPON YOUR BUDGET
Now, this gets tricky. A lot of people have a price expectation of bicycles that is based on the Rs 1500 Hero cycles that are common everywhere. The fact of the matter is, high-quality bikes are not cheap. A top-end hardtail mountain bike runs $3000 or Rs 1.5 lakhs. A top-end full-suspension bike runs Rs 2.5 lakhs. Top-level racing bikes range from Rs 1.5 lakhs to Rs 6 lakhs. Don’t run away… I am not saying that you have to spend this much money to buy a bike. I am just saying that bikes are pretty high-tech pieces of equipment, something that is not immediately obvious to a newcomer who has only seen the iron behemoths that are prevalent in India.
What your extra money generally gets you is:
– lesser weight
– higher quality components: suspension (high-quality suspension, front or rear, is NOT cheap), better wheels (roll faster/lighter), smoother gear shifting, etc
As a relatively recent first-time buyer of a high-quality cycle, I found that after the research, the hardest part was justifying the price. First to myself, then to my parents, colleagues and friends.
This post aims to help you get rid of buyer’s guilt, and help confirm (or merely re-confirm) that you are doing the right thing by paying far in excess of Rs.15,000 or 20,000 for a bicycle when you can buy one for a third of that cost.
The short answer
“Strong. Light. Cheap. Pick two.”
–Keith Bontrager, a bicycle-frame builder and component designer. He now develops components for Trek
To expand on the quote
If your bike is light and cheap, it probably won’t be strong. Many lower-end aluminium bikes and bike parts fit this category. Remember, “strong” doesn’t just mean that it can take your weight. “Strong” means it can take many times your weight day-in, day-out for years and years. Also, a strong bike is much easier to ride, as its frame and parts don’t flex too much when you pedal or brake.
If your bike is strong and cheap, it probably won’t be light. Think about your regular-issue “milkman’s bike”. They’re incredibly strong, but they weigh a ton. While a difference of a few hundred grams is debatable, the weight difference between an Atlas Goldline and a Trek 1.5 will make a huge difference to your speed, acceleration and climbing ability.
If your bike is light and strong, it probably won’t be cheap. This is why entry-level road bikes are more expensive than entry-level mountain bikes. A lot of technology and detail goes into making aluminium tubes (for bike frames) that are strong, but very light. But as a new rider, do you need something light? No, if you’re talking about a sub-7kg racing bike. But yes, if you’re talking about bikes in the 9-12kg range. Trust me, no matter how new a rider you are, you deserve better than an 18-kg bike.
More on exactly what you pay for
1) Speed, smoothness, efficiency. More expensive bicycles are astonishingly smooth to pedal (many new riders use the word “butter” when describing their first ride). They are easy to get up hills, stable when coming down. With some training, road bikers can achieve average speeds above 30km/h on 50km rides. But you don’t have to be an athlete to cycle at 25 or 30km/h on a bike designed for the road.
2) Great braking. One of the biggest problems with cheap bikes is their horrendous braking. Expensive bikes have great brakes. It’s a myth that their brakes are dangerous because they are so good. You must learn to modulate the levers (squeeze them gently, so as not to lock the wheels). It doesn’t take long to get used to. Good braking gives you confidence, and you’re more relaxed on rides, not to mention safer.
3) Nearly zero maintenance. Remember your cycle from when you were a kid? Every two days (or, if you rode hard, two hours), there’d be something wrong. The brake levers would become loose, the saddle would tilt, the mudguards would fall off, the pedals would wobble, the chain would creak. You can ride an entry-level mountain bike off-road for two years without ever having anything come loose or break or creak or fall off. Ever. ( the First-hand experience.) This kind of reliability costs money, and let me tell you, is worth every paisa. Think about your dad’s Fiat or Ambassador from when you were a child. Today, would you put up with a car that takes 10 minutes to start every morning, if it starts at all? Or one that breaks down on the road at least once a month? In the same way, someone who rides regularly should not have to put up with a cycle that falls apart.
4) Thoughtful design. After you get your new “expensive” bike, you’ll spend a lot of time oohing and aahing over the design. These bikes are clearly designed by riders, for riders. There are more obvious things such as the frame shape and quick-release wheels (you can remove both wheels completely in less than a minute). But there are hordes of other things, depending on the bike: easy-open chains (for cleaning), anatomically designed saddles and brake levers, places to fix water bottle holders or racks, gearing carefully thought out for the kind of riding the bike is intended for… it goes on.
3: SELECT YOUR REQUIRED FEATURES
From section (2) above, it should be clear that for a given price point, the more features you want, the less the quality of each of those features is going to be. And if you want a lot of features and high quality in each of them, you are going to have to pay more. So be careful about selecting features that you really NEED, as opposed to WANT. Sometimes, it is better to have fewer, higher-quality features than a lot of features of shoddy quality. Of course, there is also the argument that sometimes having a bike that you really like can inspire you to ride more – a lot to be said for that, but if you think you fall in this category, loosen up those purse strings.
So let’s now talk about features and where you need them.
(a) Rear Suspension: Let me keep it simple. You don’t need it. Full suspension is for extreme trail riding, with lots of roots, rocks and bumps and a good full-suspension design is *not* cheap. If you are a first-time bike buyer, and your budget is under Rs 1 lakh, avoid rear suspension like the plague. It is going to suck, it is going to make your bike heavier and so slower and it will NOT make the ride any more comfortable. Trust me on this.
(b) Front Suspension: You need front suspension ONLY if you plan to ride a lot of trails. You do not need front suspension to ride on tarmac, no matter how potholed it is. Yes, it helps a little on rough roads but imposes a weight penalty, cost penalty (top-end full suspension forks cost over Rs 35,000 – even a decent budget fork costs over Rs 10,000), handling penalty and speed penalty (not as efficient as a rigid front). You *especially* don’t want a cheap front suspension — it has all the disadvantages above and doesn’t even work very well. Tire type, tire pressure and choice of bike frame (steel vs aluminium) will make a bigger difference in ride quality. In mountain biking, one of the hottest new bike styles is a rigid (ie, no suspension whatsoever) steel bike. If expert MTBers can use this to ride trails, you can use a rigid bike to ride on the road. Yeah, I know – where you live, the roads are crap. Newsflash – that is true for most of us in India. Trust me, you don’t need suspension to ride on these roads.
(c) Disc brakes: Disc brakes are nice to have, but by no means a necessity. Remember those Rs 5 lakh racing bikes I told you about? They don’t have disc brakes and they are ridden a lot faster than you or I can manage. Disc brakes are used in the sense that they work better in rain and mud (esp mud) but by using proper techniques, you can stop quite well with rim brakes as well (and besides, unless you are a loco MTBer, how fast are you going to be riding in the wet anyway?). Good rim brakes are better than cheap disk brakes, are easier to adjust, easier to maintain and better value, especially if you are on a budget.
(d) Bike frame: Most modern frames are made of Aluminum these days b/c it is lighter (high-end frames for racing are made of carbon fibre, but I am assuming you are not at the stage of spending Rs 1.5 lakhs on a bike yet). But steel is making a comeback and for a good reason – steel absorbs road vibrations a lot better and so makes the ride a lot more comfortable (at least in the sub-Rs 50k bike range). A steel bike with a steel fork in the front (so no suspension) can actually be a lot comfier than a cheap Al bike with crappy front and rear suspensions. Yes, you pay a weight penalty compared to a similarly-specced Al bike, but unless you are racing (and often, even then), the tradeoffs can be worth it.
(e) Tires: Tires typically come in 2 flavours: 26″ diameter, which are the fat bad boys that go on mountain bikes and are used for off-road riding, or 700c, which are the larger, skinnier tires that you see on road bikes and which are intended for tarmac use. There is a second number along with this, representing the width of the tire (in inches, for 26″ tires or mm for 700c tires). So a sample tire may have its size given 26×2.0 or 700×25. Typical mountain bike tires tend to be in the 2.0-2.2 thickness range (thinner tires are more for racing). In road bikes, 700×23 and 700×25 tires are for racing, 700×28 to 700×32 tires are for general use and 700×35 or fatter tires are for touring, where you are carrying 15kg+ of cargo on the bike.
Everyone likes those big, fat mountain bike tires. They look bad-ass. They look big (and we are mostly guys, so bigger is better…). They look hardcore. And they are great for off-road riding, where they provide extra cushioning and oodles of grip.
However, on the tarmac, skinny tires roll a lot faster (with less effort, to boot) and can have a deceptive amount of grip: a lot of people avoid them b/c they are afraid of falling or skidding out, but that fear is unfounded. It does take a ride or two to get used to them, and the difference in speed compared to a mountain tire is mind-blowing (I say this from personal experience, having compared the basic, low-end 700c tires on my road bike to the high-end racing trail tires on my MTB – the cheap 700cs destroy the MTB tires on the road. It isn’t even a contest). So if you want to go fast, get skinnies.
However, fat tires add a big degree of comfort. Larger air volume + lower pressures == built-in suspension and a plush ride. If you are going to be riding relatively short distances, or comfort is more important than going very fast, then get fatter tires. Try to get them in a slicker tread (fewer knobs) if you are going to be riding on the road, to reduce the rolling resistance – you don’t need heavy knobs for road riding.
(f) Handlebars: A lot of people prefer straight handlebars (which are used predominantly in Mountain Bikes). The benefit of those is that you ride in a more upright position, which can be comfier, especially if you are not very flexible or have a few extra pounds on the waist. A lot of people are also put off the thought of drop bars (those curved, rams horn like bars you see on racing bikes), thinking that they are harder to handle, and you need more practice/skills in order to manage. Rubbish. It takes 1 ride to get used to drop bars. Drop bars give you a few more hand positions, which is nice for extended rides. And if you want to go fast, drop bars let you get into a lot more aerodynamic position and let’s face it, they look pretty cool to see and to ride – even for a staunch MTBer like me, there is a great thrill of being hunched over in the drops and flying at speed. Ultimately, however, go with what makes you comfortable – just make sure you get it for the right reasons and not based on misconceptions that one is harder to manage than the other.
(g) Gears: Gears are good. If you are riding mainly in flat terrain, you don’t need too many gears (or even any gears). But if you want to ride hills, gears are your friend. Gears are advertised in a range of numbers, with 24 speed or 27 speed being quite common these days. These are typically written as 3×8 or 3×9, which means 3 gears at the pedals, and 8 or 9 gears in the rear. More gears typically mean smaller spacings between each gear, not necessarily a greater *range* of gears. This means that with more gears, you are better able to fine-tune and get the perfect gearing for any situation – it doesn’t mean that it will necessarily become easier to climb a big mountain with a 27 speed geared bike vs a 24 speed geared bike.
Also, without getting into a lot of details on gear ratios, even a 27 speed geared bike really has around 14 distinct gear ratios, more or less – there is a lot of overlap, and there are some combos which are not supposed to be used. So don’t fret too much about the number of gears – focus, instead, on how easily the gears shift (especially the ones in the front – those tend to be a bit temperamental, especially with budget gear shifters).
4: SOME RECOMMENDATIONS:
When you go to a bike showroom, it is hard to not get seduced by mountain bikes. They are amazing pieces of technology, they are brawny, they look cool and they had macho names like Sultan, Jet, Leviathan and more. Road bikes are slim, svelte and have names like Pista, Madone and Roubaix. So naturally, you are going to want to buy a mountain bike.
Umm. Think again. Are you REALLY going to be bashing around on mountain trails? REALLY? Or will you just do it once or twice, and then stick to using this bike as an urban commuter? Remember what we started this thread with – know the intended usage.
If you want to go trail riding, by all means, buy a mountain bike. Expect to pay at least Rs 20,000+ for a good, trail-worthy mountain bike with front suspension that works, and which is robust enough to withstand the shocks and impact of trail riding. The rougher your intended trails, the more money you will need to spend, but for most beginners, this is a good starting point. Yeah, there are cheaper options but they will more or less suck. Companies to look at Trek & Cannondale are 2 top global brands in India – they may cost a little more than generic brands, but you will get a quality product that works well (compared to a lot of other bikes which look like mountain bikes but which will die within half an hour on the trail). Merida is the world’s largest manufacturer of bikes and is also a good option to consider, although it is not as much of a premium brand as the other 2. If you are on a tighter budget, then consider the B’twin Rockrider bikes sold by Decathlon. Some of the specs look good, but there is a lot of generic componentry on them as well and there isn’t a lot of feedback on these bikes yet. Avoid Firefox for actual trail riding. I have yet to see a Firefox bike that I would take on a trail.
If you want to race/go fast, get a road bike. These are not going to be cheap. Expect to spend north of Rs 30k for a Merida, closer to Rs 40k for a Trek or Cannondale. But now you are getting a bike that is built for speed and with components that, while on the budget end of the scale, will still give you years of service and performance. Cheaper and good options include LA Sovereign Urbano 700c.
However, most people seem to be looking for a bike that they can use to go to work, to ride around for exercise and maybe even go on an occasional trail or two, but primarily use on the tarmac – a general-purpose bike. For such people, the ideal bike is a hybrid bike, which combines the best of both mountain bikes and road bikes. Some features of hybrids:
– thinner tires than found on a mountain bike (but fatter than on race-oriented bikes) – typically 700×28-700×35 or 26×1.5-26×1.8 slicks, depending on the wheelset. This gives you a good mix of speed and efficiency.
– upright handlebars – comfier position
– front suspension or all rigid – on a cheaper end, you want all-rigid; at a higher budget, you can go for a front sus if you want, but remember what I rode earlier: it is a tradeoff.
Bianchi and Trek both make good hybrid bikes for a fairly reasonable price of approx Rs 20,000 or so and these are again international-standard bikes.
To use a car analogy: Mountain bikes are the SUVs of the bike world – powerful, tough, go-everwhere bikes. And just like SUVs, a lot of people buy them to ride on tarmac… which works, but there are other choices which are better for this application. Road bikes are the convertible sports cars of the bike world – fast, sporty, not very practical for general usage (but daaaammmn, did I mention “fast”? As in, put-a-grin-on-your-face-and-make-you-think-you’re-Lance fast?). Hybrids, on the other hand, are the minivans and sedans on the bike world. More utilitarian, good value for money, practical for daily usage, etc.
I will end with an editorial. A lot of people think we are insane to spend the money we do on bikes. My friend, who lives and drives in Delhi, is planning to buy a Ford Endeavor (when he can get by with a Zen) and shakes his head in puzzlement at my mountain bike’s price, even though my bike costs a LOT less. My response to that – I ride my bike daily, it keeps me fit, it gets me outdoors, it reduces my carbon footprint and it is FUN.
Compared to the many other things we spend so much money on (clothes, mobile phones, cars, holidays, etc), a bike is a shockingly good value. And if you buy a good bike, you are more inclined to ride it, have fun and stay fit. Something to think about…
Some popular manufacturers:-
http://www.ticyclesindia.com/ Hercules & BSA.
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Indian distributors of Bianchi, Cannondale & Ducati Bikes:-
Track & Trail
Firefox is authorised distributor of Trek bikes in India.
Some recommended bikes by me:-
Mtb’s:- All Cannondales (f4, f5, f7, f8, f9, lefty etc.), Trek’s (4300, 6000 etc.), LA Blackline’s, Merida.
Road Bikes:- Trek, Bianchi, ducati, colnanago,pinerallo, scott & LA Urbano.
Hybrid’s:- Bianchi, Trek, Merida, Hercules ACT 110.
For a beginner & budget conscious rider, I will recommend:-
Cannondale F9 or F8, Merida Matts, Trek 3700 & 4300, Some LA-Sovereign bikes as mtb,s,
LA Urbano as road-bike,
Hercules ACT 110 or Kona DEW or Trek 7100 as hybrids.
Original source: http://www.xbhp.com/talkies/bicycles/10890-how-select-bicycle-according-your-needs-budget.html
I take no credit for this article. This helped me buy few bikes for myself, hope it helps you as well. Kudos to Anand for writing such in-depth yet simple article.